Out of Left Field: It's Only Spring

What the heck happened to the Red Sox and Yankees? Just a few short weeks ago, they were all anybody wanted to talk about, whether it was owners Steinbrenner and Henry yapping at each other, all-star friends Jeter and A-Rod kissing and making up, or Curt's mouth and Pedro's hair, the discussions circled around the team with "the curse" and the evil empire. Nobody else could get equal time, including the Phillies, and it was driving Phillies' fans crazy.

Just a few weeks after the Boston and New York media blitz and everybody and their brother seems to be picking the Phillies as the favorites in the National League East. Well, thanks for nothing. Can you feel the pressure constricting around Larry Bowa's neck?

The Phils' manager has agitated recently about the Phillies lack of offense in these spring games. As of Monday night, the team had been outscored 42-15 over the previous seven games, losing six of those seven to drive their record to a paltry 10-16. The great thing for Phillies fans is that they have this great race for the final bench spot going on between young hotshot Chase Utley, and grizzled veteran Doug Glanville. They both have really been hitting the ball well, making the decision difficult for Larry Bowa. I haven't checked their stats for a while, but…hmm…this can't be right. The stat sheet shows Utley's batting average has dropped to .262 while Glanville's has kept pace, dropping to .267. I thought these guys were competing for a roster spot. Forget the Phillies, you can't make Maggie's highlight reel on Dream Job with those spring stats.

Well, at least the Phillies still have that great, five man deep starting rotation to challenge all comers. Kevin Millwood, Randy Wolf, Vicente Padilla, Eric Milton, and Brett Myers should just about be rounding into shape as they take their final spring starts. Let's go to the stat sheet again and…well, THAT's not good. All of them except Padilla have ERA's in the stratosphere, and Millwood, the erstwhile "Ace" has allowed 20 hits, 6 home runs, and 14 earned runs in just over 12 innings. Not to worry though, he says he was just "working on some things." Here's a thought, how about working on keeping the ball in the park?

Surely, the stalwart veterans in the bullpen have been pitching well, right? Let's see, Worrell? Nope. Hernandez? Nope. Cormier? Uh…shelled badly in a recent outing. Maybe they're all "working on stuff" too. Hey, Coggin and Madson are still having a spirited battle for the final ‘pen slot, that's good to see. And, will miracles never cease, how did Bud Smith make it through waivers? It also looks like Wags' finger isn't bothering him anymore, so it's not all bad.

The truth is, I know there is a lot to be thankful for as we head into the final innings of spring: Jim Thome, David Bell, Todd Pratt and Billy Wagner all look like they're going to be ready for the opener. Pat Burrell is leading the team in RBI, while Marlon Byrd, Bobby Abreu, and Mike Lieberthal are smacking the ball around pretty good. We've managed to get through the entire spring without any major injuries (I am knocking furiously on my big wooden table as I say that,) and Millwood and Wolf both looked sharp in their last outings.

Forget the record. Forget the stats. In just a few days they are all reset to zeros anyway. We have our starting eight set, our rotation is truly five deep, we've got a great new ballpark ready (cough…cough) to open, and we have The Sporting News pick for Manager of the Year on our payroll. As I keep reminding myself, it's only spring.

Columnist's Note: I welcome your feedback. Please send any comments to dncurry@comcast.net.

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