Pat Burrell leads the majors with an astonishing 15 RBI in just six games. Batting a scary .480, Burrell looks steadier at the plate than he has in years. More patient, he's forcing the pitcher to throw strikes and abusing any mistakes With two strikes he isn't panicking. Every once in a while he'll get fooled and go fishing, but the wild swings have diminished appreciably. If he keeps his current approach over the 162 game grind, the Phillies will win a lot of ball games.
Gavin Floyd (1-0) shook off his shaky final start of Spring Training and turned in an absolute gem on Saturday against a potent Cardinals lineup. At one point Floyd retired 19 straight, a streak that probably won't happen to the Redbirds again in 2005. Over seven strong innings he showed great command, walking none and consistently hitting the glove wherever catcher Todd Pratt set up. Perhaps the best sign was that he settled down after a shaky first inning, showing maturity and focus. Another solid start from Gavin Floyd and the Phillies will have some tough decisions to make when Vicente Padilla returns from injury, which may be as soon as next Sunday.
The entire starting rotation had a great first turn to start the season. Brett Myers and Floyd, the two biggest question marks coming into the campaign, and they were downright dominating. Cory Lidle shook off a weak Spring with a gritty start and the veterans - Randy Wolf and Jon Lieber - showed great mound presence in controlling their games.
Against the Cards on Sunday, Lieber flirted with a perfect game into the fifth inning until Scott Rolen lined a single to left. He kept the shutout into the seventh until Albert Pujols mashed a 422 foot drive onto the grass over the center field wall. Two long balls in the eighth kept Lieber's second start from being a gem, but he dominated the Cards while the game was still close and picked up a well-deserved ‘W'. Now 2-0, Lieber sure looks like an ace so far.
Jimmy Rollins is tied with Jim Thome for a team-high five walks. While J-Roll is batting only .250, the more significant number is his .379 On Base Percentage (OBP). If he remains selective throughout the season, running deep counts at the top of the order, his batting average will climb in a hurry and the Phillies will keep the scorekeepers scrambling to hang up a lot of crooked numbers. Already the Phillies lead the majors in runs scored.
Despite the stellar job by the starters and the many torrid bats, the Phillies are just 3-3 and looking up at the Braves yet again. Only the 1-5 Mets trail the Phillies in the standings.
Phillies attendance is down and already boos abound. This week didn't convince the skeptical fans that this is a team with the magic to win the difficult NL East.
The bullpen suffered nothing short of a total meltdown in the opening week. Yielding as many runs as innings pitched, the bullpen blew it's first three save opportunities. Tim Worrell blew two by himself, posting an embarrassing 13.50 ERA in four games of work, tossing what looked like batting practice pitches. As a group, the bullpen has more walks than the starting rotation (9 to 7) and have given up more earned runs (13 to 11) in well under half the innings pitched (15 1/3 to 38 2/3). These are warthog ugly numbers for the "relief" corps.
Worrell, Rheal Cormier, Terry Adams, Ryan Madson and Pedro Liriano all gave up runs in bunches. Only Billy Wagner looked good, but the set up men failed to get him the ball with a lead. Considered a strength at the start of the season, the bullpen is already the team's top concern.
The Phillies have committed seven errors already, leading to six unearned runs. They have a team fielding percentage of .970, second worst in all of baseball. Not a way to win tight ballgames.
Next Week: High Noon
Three games against Florida and three against Atlanta will give the Phillies a chance to take a hold of the NL East and show the fans that they are serious about contending this season. The Marlins are coming off of a strong series against Washington which included shutouts by Dontrelle Willis and Josh Beckett. Fortunately, the Phillies won't have to face Beckett, who has yet to give up a run in 15 innings. Wily Marlin veteran Al Leiter takes the hill to start the showdown series against enigmatic Phillie Brett Myers. On Tuesday it's Wolf vs. A.J. Burnett and on Wednesday Lidle will go against Willis. Expect mostly close games in which the bullpens will be a factor along with team defense.
These early games aren't exactly must wins, but if the Phillies want the fans behind them, they have to show they can compete within their own division.