Monday, August 23, 2004

Some Things to Cheer About

“Play somewhere in the neighborhood of .500 against the top teams and beat up on the bottom ones.”

I wrote that a few weeks ago when laying out the basic formula for success and the Phillies promptly dropped three straight series at home to Colorado, San Francisco and Houston respectively.

The Rockies and Astros were both playing below .500 for the season when they arrived at Citizens Bank Park and though the Giants were playing better than .500 for the season when they came to town, their record since the All Star break had been a distinctly mediocre 12 – 15.

Following a three-game sweep of the Brewers in Milwaukee this past weekend the Phils have managed to crawl back to 62-62 for the season. Still, they have to play nearly .700 ball the rest of the way and hope their competitors for the wild card berth play poorly. This is more than a tall order; it’s a pipe dream especially with five games remaining against Atlanta and seven with chief nemesis Florida.

The Milwaukee series was encouraging on a number of fronts. Eric Milton officially stamped himself the staff ace, halting a seven game losing streak with a very solid effort. The ability to stop a losing streak has long been considered one of the chief attributes of an ace. A record of 13 – 2 record doesn’t hurt either. Some people look at Milton's relatively high career ERA and his tendency to give up the long ball and wonder whether this season is indicative of the future. Others note the high run support he has received this campaign and also expect a reversion to the mean. However, we should not discount this is also the first season in a few during which he has been healthy following knee surgery.

Meanwhile, second baseman Chase Utley has clearly arrived. His pinch-hit triple won Saturday’s game and another hit coming off the bench on Sunday provided a margin that turned out to be crucial when reliever Roberto Hernandez surrendered two runs in the bottom of the ninth to make things interesting. Moreover, Utley is playing an excellent second base. What most impresses this observer, however, is his intensity. Utley is all business whether he is starting or not, a quality hard to come by especially in a young player.

Another very encouraging sign has been David Bell’s hitting. Since returning to the lineup from his latest injury Bell has hit over .420 while improving his season average to .285, thirty-one points above his career average.

All is not doom and gloom in the land of the hoagie.

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