Impressions from Philadelphia Phillies' Opening Night

PJ BernackiCorrespondent IApril 2, 2013

Impressions from Philadelphia Phillies' Opening Night

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    The Philadelphia Phillies fell to the Atlanta Braves 7-5 in their first game of the 2013 season, but it wasn't all bad news.

    Cole Hamels and Chad Durbin struggled on the mound, Chase Utley brought life to the offense and newcomers made their debuts. It is a much different Phillies team than a few years ago, when it had the best rotation in all of baseball and was considered a title contender. Now, the Phillies try to put a .500 season behind them as they set out to retake the NL East throne from the Washington Nationals.

    So, what did we learn about the Phillies on Opening Night?

Revere Before Rollins

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    Phillies manager Charlie Manuel had a tough decision on his hands when determining who should lead off this season, but he’s made the right choice in picking Ben Revere. The center fielder acquired from the Twins won’t be an offensive powerhouse, but he brings speed and defense to Philadelphia.

    Revere didn’t commit a single error in 124 games last season, but has also never hit a home run in his major league career. The Phillies were fifth in the NL in stolen bases in 2012 and Revere will add to this, as he had 54 stolen bases of his own last season. He will be instrumental for Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard to rack up RBI.

    Not only does Revere’s lack of power make him a better leadoff man, but having him lead off also splits up a long string of left-handed batters. Rollins is naturally a lefty, but can hit both ways, which places a right-handed batter in between Revere, Utley and Howard. This will cause opposing teams to use a wider range of relievers late in games. 

Utley Is Back

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    The five-time All-Star opened the last two seasons on the disabled list but finally enjoyed a healthy spring training in 2013. Chase Utley only played 103 games in 2011 and batted .259, and the following year injuries plagued him worse, as he only played 83 games with a .256 batting average.

    Utley is definitely older than the player who once had four straight 100-RBI seasons, but he is injury-free for the first time in a few years and showed it last night. Providing most of the offense for the Phillies, Utley went 3-for-5 and was only a double away from hitting for the cycle.

    These three hits batted three runs in, and Utley scored two runs himself. Utley is going to be crucial to the Phillies’ success this year because speedy players like Ben Revere and Jimmy Rollins will be getting on base in front of him. Also, if Ryan Howard can get his groove back, it would become impossible to pitch around Utley, giving him ample opportunities to knock in runs this season. It was promising to see Philadelphia’s star second baseman get off to a great start. 

Hot and Cole

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    After seeing Justin Verlander’s monstrous contract extension, the Phillies certainly got a bargain by signing Cole Hamels for $144 million, but he did not pitch like he is worth that kind of money on Opening Night.

    The Phillies’ ace struggled against the Braves, giving up five earned runs on seven hits, including three home runs. It was a typical Hamels performance. He had his changeup and breaking ball on point, but left a few fast balls hanging, resulting in powerful home runs and extra base hits. When Hamels avoids these mistakes or opposing players don’t take advantage, he can go complete games with plenty of strikeouts.

    Too many times last night, Hamels had two strikes on the batter and would try—and fail—to blow it by them with a fastball, almost as if he was trying to prove that he had improved that pitch since last season. Hamels gave up 24 home runs last year, which was 16th-most in the NL. 

Evidence of an Offense

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    All of the starting pitchers for Philadelphia in 2012 should have recorded more wins but failed to do so due to the lack of run support. The Phillies were 19th in the majors with 4.2 runs per game last year.

    It was good to see that even with Ryan Howard and Michael Young not doing much offensively, the Phillies were still able to score five runs and get 10 hits. In 2012, the team only averaged 8.7 hits a game.

    Chase Utley was a huge part of their offensive success on Monday night, but if the Phillies hope to win ball games, then hitters like Howard and Domonic Brown are going to have to step up. Regardless, it was still nice to see the Phillies put up some runs against a great pitching team in the Braves, considering their offensive struggles last season. 

Deadly NL East

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    Opening Night showed us how good the Braves potentially could be. B.J. Upton and Jason Heyward both went hitless in their season debuts, leaving most of the offense to lesser names like Freddie Freeman, Chris Johnson and Dan Uggla. If the Upton brothers and Heyward all have good seasons, then the Braves will be almost unstoppable.

    The Braves could be the best team in baseball, but they could still come in second to the Nationals. Stephen Strasburg leads a lethal rotation, and Bryce Harper and company know how to produce runs. Even the Mets looked good in their debut, an 11-2 victory over San Diego.

    Of all the NL East teams, none of them played to their highest potential in their opening games, which is scary. I know it’s super early, but the lineups these teams put out on Opening Day leave us with high expectations for this division.