Phils Enoy a Good Week Both On and Off The Field

Winners of 15 of their last 17 games - including the last six in a row - the red hot Phillies finished a glorious home stand for the ages, just a game and a half behind the streaking Washington Nationals in the NL East. In an eventful week, the Phillies made a blockbuster trade, selected 49 players in the 2005 draft and lost starting pitcher Randy Wolf indefinitely.

Here's a close-up look at the past week:

Monday
The Diamondbacks chased Cory Lidle after just three innings to spoil the Phillies bid for a four-game sweep. The bullpen couldn't silence Arizona's booming bats, though Geoff Geary pitched well for three innings in middle relief. Jimmy Rollins had three hits and Chase Utley added three RBI as the Phillies spirited comeback fell short.

Tuesday
On the first day of the 2005 draft, the Phillies squared off against the Texas Rangers for the first time ever.

The Phillies first overall pick , a second-rounder, is a local Archbishop Caroll product named Mike Costanzo.

A third baseman who idolized Mike Schmidt growing up, Costanzo apparently bleeds Phillies red. His grandfather cheered as Richie Ashburn sped around the bases at old Shibe park. Costanzo must have heard stories of another Phillie local, "Whiz Kid" Del Ennis, an Olney product who played well for ten solid years under a constant hail of boos. Ennis averaged over 25 HR and 100 RBI for the Fightin's and never could figure out why the fans constantly rode him. So far, Costanzo is a hometown hit.

The Phillies also drafted eight pitchers, the first six from college. With their third pick, the Phillies tapped Michael Durant, Jimmy Rollins' friend out of Berkeley, CA, who stands at 6'5", 230 pounds from the right side. That's a big strike zone and a big swing.

In the opener against the front-running Rangers, the Phils featured a potent lineup with Pat Burrell batting cleanup ahead of Jim Thome, who got some strikes to hit with Utley waiting behind him. Placido Polanco hit seventh, starting at third base over David Bell.

Bobby Abreu drilled a two-run shot to the opposite field to put the Phillies ahead to stay.

Ace starter Jon Lieber got the "W" as Billy Wagner slammed the door with another save.

Wednesday
Just when it seemed possible that the Phillies would finally begin starting Placido Polanco at third base…they traded him.

GM Ed Wade pulled the trigger on a trade to pick up one of the better relievers in the game in Ugueth Urbina. Reports indicate that another team in the NL East was close to a deal, so the swap became doubly sweet.

There aren't many top relievers on the market this year and Urbina might have been the best. It was going to take a steep price to get him and the Phillies paid it, giving up a superb player in Polanco. Infielder Ramon Martinez, a right-handed bat, was a welcome throw-in.

As with any trade, there's a cross your fingers effect, but when you weigh it all out, this deal looks like a good one. It puts enormous responsibility on the shoulders of Utley and Urbina, but the potential upside outweighs the potential downside.

The upside, however, is all in the pitching.

Looked at in terms of lefty-righty matchups, the Phillies just switched to a lefty-lefty "mismatch" on nearly half of Polanco's at-bats. Going forward, the "mismatches" fall into Chase Utley's lap.

There will be a net loss to the offense. How noticeable? Shorter rallies, runners stranded, less scoring in bunches. At least Phillies brass acknowledges this fact. The difference will become more apparent in close games.

Some will argue that Utley is an instant upgrade over Polanco, but the numbers suggest otherwise. Chase Utley is a fan favorite and a sensational player with a tremendous upside, but we haven't seen him as a regular yet. There will be growing pains as he learns to hit the left-handers that Polanco, a righty, had faced.

There's no way you can look at his current numbers and project him to pick up Polanco's production.

Not the high average. Not the low strikeouts.

Utley has a lightning quick bat and will improve against lefties over time. But time is of the essence and Philly fans can be impatient when expectations are high. It's a credit to Manuel that he acknowledges a net loss instead of getting caught up in the Utley hype and setting him up to fail.

Placido Polanco had just nine punch-outs in 158 at-bats. Not surprisingly, Polanco was exceptional at moving runners, extending innings and getting more at-bats for the big guys. Someone else will now have to move those runners and turn the lineup over. It cannot fall entirely to Utley.

It's also doubtful that the middle of the order, Abreu-Burrell-Thome, will perform any better as a group than they already have. No doubt Jim Thome will pick up the pace - he can't slump all season, can he? But as Thome heats up, Abreu and Burrell will most likely cool off, at least a little, since they have been playing out of their minds. They can't both stay hot all season, can they?

This all means that Bell and Rollins must both perform well down the stretch.

Placido Polanco picked a peck of pickled peppers. He was error free, turning double plays with Rollins from all over the diamond. Sometimes spectacular but always steady, Polanco could win games just with his leather.

He was an upgrade waiting to happen at third base, but because Polanco was on the trading block from the get-go, veteran David Bell was spared his job.

