The Phillies are 19-22, in third place in the NL East with a -27 run differential. Nationally, .500 was right around where most analysts had them. Locally, we mostly bought in to the improvements upon last year's 81-81 team and saw one that could win at least a half-dozen more games with healthy stars and a legitimate setup man.
Some things have gone as planned, but many haven't through 41 games. Let's take a look at three positives and three negatives as we sit here on May 16, starting with the good.
1) Back of the rotation
Kyle Kendrick is 4-1 with a 2.47 ERA. He's made seven straight quality starts. He's had a 0.98 WHIP since Opening Day.
The peripherals back up Kendrick's success, giving us hope he can maintain close to this level of performance moving forward. He's struck out 17.7% of batters he's faced this season, a career-high. He's walked just 4.5%, a career-low. His groundball rate of 49.1% also represents a career-high for Kendrick in a full season.
It's not just him. Jonathan Pettibone has impressed, too. Earlier in the week, Kevin Frandsen lauded Pettibone's approach, saying that since the two were teammates briefly in Single-A, Frandsen has seen Pettibone care more about going deep into games than striking batters out. Frandsen's point that Pettibone could have always struck more batters out, but chose not to, is the kind of thing that doesn't show up on a Baseball-Reference minor-league stats page.
Pettibone is 3-0 with a 2.41 ERA this season. He won't stay this good forever, but it's been fun to watch through five starts. Pettibone has stranded close to 85% of his baserunners, which won't last. He doesn't have super-human skills that surface out of the stretch. That .178 opponents' batting average with men on base will increase.
But Pettibone has shown good enough stuff and command low in the zone to stick in the majors as a back-end starting pitcher.
The Phillies continue to churn out starting pitchers, if nothing else. Since 2007 there's been Kendrick, J.A. Happ, Vance Worley, Pettibone and to a much lesser extent Tyler Cloyd. Happ helped get you Oswalt, Worley helped get you Ben Revere, and that's not to mention Kyle Drabek and Carlos Carrasco, the centerpieces of trades for Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee.
2) Domonic Brown's power
Brown's hitting just .250 with a .298 on-base percentage, but the power has finally surfaced at the major-league level. He's tied for the team-lead with seven homers and 19 RBI, and three of those homers have come against lefties.
Brown is hitting .314 overall against southpaws, which is as positive a sign as you can find. A very small sample, yes, but his ability to hit left-handed pitching as well as he has -- with power -- through 34 at-bats shows that he's seeing the ball well.
It seems like the Phillies have preached a more aggressive approach to Brown. He has only nine walks and 30 strikeouts this year, and he's swinging at the first or second pitch more than ever before. Brown hasn't walked once in 54 plate appearances this month.
3) Chase Utley's health
You take it for granted when it's there. Utley has played 40 of 41 games this season, missing only Tuesday's game vs. Cleveland. He's hitting .281 with an .835 OPS, and is on pace for 28 homers, 95 RBI, 28 doubles and 16 steals. It's not 2006-09 Chase Utley, but it's a much better version than we saw in 2011 and 2012.
Utley has made some puzzling decisions on the basepaths and in the field this season, but those mistakes have been more mental than physical. It doesn't look like he's lost a step, really.
If he stays healthy, starts 145 games this season and finishes with numbers close to those projections, contract discussions will become very interesting.
1) Overall approach to hitting
The Phillies are built to swing their way out of slumps. There are no Jonny Gomeses on this team, guys who can make up for low batting averages by walking a lot. When Delmon Young or Ryan Howard aren't hitting, they won't be getting on base, period.
It's a shame, because in many circles the way you break out of a slump is to start seeing the ball better and watching it get deeper in the zone. Once a comfort level is re-gained, the hits come around. Adam Lind is one example this season. Andre Ethier is another.
The Phillies rank 25th in baseball with a .304 team OBP. They are the only team in the National League with four regulars under .300. It's important, because only one NL team since 2000 has made the playoffs with an OBP under .320 -- the 2012 Reds, who made up for it with standout power.
2) Halladay & Hamels
Roy Halladay, obvious reasons.
Cole Hamels ... what is going on?
Sure, Hamels had a 2.41 ERA in his six most recent starts entering Wednesday's game, but included in there was a five-walk and six-walk game. He struggled again Wednesday, allowing at least five runs for the third time in nine starts.
It's just been a strange season for Hamels. He's had poor command from the jump, and he now leads the NL in walks with 24. He's 1-6 with a 4.61 ERA. At this point last season he was 7-1 with a 2.17 ERA, 11 fewer walks and 19 more strikeouts.
What we've seen from Hamels is an inability to put batters away. He's racking up the foul balls -- more than 20 per game -- which is causing earlier exits. On Wednesday the Indians fouled 16 pitches off him in the first two innings.
One thing Ben Davis pointed out to me yesterday was that Hamels seems to be using his good changeup earlier in counts -- 0-1 or 1-1 compared to with two-strikes. That is telling. Batters are hitting close to .400 this season off Hamels' fastball, which could be prompting him to throw the changeup more often earlier in counts simply to get ahead. And it's the kind of pitch that, once timed, can be fouled off more easily.
He hasn't looked anything like the Hamels of old, and that's a problem. For the Phillies to contend this season they'll need ace-like production out of Hamels. Just think about it ... if everything else this season remained steady but Hamels pitched like he's capable of, the Phils would probably be as many games over .500 as they are under it right now.
3) The middle relief
Chad Durbin is done. Raul Valdes belongs in Triple-A, along with Jeremy Horst. It's harsh, but true.
None of those guys throws harder than 88 mph on average. None of them regularly retire batters or exhibit pinpoint command. Valdes and Horst were very good down the stretch last season when practically nothing mattered. Hooray. It's a new season.
Valdes can't even be trusted in mop-up duty. And Horst, while he got out of a jam on Tuesday night, has made a habit of letting just about every inherited runner score. He's a lefty who is having trouble with lefties (.448 OBP).
Phillippe Aumont hasn't been much better, but at least he has good stuff that you might be able to trust with men on base. But Durbin, Valdes, Horst ... would anyone mind if all three were sent away tomorrow and replaced with Michael Stutes, Tyler Cloyd (for 5th starter purposes) and Jake Diekman?
If you're getting zero production out of the current middle-relief crop, why not bring up the young guys who have a future in your organization and low-to-mid-90s stuff?
When Cloyd is eventually recalled, Justin De Fratus better not be the roster casualty, that's all we're saying.
Honorable mention (positive): Michael Young
Honorable mention (negative): Jimmy Rollins, Ben Revere -- though they've contributed to the awful team OBP