An all-pitching, no-hitting approach has guided the Phillies to five-straight wins and a 15-6 mark, which is the best in baseball. So why do many of us have such an uneasy feeling?
Beginning tonight, the league's second-oldest pitching staff, which has surrendered the fewest runs-per-game in baseball (3.29), meets the National League’s youngest - and statistically worst - staff, by the same measure (5.76). So if you’ve been waiting for the bats to reignite, the venerable Phillies may well find their fountain of youth in the desert.
At an average age of 32.2, the Phils’ lineup is the league’s longest of tooth, and with age has come an assortment of weird inflictions. Like middle-aged men overcompensating for lost vitality, the Phils swing at everything now. They don’t take walks and they don’t strike out, but they put everything in play and usually land on the fairway. Unfortunately, they refuse to admit that it’s time to move up to the senior tees. Their drives barely clear the ladies tees and Raul Ibanez has been playing with his pants down for over two weeks, per the rules of the game.
Nevertheless, like any 6 a.m. tee-time senior, they’ll beat the average frat-house stubby because they’re not stupid enough to try to clear the trees and they’re deadly accurate around the greens, just as the Phillies' staff always catches the black. But I worry that eventually they’ll run into a young, athletic blue-chipper with a smooth swing and a good head on his shoulders. I wonder if the balanced Marlins could be that obstacle. They’re 8-2 over their last 10 and just a game-and-a-half behind the Phils, who have been fortunate to time their funk with a run against the Braves, Nationals and Padres, teams that average four or fewer runs themselves. The Phils have scrimped together an average of three runs per game over their last 13 contests, having failed to score more than four runs in a game since Apr. 9.
With almost a month in the books, the Phillies are figuratively, and factually, all aces. Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels have also been the team’s best four players, and it isn’t close.
Notes: Don’t be surprised if Charlie Manuel hands the ball to Mike Stutes in high-leverage situations. He misses bats and reportedly has the make-up to pitch the late innings. It will be interesting to see how the Phils handle the loss of Contreras. Originally, the Phils had hoped that Danys Baez could serve an eighth-inning role, but he’s done nothing but melt under such situations in two years with the Phils. If there’s a silver lining, it’s that youth will be served in Stutes and a longer look at Antonio Bastardo. With their starting staff, the Phils have the luxury. That’s precisely why easing Ibanez into a platoon role is really no big deal.