Sunday, August 24, 2008

Coming Around?

That makes two offensive outbursts in a row for the Phillies as they continued to seek redemption against the Los Angeles Dodgers, who swept them in LA a week ago. The Phils 9-2 victory yesterday afternoon followed Friday night's 8-1 pasting of the Dodgers and also featured Cole Hamels' fine pitching performance. After this game Hamels isn't likely to pursue his lack of support suit against the offense.

If indeed the heretofore slumping core -- Jimmy Rollins, Pat Burrell, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard -- are coming around their revival couldn't come at a more opportune time. The Phils victory coupled with the Astros win over the Mets reduced New York's lead to 1.5 games with 33 games remaining. Lest anyone forget, the Mets held a much wider margin over the Phils last season at the same juncture and we all know what happened.

Two games do not a permanent revival make, but there are a number of good signs in them including an opposite field home run by Howard, line drives by Utley, station-to-station scoring and plenty of hustle. The Phils also continue to rely heavily on the long ball as Burrell's home (#30) run gave them three players (Utley has 31 and Howard 34) with 30 or more home runs thus far this season.

The hardest part of watching the offense struggle mightily for nearly three months is that the starting pitching has generally far exceeded expectations. Nobody appreciates the hitting more than Hamels, who could easily have fifteen or more wins this season if his mates had matched his performances. That's all passed balls now, however; the Phils must maintain the balance of good pitching and hitting to leap over the Mets because winning the division realistically looks like the only chance they have of making the post-season. Too many good clubs are ahead of them in the Wild Card race. Indeed, looking at the overall Major League standings shows eight clubs in both leagues with better records than the Phils. They may be less stellar than originally thought, but that won't prevent them from playing in October if they can prolong their rediscovered collective strokes.

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