A lot of reasons have been offered for why the Phillies, given up for dead and committed to unloading as many veterans and their remaining salaries as possible, should suddenly win nine of thirteen overall since those trades including six of nine games on a road trip through some tough towns and be talking, improbably, about the NL Wild Card.
Forget notions of knowing how to win, one line of reasoning that makes sense to me is that this team is now fielding a lot of youngsters – Utley, Howard, Hamels, Mathieson, Victorino et al - who don’t really know much about losing and aren’t about to accept defeat.
Gone is patient Bobby Abreu, who for all his walks and high on-base percentages, wasn’t swinging away enough, trying to drive in runs and ignite his team. In his spot in the lineup we now find Chase Utley, who is a much better number three hitter at this stage and can be counted on to do whatever it takes to win. Yesterday's dash home from second base on a chopper by Ryan Howard was pure Utley.
Cory Lidle departed and took with him the much quoted conviction his teammates weren’t committed to playing hard behind him. In his stead we have Hamels and Mathieson, young, confident and glad to have the opportunity to pitch for the big club.
There are also a number of veterans who have known adversity but who haven’t let it affect their game. Randy Wolf, who is making a determined effort to come back from Tommy John surgery, is quoted as saying he likes the way his teammates are playing right now. The feeling here is Wolf is dedicated to the Phillies, who have stood behind him. Yesterday’s fine outing in Atlanta was extremely encouraging to both parties.
David Dellucci is one of those veterans who didn’t get enough playing time in his mind prior to the trade deadline and who when presented with the opportunity is making the most of it, delivering clutch hit after clutch hit. He never sulked throughout the season.
Thirty-three year old rookie Chris Coste would throw batting practice if he thought it would help this team win and him stick with them. As it is, he is playing his second best position, catcher, with considerable skill while hitting a robust .341. He noted the other day starter Jon Lieber only shook him off twice in seven plus innings of work.
This blend of youngsters and veterans is probably not good enough to make the post-season, even among the mediocre clubs scrambling for the Wild Card, but they offer a glimpse of the future and it isn’t gloomy.