After winning the first two games in the late frames, Vance Worley and the Phillies are positioned for the sweep this afternoon at Citi Field. Left-hander Jonathon Niese is set for the Mets. First pitch is 1:10.
Beerleaguer: A couple of observations and takeaways from this series and the 5-1 “Utley Era” in general. First, although the Phils are playing great, today feels like a loss for a couple of dumb reasons. First, I’m not sure what the Phils will get out of Worley today. There’s no urgency to being the best team in baseball on Memorial Day. It’s Sunday afternoon after a Saturday night comeback and probable NYC afterparty on a beautiful early-summer night in the Big Apple. I’d take a holiday, too. Plus, the Phils are 1-2 when I stain my deck, which is in the cards this afternoon.
Lineups: Here's another reason why the Phils may be conceding a loss: Ryan Howard sits for the first time this season and Charlie Manuel plays a bunch of subs: Rollins SS, Valdez 2B, Polanco 3B, Ibanez LF, Francisco RF, Mayberry 1B, Martinez CF, Sardinha C.
Utley: So how much of this recent surge is because Chase Utley is back? Certainly, his most meaningful and direct contribution came yesterday by stroking the tying hit then using his legs to put himself into scoring position and cross home as the winning run. There’s no question he makes the lineup more unmanageable for opposing pitchers. Before Utley returned, opponents only concerned themselves with Howard.
Hitting season: But the Phils have found their footing in other ways, too. One could argue that Raul Ibanez’s turnaround has as much to do with it, if not more, than Utley’s return. He’s posted a lusty .956 OPS since the start of the Colorado series. Hitting season has arrived for the rest of the lineup, too, and the spigot has opened for extra-base hits; the Phils doubled five times yesterday. Utley’s presence indirectly made the bottom of the lineup more dynamic. Domonic Brown, who is suddenly at .292/.357/.417, is in a great spot to swing and not think.
Right field: Speaking of right field, there’s added intrigue with every passing day as Shane Victorino gets closer to returning. The Phillies appear likely to let the situation play out with Brown now that he’s strung together a couple of productive games. Confidence is key. Meanwhile, John Mayberry, who has played gifted center field, has done himself a great disservice with his tentative bat. His production has taken a sharp dive since mid-May. His last extra-base hit came on May 15 and his OPS has fallen from .915 to .650 since then. I’m sure the Phils have pulling out lots of hair over this guy; why is he so tentative? Ben Francisco, who doesn’t have Mayberry’s complete tools, doesn’t have that problem, and it’s probably the only reason he’s had a better Major League career. Benny Fresh showed his value off the bench yesterday and has six homers on the season.