Last night's hero, Aaron Rowand, led the way with a game-winning home run and a pair of doubles. The undercard included an outfield assist and excellent takeaway on a ball hit to the alley.
Poor execution was a major culprit to the 4-11 start, but gradually the Xs and Os have made their way back onto the field. It’s been a while since the Phils burned themselves with a bone-headed play or defensive gaff. The Phillies have been so good lately, it's time to give them some credit.
Starting with the coaches. Bench coach Jimy Williams was brought in to lend a hand in the dugout, but also to help teach the pitchers how to hit, like he once did with the Atlanta Braves. Last season, the Phils fielded the worst hitting pitchers in the National League, posting league lows in batting average (.092), slugging (.111) and hits (29). What a difference a year makes. They’ve gone from last to first in hits, already with 35 on the season. Four of the five current starters have registered extra-base hits, and four of five have knocked in runs. Even Freddy Garcia was hitting before he went down.
Since 2004, the Phils have been among the league’s most successful teams at stealing bases, posting around a 79 percent success rate during the Jimmy Rollins era. Under Davy Lopes, that rate has spiked to an NL-best 87 percent. Their 78 steals are third in the league and on pace to be the Phillies' highest mark since 2001, thanks in large to Shane Victorino, who's gone from four stolen bases in 2006 to 30 in 2007.
Not to be outdone by the offense, the defense is just as hot. They’ve committed just two errors over their last 10 games and neither of them were costly, peppered in with some exceptional plays, including a diving stab by Chase Utley last night to prevent a late-inning rally. With Wes Helms sitting most games, there simply aren’t many weak links on defense. They rank sixth out of 16 NL teams in committing the fewest errors (56), first in outfield assists (31), fifth in allowing the fewest stolen bases (50) and have gunned down 22 runners, also fifth highest.
Aside from a handful of inconsistent pitchers who can't find the strike zone, this is a pretty sharp ballclub right now. Considering the sustained level of quality play, does the manager finally deserve some credit?