Monday, July 23, 2007

Heading For Home With A Head of Steam

Go figure...because I can't.

Three days after good pitching (San Diego's) beat good hitting (Philadelphia's), the Phillies turned around and took three straight from the Padres at Petco Park to finish their western road trip at 4-3. Who knows which team is going to show up at home when the Phils host Washington beginning tomorrow.

A few weeks ago I predicted Ryan Howard's average was going to rise. He was looking more comfortable at the plate, literally, his crouch a little lower, his extension of one hand holding the bat held a little longer. Howard has raised his average to .279, and he did so against two very good pitching staffs. Not only is he among the league leaders in home runs and rbi's, he's getting hot in the clutch as the weather gets hotter and crunch time gets crunchier.

Meanwhile, Chase Utley not only continues to lead virtually every hitting category in the NL, he's also looking more impressive in the field with each passing day. Utley is particularly strong going to his right for balls hit up the middle and if he's playing back on the grass he is especially adept at sliding for balls hit to either side, popping up and nipping the runner at first base. Hitting. Fielding. Running the bases. In short, Utley makes watching baseball fun.

And what can we say that we haven't already gushed about J-Roll? He's hitting for average and power, scoring nearly a run a game and still fielding with the best of them. If the Phillies ever sign a leading third baseman they will put the best foursome ever assembled on the field every night.

So, who was the hero of this road trip? J.D. Durbin gets my nod. Fifteen innings pitched. One earned run. Two victories. One bullpen saved. Who'd have thunk it? Here's a guy with his fourth team this year, who was crushed in his first appearance as a dire emergency starter, who was probably pitching because, frankly, the Phillies didn't have any other options, and he wins two games on the road on the West Coast. Durbin has moved around so much this year alone he probably doesn't know the difference between a home and away game, but no matter. He stepped up very big time. Ain't the beer cold!


David said...

"And what can we say that we haven't already gushed about J-Roll?"

Well, Vin Scully has something new to add: according to the Gnarled Windbag of Chavez Ravine, he is known as 'J-Smooth'.

Taking 3 in a row at San Diego has to be a big confidence builder. Howard said earlier on the trip the team feels it can play with anyone, and they have to feel that even moreso now. For as similar as the scenario appears - hovering a round .500, on the outside looking in - this team goes about things differently than the last few years' editions. For whatever it's worth, they strike me as being far hungrier to win than the Braves and Mets. And I think they're apt to take care of business against the lesser lights this week.

Tom Goodman said...

These guys can drive you nuts with the constant up and down but two things this road trip underscored are that the Padres are overrated (they don't have much offense) and if the Phillies had pitching they would be playing in November let alone October.

When you think how far down Howard was and that he is still finding his stroke and that third base and left field remain problematic with catcher depending on who is back there also troublesome, it's astonishing they are as close as they are.

David said...

It is astonishing. But I think it says more about the competition than the Phillies.

More than ever, people need to not even *mention* the possibility of trading Rowand - with Howard finally back at full-throttle, the intentional walks are going to start mounting, making Rowand ever more essential.

Tom Goodman said...

I have no confidence in Gillick and less than no confidence (is that possible?) in Amaro. If they are going to lose Rowand anyway, take the draft pick compensation. I gather there is little or no chance of re-signing him at this point. Man, do they need him down the stretch, as you point out. And, man, has this guy timed having his best year ever offensively. Outside of Philadelphia he still has a reputation as being a great centerfielder. Inside Phila., we know he is less than great but certainly good. Funny how much the team and its followers obsessed about protection for Howard when it was here all along!!

SirAlden said...

Love your blog Tom. I have every confidence in Gillick and no confidence in Ruben.

The Phillies with our new found payroll flexability and 3 years of drafting Pitching in the minor leagues and not giving up high round draft picks, are a HUGE SHARK ready to strike when a Franchise Starting Pitcher like Santana or Bedard, or a Franchise 3B/LF like Cabrera becomes available.

That is Gillick's doing.