Early Season Struggles Are Just Temporary...Right?

So by now, everybody thought the Phillies would have slammed Jose Mesa all around PNC Park, shown the Marlins that they shouldn't plan on beating up on the Phillies this season and then come home and pounced on the Reds to open Citizens Bank Park. Somebody changed the script and it has all played out very differently. Now, we just hope that all of this changes before too long.

This past off-season, the Phillies believed that they added the missing piece to the puzzle, the answer to all questions, when they acquired one of baseball's top closers in Billy Wagner. What Phillies fans expected was that this year's team would be able to hold a late inning lead, unlike last year in which Jose Mesa almost single-handedly cost the Phils a playoff berth. What Phillies fans did not expect was that the entire batting lineup except Pat Burrell would have trouble getting a hit or even making contact, and that the Phils couldn‘t even get a late inning lead. They also did not expect that in a lineup with Jim Thome, Bobby Abreu, and Burrell, the Phillies would be the last team in the league to hit a home run. It is not like the Phils are facing Steve Carlton every game. Their bats have been baffled by the likes of Ryan Voglesong and Darren Oliver. Worst of all, in the season-opening series against the preseason favorite to be the worst team in the league, Phil's castoff Jose Mesa got two saves for Pittsburgh.

My excuse for the terrible lack of hitting is simple: It's the beginning of the season, the hitting will come in time. Because if it doesn't come soon, it likely could spell the end for often-frenzied manager Larry Bowa. The lone bright spot so far has been the play of Burrell, who already is batting 200 hundred points better than he was last year. And though most of his hits have been singles, the power will surely come, and Pat the Bat will return to his dominating 2002 form in which he hit 37 homers.

But baseball is such a long season that it really is hard to read too much into early-season games. However, this feels different. As each day goes by, it seems more and more like last years team which choked through the last month of the season. And I'm not just talking about the bats. Newly acquired reliever Roberto Hernandez, whose veteran experience in the bullpen was supposed to be invaluable, has an ERA of 9.82 and has promptly surrendered two home runs in the first week of play. Crafty and effective set-up man Rheal Cormier, whose 1.70 ERA led the team last year, has blown two leads already in only three innings of work. The starting pitching, however, is a completely different story. All five starters have had great first starts, none giving up more than three earned runs. However, they have no wins to show for it as they have had either horrid run support or had their lead blown by the bullpen.

So as the first week of the "Season of Dreams" for the Fightin's comes to a close, there are a few assumptions we can draw. The first is that, no matter how good this team looks on paper, those darn Marlins look almost as good, and it looks like this division is not going to be so easy, after all. The second assumption we can draw is that, if the Phillies have to go down to play the Marlins with a playoff berth on the line, we better pray, because right now the Phils are just plain jinxed at Pro Player Stadium. The third assumption is that the Phillies will be in the playoff race come September. They are just too solid all around not to be, and no matter what struggles are going on now, they will be (they had better be) fixed come crunch time. It has been a disappointing first week in Phillies land, but with Citizen's Bank Park now open and all of the hoopla behind, hopefully, it will bring these Phillies back to life.

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