For the first time since mid-June the Phillies are breathing the rarified atmosphere above sea level. To say it hasn’t been easy would qualify as the understatement of the year.
During the long trek back to average, the Phillies have sold, traded or lost through injury their starting third baseman, right-fielder, center-fielder, closer, top middle reliever, number 1,2 0r 3 starter depending on how you value consistency and assorted others due to on and off-field adventures.
And yet they are still in contention for the Wild Card as September looms. In fact, they are playing better and with more heart than at any other time this season. Just when things couldn’t get any worse, the Phils are getting better, so much so they went out and acquired 43-year old Jamie Moyer to help their cause. Clearly, Moyer had an advance copy of the script prior to his arrival because he went right out there and won his first start in a Phillies uniform.
Something’s happening here.
This may not be a completely rag-tag outfit, how could it be with Cole Hamels, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard on the roster, but it sure ain’t your 1980 Phillies either. Who can explain why a team undergoing such turnover could get better not worse? The clues are everywhere.
Chris Coste is on a magical mystery ride. A guy whose best position wasn’t supposed to be catcher is suddenly the prime guy. As Beerleaguer told me the other day, it also doesn’t hurt that he is hitting a ton. Abe Nunez has finally been given a chance to start every day and in the process has raised his average nearly 50 points, a Herculean undertaking at this late juncture of the season. His defense has been tremendous. With each outing Cole Hamels further establishes himself as the genuine article. His strikeouts are up; his walks are down; his confidence and poise are the stuff of seasoned veterans. One gets the feeling the Phils are going to win whenever he takes the ball.
Shane Victorino is battling Jimmy Rollins for the honor of being the team sparkplug. He brings an intensity and excitement to the game rarely seen in these parts. Case in point: last night he singled only to be picked off first base. So, where did the camera find him after his embarrassing moment? Not sulking underneath a towel on the bench. Instead, he was talking with bench coach Gary Varsho, no doubt going over what he did wrong. Victorino has been playing regularly of late but will now be an every-day player for the rest of the campaign following Aaron Rowand’s injury. Frankly, he represents an improvement.
With each passing day Jimmy further establishes himself as one of the most dynamic shortstops in the National League. He is scoring runs, hitting with power, fielding superbly and leading his team. The Phils could not be doing it without him.
We needn’t recapitulate our awe and admiration of Utley and Howard. Suffice it to say that every few days I pinch myself and repeat, “And they are all ours for years to come.”
However it turns out in the end, and realistically their chances diminish with the bullpen they can currently throw out there, these Phillies have been more fun to watch than any version in recent memory.