I begin today with an acknowledged exaggeration: tonight’s game against the Cardinals is a big one.
The Phillies simply have to get off to a good start this April. History, theirs as well as nearly everyone else’s, suggests that a fast start in April is critical to success. Last year the Phils stumbled out of the gate to a 10-14 record for the first month of the season and never really caught up, finishing one game out of the playoffs on the final day of the season.
The encouraging news is that despite being shellacked in the season opener, the Phils didn’t tuck their tails as they battled back. For all the frustration of watching J-Roll pop up in his and the team’s first AB of 2006, he and the rest of his mates hung tough. Jimmy’s double down the line in his fifth and final plate appearance may have done more than extend his 37-game hitting streak; it may have provided just the sort of spark that can carry over.
Tonight’s opposing pitcher, Mark Mulder, is a lefty, which should produce a challenge for a significant portion of the Phils’ batting order. Brett Myers makes the start for the Phils and there is little doubt this game and season are critical to his ascension to leading status on this staff. Myers is the ace-in-waiting and, frankly, the time is now for him to assume the role. He can begin by stopping the Cards in their tracks now and giving a jumpstart to his team.
A fast start may not only be critical to their collective fortunes, but as I suggested in my pre-season predictions, manager Charlie Manuel’s job may be on the line early. GM Pat Gillick is well along in putting his stamp on this club and as we all know, the manager was inherited not chosen.
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Meanwhile, El Enigma made an impressive debut over the American League last night. The fact that Vicente was even pitching this early in the season was noteworthy given his history of overdoing the off-season (on and off the field) and starting the regular campaign on the DL.
For the record, Padilla pitched six innings, allowing one earned run on four hits while walking two and striking out five. As if his line wasn’t unfamiliar enough, the oddest thing was to look at his photo wearing a cap with a big T on it.
Did I mention it was a terrible trade? (Yeah, I know; let’s see how he does down the road.)