Fueled by better starting pitching, the Phillies pieced together a string of good wins during their 10-game home stand. Besides Saturday night’s clunker, even the losses weren’t that bad.
Adam Eaton’s outing yesterday was pretty symbolic of how the home stand went. He wasn’t exactly crisp, but ultimately, effective, pitching four-hit ball over six-plus shutout innings, somehow overcoming a season-high five walks. It was his second straight solid outing at home and he’s pitched into the seventh inning his last three turns, improving his record to 4-3 and dropping his ERA to 5.70. He's no longer on the short list with baseball's worst pitchers, like Jeff Weaver and Jae Seo. Hell, he's starting to skip over guys like Vicente Padilla, Adam Wainright and Kevin Millwood, too.
Like Eaton, the Phils have been coming around lately. Slowly but surely. They've blended brilliant performances (Cole Hamels) with pedestrian efforts (Freddy Garcia) and came out on top most nights. Better starting pitching has been the difference - nice, long outings to bridge the gap to closer Brett Myers. The bullpen is still unreliable, but has been mostly out of play. Offensively, there isn’t one thing you can point to. Instead, it’s a lot of little things.
Past the quarter pole with 44 games down, here’s where they’re at:
Beating better opponents: Chicago, Milwaukee and Toronto are a little better than the teams they had success against in April, particularly the 27-17 Brewers, who are starting to come down to earth.
Better at home: The Phils capitalized on the home stand and are now 13-10 at Citizens Bank Park.
Not bad, in comparison to the NL: A .500 record means they’re the 7th best team, record-wise, in the National League. It’s early to talk standings, but they’re 6 ½ games back of the division-leading Mets and 4 games behind the Wild Card-leading Braves.
Offense pulling weight: They’re among the league leaders in most offensive team categories. They've even pulled to league average with BA with RISP (.257).
Improved pitching: They’re still trailing the pack in most categories, but have improved. The park doesn't do them favors, nevertheless they are the worst at allowing HR/G (1.3), opponent SLG (.456) and are tied for the worst in line drive percentage (21 percent). The ERA drag comes mostly from middle relief and bad early outings by Eaton, Garcia and Myers, but everyone is chipping in with HR allowed, including Hamels (8), Eaton (8), Moyer (7) and Myers (6). On a positive note, they have the most strikeouts per game (7.3) and have been about average with their walks (3.6). Before yesterday’s game, the starters were tied for the second-most innings pitched in the National League with 265, now 272.
Jon Lieber: He deserves special recognition. The right-hander has averaged close to seven innings his last five starts, lowering his ERA to 3.00 on the season. Frankly, he's more than filling Myers' shoes in the starting rotation. Rising like a bullet, Lieber is now rated as baseball's 57th best pitcher, according to Baseball Prospectus.