It’s been more than two months since my last post and my how things have changed.
Back then, the Phillies were dead in the water. They were playing lifeless, sloppy and excruciating-to-watch baseball. They were making errors, not running out groundballs and pop ups and giving away games left and right. Seeing Charlie Manuel summon the likes of Chad Qualls in from the bullpen made fans at the game want to pull their hair out and those at home to want to throw their remotes through the television.
The Phillies were so far out of playoff contention that general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. traded outfielders Shane Victorino, a key member of the five straight division titles, and Hunter Pence, which the Phillies traded the farm for last year to extend that postseason run, at the trade deadline.
Fast forward six weeks from the end of the July and all of a sudden the Phillies find themselves three games back of the second wild card spot with 19 games to play.
How have they done it? It’s simple – pitching.
Cliff Lee has turned into Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels has shown why the Phillies gave him a $144 million extension and Roy Halladay, while not his dominant self, has been pretty good since returning from a disabled list stint for a strained muscle in his right shoulder. Throw in a very good Kyle Kendrick and two good outings in his first three starts by Tyler Cloyd and the Phillies have been able to win games without having to wear out the scoreboard.
But as good as the starting pitching has been, the bullpen has been even better.
Gone is Qualls, and it was a month over due, and it looks like Charlie Manuel has given the eighth inning to rookie flame-thrower Phillippe Aumont. The key player in the trade that sent Lee to Seattle after the 2009 season, Aumont was a bust in his first year in the Phillies system. He started then, walked far too many hitters and had runners on base constantly. He switched back to relieving, which he did with the Mariners farm teams, last year and the results have been good. While sometimes still a bit wild, Aumont has something you can teach – a sinking fastball that runs up to 98 mph. He also has a knee-buckling curve that when it’s on just isn’t fair to hitters. Will he continue to pitch like he has the past month (1.08 ERA in 8 1-3 innings with nine strikeouts)? Probably not, but maybe he does. Jeremy Horst (1.19 ERA in 22 2-3 innings with 25 Ks) and Jonathan Papelbon (34 saves in 38 chances) have been outstanding as well. Even Antonio Bastardo has been good lately, giving up just 1 run while fanning 20 in his last 11 appearances.
And the amazing thing about this run is that the two guys the Phillies thought they needed back to make a run – Ryan Howard and Chase Utley – have been pretty much invisible. Howard is striking out a ton, even for him, and Utley just isn’t close to the same player he used to be because of achy knees, but John Mayberry Jr. has been playing better lately and Eric Kratz has been fantastic with Carlos Ruiz out of action for about a month. With Ruiz, the team’s best player all season, now back the Phillies have to feel even better about their chances.
And if that doesn’t help, how about their schedule?
They open a four-game set Thursday with the dreadful Astros. Next, they’ll play three with the Mets, who have been in a free fall since July but also are 10-5 against the Phillies this year. A six-game homestand starts with the Braves on Sept. 21 and then three against the Nationals before a season-ending three-game trip to Florida.
This is very doable people. Of those 19 games, I say 13 wins could get the job done, and I see the Phillies winning more than 13 games mind you. I’ve also been a Phillies fan since I was six years old so I know enough not to get too far ahead of myself.