Paced by better starting pitching and a productive offense, the Phillies are dodging a June swoon, climbing the standings and giving fans reason to watch.
Here comes that driftwood again, that crust of unsinkable debris. "It’s a long season." The words disappear and reappear like a white seagull folded inside blue waves. Able to carve the morass of rock and surf, the Phils have caught the Mets and Braves in calm water.
Like undulating driftwood, metaphors come and go on Beerleaguer, reserved for meaningful moments. Watching Cole Hamels pitch for the first time. Opening day. Game 162. The sporadic controversies. The implication today is now that they're back in the hunt, we can allow ourselves to get swept up again. And why shouldn't we? The Phils went 9-18 last June. They’ve already matched that win total with a 9-4 record, making good on their promise that robust pitching and a buttery lineup would keep their season lush through a traditionally arid month. They’re two games out in the NL East, and since April 21, have the best record in the league.
How are they doing it? Much of it is the ebb and flow of a baseball season. It's an oscillation; teams surge ahead, then fall back. The Mets and Braves are iced in cold streaks, allowing the Phils to sweep them both in their own buildings. The White Sox are another team with myriad problems – the Phils dusted them easily for a three-game sweep.
That will not be the case with Detroit, in for three this weekend. The Tigers are the best team they will have faced all season, and they're surging. They’ll also line up two of their best weapons, Jeremy Bonderman and no-hit winner Justin Verlander.
However, the Phils are playing their best ball of the season now, even without two main bullpen parts. The number of improvements over what they did in April – we’re talking key improvements from major contributors like Ryan Howard and Adam Eaton – have overshadowed the weaknesses of bit players like Rod Barajas and the rest of the bench, dubious middle relievers and manager Charlie Manuel. Chase Utley, Jamie Moyer, Jimmy Rollins, Greg Dobbs, Pat Burrell, Aaron Rowand, Shane Victorino, Cole Hamels ... they’re keeping the ship steady and sailing.