Spring training is over and the 2012 baseball season in Philadelphia has officially begun.
There has been much talk over the offseason about how the Phillies will fare in 2012. Without Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, will they have enough offense to win games? Where will the power come from? How will Hunter Pence and John Mayberry handle the load? What will happen if Jimmy Rollins or Placido Polanco get put on the DL?
Obviously none of these questions have easy answers, and it will take a lot of creativity on the part of Charlie Manuel and his staff to take the team he has to championship glory once again. But nothing is out of the realm of possibility for this team.
Despite some offensive struggles and leftover batting rust, the Phillies still managed a 1-0 win behind Roy Halladay's stellar pitching and Carlos Ruiz's inspired offense. It may not be much but a win is a win and for the Phils, pitching will likely be key in 2012 so 1-0 wins could be a bit of a norm.
Even if the offense was a bit lackluster, defense was strong on all ends and pitching was at a premium. Besides the "one" in the win column which is the only number that matters, the Opening Day game yielded some positive signs for the Phils going forward.
There was some concern in the offseason that Phillies ace, Roy Halladay, was experiencing problems with velocity and sharpness in his pitches. His spring ERA was north of 10 and he also gave up a lot of home runs.
Well, spring is over and any rust, lack of sharpness or low velocity is far gone. Halladay is once again in baseball mode and that was clear when he went to the mound for his Opening Day start and pitched the way fans are accustomed to seeing.
After giving up two first inning hits, one a bloop single and the other a perfectly laid down bunt, Halladay calmed down any nerves he may have had and went to work. The Doc surgically and meticulously worked his way through the Pirates lineup, keeping hitters off balance and never giving the Pirates a scoring opportunity.
Twice the ball was hit hard against him to left field, but both times it stayed in the park. Fans held their breath but John Mayberry Jr. took care of business, recording two strong catches on the field.
With the exception of those two hard hit balls, two first inning hits and two batters hit by pitch, Halladay was perfect.Yes, literally perfect.
His final line:
8 IP, 5K, 2 H, 2 HBP
Also of note: no walks, no runs, no extra base hits.
If pitching really does win championships, then the Phillies and their fans should be counting their blessings that Halladay is the ace of the rotation. If he keeps pitching like this, then it may not be such a shock to see a sea of red on Broad Street in October.
It may only be the first game, but it looks like Jimmy Rollins could be in the midst of a renaissance season. A .250 average may not look that good on paper, but in two at-bats Rollins did exactly what he needed to in his new role with the team.
With two outs and nobody on base, he opened the game with the first hit of the season for the Phils, a bunt single down the third base line. The move certainly shocked the Pirates as Rollins hustled down the line, making it to first without a play.
Now that probably doesn't seem that significant, but bunting for a base hit is something Rollins was working on this spring. He has the speed, so hopefully this is something that the Phils will continue to see this season. Rollins likely won't be bunting for a base-hit often from the three hole, but it is good to see that he can advance Victorino or Polanco into scoring position.
In addition to the bunt single, Rollins came up to bat in the eighth inning, with an RBI opportunity. He hit the ball hard, right on the nose, but unfortunately it went right into the jumping glove of the Pirates' second baseman. Despite the out, Rollins hit the ball well which is all anyone can ask in the situation. .
What he didn't seem to be doing this game is swinging for the fences, something he used to do a lot in the past few years. The Phils don't need Rollins giving up at-bats trying to hit the ball over the fence. Although he did get under a few balls today, his swing was for the most part pretty even.
If he continues to swing the way he did today, Rollins will make more contact and continue to hit the ball hard, all of which should account for a pretty good season for him and the Phils.
People often say that spring training numbers don't mean too much. The thought is that since pitchers are still getting back into form, offensive numbers can sometimes be skewed in favor of the batter. Some guys just come into spring ready to tee off and in 2012, that is exactly what Carlos Ruiz did.
Ruiz tore up spring training, hitting the cover off of the ball at nearly every chance he got. He finished the spring with a .479 average and added 10 RBI, eight doubles and two home runs.
Maybe his spring performance was a fluke, but maybe not. Whatever it was, he continued it into the first game of the season. Ruiz was the shining star in an otherwise lackluster offensive showing by the Phillies. The catching stud had three hits and a sac fly which drove home the only run in the Phils' 1-0 win.
Ruiz, who spent his first game of 2012 batting in the seventh spot in the lineup, was the difference in Halladay's Opening Day win. His defense is a definite, but any offense he can add can only help the Phils, especially with their revolving door lineup this season. If he continues to come up clutch and hit for average, he might just be one of the quiet, unsuspected, secret weapons that help lead the Phils to a sixth division title.
John Mayberry may not have had to earn the left field job this season, but in the first game he proved that he is the best man for the job.
Mayberry laced two hits, one of them a one-out double in the seventh which advanced Ty Wigginton to third and accounted for the game's only extra-base hit. Wigginton would later score the game's only run on Ruiz's sacrifice fly.
His offense came in the form of playing in left field today, but it is likely he will also spend some time at first. Although his offense will be vital in the lineup no matter what position he's in, his defense is another story.
Mayberry made two excellent plays in left field today, showing both range and speed. One play in particular looked like it was going to result in a Pirates' home run, until Mayberry tracked it down and made a leaping catch at the wall.
Laynce Nix and Juan Pierre likely wouldn't have been able to make the play, and it might be time for the Phils to start thinking about making Mayberry the everyday left fielder.
Last season, with only 92 pitches thrown and no signs of stress, the Phils probably would have left Roy Halladay in to finish the game rather than risk a loss from the closer by committee system.
Well, when you pay someone $54 million, you are certainly not paying him to sit in the bullpen. Halladay will get his shot at complete game shutouts as the season goes on, but keeping him fresh and his arm rested early in the season is one of the smartest things the Phils can do. Plus this year they have a bonafide closer and it is no question that Papelbon will be called on to pitch the ninth inning of close games.
The man who blew the final save of the season last year was nowhere to be found in game one of 2012. He struck out the first batter faced and then in less than 20 total pitches, retired the side to lock in Halladay's win.
Papelbon got the first of what could be many saves this season, as 1-0 wins might be something the Phils and their fans see a lot. It is very important that Papelbon is on his game all season long as he will provide a mainstay in what could be an unstable bullpen. If he continues pitching the way he did today, the Phils won't have much to worry about in the ninth inning of games.