Polanco, the perfect trading chip, was also the perfect insurance policy. "Polly" made all of his teammates better. Most Phillies were sad to see him go.

Oh yeah. The Phillies also played a game. Rookie Robinson Tejeda pitched five scoreless innings in his first major league start, allowing just two hits and two walks while striking out four against the mighty Texas Rangers. The Phillies hung on to an unexpectedly low-scoring 2-0 win. Pat Burrell's two-run single off Chris Young was all the Phillies needed.

Tejeda is quickly pitching himself deeper into the Phillies plans, showing great poise and focus on the mound - not to mention nasty stuff.

Kenny Lofton raised his average to .410 in the game. Lofton shows exceptional concentration at the plate. Credit Kenny for keying the Phillies turnaround. Credit his focus, his knowledge of the game, his professional approach on every pitch. It's no mystery how he makes the playoffs almost every year. Lofton = Winning.

Philly Fans haven't warmed up to him yet, but if Kenny Lofton helps the Phillies win a World Series, he'd be knocking on the door of the Hall-of-Fame. Would they let him in?

Thursday
Ugueth Urbina turned cheers into jeers in his Phillies debut by yielding four late runs in a slugfest.

"Oogie" will get lots of lots of love as he gets lots of outs. A life-long friend of Abreu, the chemistry seems right, despite the parting shots from Detroit. We're thrilled to have him in Philly.

Charlie Manuel - yet again - was forced to use the weary Wagner. Wags put the lid on another Phillies win, but not before putting the lid on Urbina's pitching line by letting both inherited runners score on a two-run smash double by the Rangers superstar Mark Teixeira.

Earlier, "Tex" nearly killed a fan in right field with a line drive home run that left the yard in the blink of an eye. It was his second homer of the night off Padilla, who plunked "Tex" in his next at-bat.

It was no surprise when the Rangers drilled Abreu in the bottom of the inning.

Angered, Pat Burrell drilled a towering home run, his second of the night, to avenge the Rangers gesture. A smarting but smiling Abreu scored ahead of him.

Burrell finished the night with four RBI. Todd Pratt smacked around Texas pitching for four RBI of his own to help complete the convincing sweep.

Numerology: with number 44 Padilla on the mound in the 4th inning of a 4-4 tie, announcers said that Thome's earlier upper-deck homerun had traveled…you guessed it…an estimated 444 feet.

Friday
Brett Myers pitched another outstanding game, striking out the side in the eighth inning of a 2-2 tie. Ryan Madson pitched a perfect ninth. David Bell talked about getting a contribution from everyone after his dramatic walk-off three-run homer.

"As good as the middle of our lineup is, it can't be those same guys every night", said Bell, who's production is on the rise with a solid May and an excellent start to June.

Bell knows what it is to be a winner. He started at third base for the Seattle team that won a record 116 games. A veteran of seven post-season series, Bell's playoff numbers are well above his career averages. With tons of baseball sense, he's a good guy to have on the club.

Saturday
Pat Burrell and Bobby Abreu hit big home runs to stake the Phillies to a late lead, and Ugueth Urbina finished strong with his first save in a Phillies uniform.

Randy Wolf pitched another gritty game, battling through a recurring injury flare-up. Wolf must now shut it down to attend to his ailing elbow. Wolf (5-3, 4.10 ERA) has been a steady winner in recent weeks. His loss will be difficult to overcome. Get well soon, Randy. We need you.

Will rookie Robinson Tejeda get another start? With Urbina in the house, will Ryan Madson get the innings he deserves? Mad Dog chews right through opposing batters. Why the stubborn refusal to give him another try?

Numerology: More Madson Innings = Fewer Runs Against.

Sunday
The Phillies swept the Brew Crew as Chase Utley smashed his 10th home run, a three-run shot in the eighth inning to put the game away.

Chase makes a clear statement about his ability to hit lefties, hitting his electrifying bolt off Brewers southpaw Tommy Phelps. He also makes a case for the All-Star game.

Starting pitcher Cory Lidle went seven strong innings for his sixth win.

Pat Burrell is in a dead heat with Bobby Abreu in the NL MVP race. Burrell hit a towering blast to put the Phillies up 2-1 in the fourth inning.

Abreu, NL Player of the Month in May, is off to a terrific June, and may yet overtake Pat for the monthly honor again. Bobby got the Phillies on the board with a long RBI double in the first.

These are good times for the Phillies, despite to loss of Wolf. Between Madson and Tejeda, the Phillies have at least two options to plug the starting pitcher hole(s).

Or maybe Trader Wade has another trick up his sleeve. Perhaps Ryan Howard for Barry Zito might work afterall.

The week ahead: A trip to Seattle to face the sinking Mariners followed by three games in the Bay against cellar-dwelling Oakland.


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