Is today’s circus atmosphere an ideal setting for a final tune-up? Probably not, but the Phillies need to make the best of it and finish the exhibition season on a positive note when they face Daisuke Matsuzaka and the Red Sox today at 1:05 p.m.
As the flash bulbs go off, and as the ballpark is overrun with members of the Japanese press corps and Sox fans, the subplot features a Phillies team that will try to erase two consecutive seasons of sub-.500 baseball in April, beginning Monday at Citizens Bank Park. This is their final tune-up before the games count for real, and needless to say, establishing momentum, rhythm and confidence will be a tough task against orient mystery Matsuzaka and the high-powered Red Sox offense.
A fast start is paramount, not only for the Phillies chances in the NL East, but to the job security of manager Charlie Manuel, who’s guided the Phils to 10-14 records the previous two Aprils. Last season, they were trounced in their season opener against St. Louis and started the season 1-5, a complete buzzkill that ruined a rock-solid spring that had everyone excited.
This spring, there have been few positives, and yesterday’s dicey outing by Cole Hamels, which saw four home runs, didn’t help matters.
Like Hamels, Adam Eaton (0-2, 6.06) has been up and down. Meanwhile, Dice-K, (1-1 with a 2.04 ERA) has been a stud. Opponents are batting .148 against him in 17 2-3 innings. Ryan Howard, who says he’s feeling better about his swing, could have a tough time staying in the groove. Ditto the Phillies bullpen, which is finally showing signs of getting it together.
While today’s game is technically just practice, it would appear to be more than that for a Phillies team seeking solid ground with Opening Day on the doorstep.