Pitching Spurs Phillies To A Strong Week

The last place Phillies had a good week against a pair of first place teams, winning two of three against both the Cardinals and Orioles. Though still the cellar dwellers, the Phillies certainly didn't act like it, besting a pair of front-running pennant contenders and bringing themselves within striking distance of the rest of the pitching-rich NL East.

Even more encouraging was the return of veteran leaders Jim Thome and Kenny Lofton, who contributed right away after 15-day stints on the DL. To make room for them, the Phillies sent rookie slugger Ryan Howard back to AAA and designated Jose Offerman for assignment.

In the rubber game against the Orioles on Sunday, Pat Burrell blasted a huge three-run homerun to give Cory Lidle all the support he needed. Badly beaten by the Orioles on Saturday, the Phillies came out strong on Sunday and stuck it right back to them to take the series.

Hopefully this week was the start of something good for the Phillies, who have struggled to find themselves this season. Much of the Phillies recent success is due to the solid work of the front four starting pitchers.

At 5-3, Phillies Ace John Lieber has pitched well this season despite his recent struggles. We should take a moment to credit GM Ed Wade for the Lieber signing. It is hard to imagine where the Phillies would be without him. Even Lieber acknowledges that Wade's single-minded pursuit stood out as a reason to come to Philadelphia. Don't think for a moment that the Yanks wouldn't love to have Lieber, but while Wade was actively courting him, the Yankees were pre-occupied with other business. If Wade hadn't acted decisively on Lieber, there is every reason to believe the Yankees would have signed him. The businesslike Lieber will no doubt shake off his last two starts and settle back into a groove befitting his status as the Phillies number one starter. He gets his chance on Monday against the rival Florida Marlins.

Number two Brett Myers has been unbelievable. Without question he should represent the Phillies in the All-Star game. If he continues his dominating performances, the wins will pile up and he will have a shot at winning the Cy Young award. If you are looking for a reason to come to the ballpark, Myers is it. He's a fighter out there on the mound, and unlike last year, he looks like he's feeding off the hapless hitters. At a certain point we will run out of adjectives, but for now "awesome" and "amazing" will do.

Sunday's winner Lidle, now 4-3, is a starting pitcher any team would be pleased to have. Let's give Ed Wade a little credit here for trading for him in '04 and then re-signing him for ‘05. Many people were annoyed at Wade for letting lefty Eric Milton go, but at this stage it's plain to see that Lidle was the right guy to keep. Milton is struggling with the Reds, serving up long balls at a high rate and not finding the support he needs to overcome them. Lidle, meanwhile, has been sharp. He is exactly the kind of savvy veteran starter you want in the heat of a pennant race.

Randy Wolf has settled into a nice groove, taking the sting out of the recent sub-par outings by ace John Lieber. Vicente Padilla, now 1-5, pitched well enough to lose again, but there are signs that he may be turning the corner. If the Phillies are going to get hot, they absolutely must get some quality starts from the fifth starter. The Phillies don't have all year to waste while Padilla struggles to regain his form.

Manager Charlie Manual insists that there is nothing wrong with the Phillies that a ten game winning streak wouldn't fix. "If we can run off eight, 10, 12 games in a row, it'll put us where we want to be. It's a long season. It's a journey. We have to stay with it. I think our stretch is coming."

Sounds great, doesn't it? The only problem is that the Phillies simply do not go on winning streaks. The longest Phillies win streak this year has been three games. Last year, the longest winning streak was six games, which they managed just once at the end of a lost season. Not even a pair of scalding hot weeks by Bobby Abreu could lead them to a significant win streak. In fact, these Phillies have been so maddeningly unable to string together a win streak that it nearly defines them as a team. What makes Manuel think a win streak is forthcoming now, heading into the showdowns against the Marlins and Braves?

Whatever it is, let's hope he's right. Because the Phillies can't afford to lose any more ground. Sure, they're only 5 ½ games out, but they are still below .500 and looking up at the rest of the pack. At least they showed some life this week, scratching and clawing to fight their way out of the cellar.

If the next few weeks go as well as this past week, the Phillies will be in the thick of things this fall. They still have to overcome a slow start, but there is no reason to count them out yet. A few more weeks like this one and they won't be the "last place Phillies" for long.

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