Philadelphia Phillies: 5 Players Making Statements in 2012
After starting out 2012 sluggishly, the Philadelphia Phillies have put the pedal to the medal over the last week, winning six straight games and seven out of eight against San Diego, Houston, Chicago, and now Boston.
There have been plenty of disappointments so far—Chad Qualls, John Mayberry Jr, Jimmy Rollins, and Shane Victorino—but plenty of Phillies have made inroads in their careers as they soar past expectations.
The offense seems back on track, with Ryan Howard and Chase Utley set to return within the next six weeks, the starting pitching is as solid as ever and the fielding hasn't dipped since last year with the exception of a few extreme cases. Even though they are four games back and last in the division, this team seems poised to make a run thanks to a handful of players making the most of their playing time.
After a year of injuries and mound struggles, Joe Blanton is proving to Phillies fans that he is more than just a fifth-wheel on a staff full of aces; he is a productive contributor who has the ability to win every five days.
Joe only started eight games in 2011 due to an elbow injury he suffered in May. He was struggling anyway early on during the season, and his injury only created a spot in the rotation for budding youngster Vance Worley. Boy are the Phillies happy they gave Vance, who's gone 14-5 since then, a chance.
Even so, they can't be sad that Blanton has returned in better shape health-wise then he was in 2011. Not only was he the first Phillie to pitch a shutout this season, but he's gone 4-3 with an impressive 2.96 ERA in seven starts. He's far surpassed what anyone could have imagined for this season, and has turned the Phillies' fifth starter role into a bright spot amid so many other troubles.
At the beginning of Spring Training, Juan Pierre wasn't even guaranteed a roster spot.Throughout the first six weeks there have been numerous calls for John Mayberry Jr, coming off of a decent 2011 campaign to start in left field over Pierre as well. The misguided judgement and under-appreciation just goes on and on.
What people, and analysts especially, need to realize is that Juan Pierre has brought exactly what the Phils have lacked for most of the season offensively. He's brought consistency—a .343 average, efficient base-running—6 for 8—even with some egregious caught stealing plays, and a veteran presence that keeps the team in check when it goes through peaks and valleys. He has just as many RBIs as Mayberry, a higher slugging percentage, and 60 percent more runs scored in only 15 percent more at-bats.
This doesn't mean that Mayberry should ride the pine. Not by any stretch of the imagination. All this means is that people to respect that a Mayberry-Pierre platoon works, because both have proven that they deserve an opportunity to produce.
Hunter Pence has had mixed results in 2012, but pro sports are all about "what you've done for me lately" and lately, he's done plenty.
After an April where Pence only posted a slugging percentage of .391 and an OPS of .684, the Phils right fielder has really started to produce here in May in terms of his role as a cleanup hitter. He's hit seven home runs in only 16 games, driven in 14 runs, and posted an OPS of .925.
He's had two multi-homer games, winning one by driving in four runs and the other by hitting a walk-off homer—even if his own error forced extra innings.
Hunter hasn't been as consistent at the plate—a .253 average isn't exactly out of this world—but he's served the role of a cleanup hitter well, tied for third in the NL in home runs.
There were a lot of disgruntled Phillies fans following the signing of Jonathan Papelbon in the off-season. I was one of them, thinking that the unsteady reliever would pitch more like he did against Baltimore late in the season than the true Papelbon of 2011, who only blew 3 saves the entire year.
Including the save against his former team on Friday night, Papelbon is now 12 for 12 in save opportunities as a Phillie. Not only does he resemble Brad Lidge from 2008, but he seems poised to out-do the former Phillies closer.
Paps has posted a 2.20 ERA thus far this season, getting strikeouts while also keeping base runners to a minimum—a 0.92 WHIP and only four walks compared to 19 strikeouts. While the rest of the bullpen is shaky at best, he's been a rock at the back end of the staff and has turned the ninth inning into a much less stressful experience for everyone involved.
Everyone knows Carlos Ruiz as one of the best defensive catchers in the game, and his 6.6 defensive Wins Above Replacement over the last six years are testament to that. What he's done in 2012, however, is shown that he is one of the best catchers in the MLB period.
"Chooch" is hitting .371 so far this season along with seven home runs, 29 runs batted in, and an extremely impressive .621 slugging percentage. Among NL hitters, he's fifth in OPS, sixth in RBIs, fourth in slugging percentage, and second in batting average. Among NL catchers, he's first in all of those categories; in most cases, he's actually first by a lot.
If Carlos continues to hit like he has been and play solid defense, he is almost guaranteed a starting spot on the NL All-Star team this summer. He could even win the prized Silver Slugger/Gold Glove combination. And needless to say, everything we're getting from Ruiz is much more than we expected from a career .271 hitter.