Not So Bad After All... For Now

Just 15 days ago the Phillies were ten games back in the loss column and all that was left in the season were the questions of what could have been. Charlie Manuel had been fired by the fans ten times over and Ed Wade's one way ticket out of town was purchased. A summer of disappointment awaited The City of Brotherly Love. But suddenly, with 12 wins in 14 games, the Philliear are now in the race. The season seems salvaged, but how long will this run last?

Admittedly, this team looked dead less then a month ago. Plans were being drawn up by Phillies fans throughout the Delaware Valley to dismantle this team and build for a future that still has (some) time to be salvaged. The lynch mob was ready to punish Ed Wade for stealing baseball from a generation of Philadelphia fans over the past seven years, and take out Charlie Manuel in the process. Yet despite and possibly in spite of its fans, the Phillies have gone on one of the better runs in the recent history of this club. In the span of just under a month, the Phillies have catapulted from worst to nearly first in what looks to be the toughest division in all of baseball.

We've been down this road before though; the Phightin Phils enter a season with moderately high expectations and struggle out of the gate. This season those struggles were of epic proportions and were further magnified by the ignorance the organization showed to its perceived problems.

The club's 8-11 start was overshadowed by a manger that has bigger troubles communicating with the media than Drew Rosenhaus is having renegotiating a new contract for Terrell Owens. A young second baseman, whose development was stunted by a veteran player who consistently whined about playing time, was second on the team in home runs despite not playing everyday. Jim Thome's batting average hovered near the Mendoza line during the short time he was in the lineup during April and May and the lone bright spot was Bobby Abreu, who regardless of solid numbers wasn't hitting consistently with runners in scoring position.

What a difference a month makes.

Now, two weeks into the month of June, the Phillies are on the doorstep of leading the National League East in the early stages of summer for the second straight year. Placido Polanco was finally traded, nearly a year too late, and he actually netted the Phillies a solid reliever who should bolster the bullpen into the best in all the National League. That bullpen which has been overused in the first two and a half months of the season will certainly benefit from a closer type pitcher that Ugueth Urbina now brings to the table. That bullpen may also get some rest due to an offense that has been hotter than the recent ultra heat wave hitting the northeast.

Pat Burrell who has struggled mightily in recent years seems to finally be putting together a season living up to what was expected him when he was the number one pick in 1998. Burrell's currently hitting .321 and has blasted 12 home runs and driven in 51 RBI, and it's only June. Should Burrell continue to put up these kinds of numbers, he would hit 40 home runs and drive in 100 runs with little trouble. Finally, it seems Burrell is developing into the player Phillies brass felt he should have been all along.

Even Jim Thome, who was written off a few weeks ago, is finally looking like he's regained his power stroke. The offense is already heating up without him being at his best and should Thome regain to typical form, there is no reason to doubt this offense, and this team is capable of great things as the season progresses. In the mean time the performances of players like Burrell, Chase Utley and Bobby Abreu are crucial to the Phillies suddenly recharged playoff hopes.

The right fielder, despite his lack of production with runners in scoring position, is having the season of his life. Abreu has notched 15 home runs, 15 steals and has driven in 44 runs to begin the season. His performance in large part is responsible for the Phillies current tear.

Now that Chase Utley will be given the opportunity to play everyday, and he looks to be taking advantage of that chance, the overall defense of the infield and the offense as well can only improve. Utley's presence in the lineup alone will benefit this club because he has shown glimpses of being able to come through in the clutch, which is something this collective team has not done well in recent years.

Given the club's recent performance and the fact that the general manager may very well be spending the rest of this season in an attempt to save his job, the short term prognosis of this team might not be as bleak as previously predicted. If wade can strike gold again near the trading deadline and bring a top notch, rotation topping starting pitcher, then this club may very well be playing October baseball for the first time in over a decade.

Perhaps it's time to put worries of a nucleus that simply isn't getting any younger, and a farm system more barren than the Sahara Desert on the back burner. Maybe, just maybe, this is the time to sit back and enjoy this team, at least for now, because after all there might not be much more enjoyment in the future.

I appreciate any and all feedback. Feel free to e-mail me at: MDLombardo@yahoo.com.


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