Philadelphia Phillies' Hottest Starts to the Season That Will Continue
Thus far, the Philadelphia Phillies' season has been loaded with disappointment. Roy Halladay hasn't found his niche after an equally rough spring training. Ryan Howard just hit his first home run of the season on Tuesday. Ben Revere and Domonic Brown have struggled to get on base. Cole Hamels and Kyle Kendrick have looked mediocre. Carlos Ruiz remains suspended until April 28. And let's not forget that the Phillies sit at 4-5, under .500, through the first nine games of the season.
While there has been disappointment—some of it expected, some not—there has also been some difference-makers in the games won. John Lannan looked solid in his Phillies debut and so far is second only to Cliff Lee in ERA among starting pitchers. Speaking of Lee, he's been on absolute fire, and little looks like it will slow him down. Hard to believe it's the same guy that didn't get his first win until July last year (not that it was his fault).
Along with Lee, there are a few players on the Phillies who are in the midst of a hot streak to start the 2013 season. Here's a list of those players who are both hot now and will continue to be as the season progresses.
Cliff Lee's Dominance
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I've said since spring training that Cliff Lee will be the Phillies' best pitcher this year. Luckily for me, he's starting to prove me right.
Now, I know it's too early to make an accurate prediction on these kinds of things. But based upon on what's transpired so far in this young season, Lee just looks more polished—most ready for the 2013 regular season—than the other starters on the Phillies' staff.
After a shaky spring training in which he posted a 4.79 ERA with a below-average 1.40 WHIP, Lee has turned on the burners to start the regular season. In his first two starts, Lee's registered a 1.08 ERA, has pitched at least eight innings in both (including 8.2 innings on Tuesday night), struck out 14 and has two wins to his name. Considering it took Lee until July 4 to get a win last year, 2-0 is a great start. One can only hope Lee's dominant stretch continues.
Lee struggled last year mostly because he lacked run support from the offense. Thus far, if anybody's getting run support, it's Lee—and it's allowed him to get the wins he's deserved in each of his two starts.
Will Lee be the most consistent starter of the Phillies rotation this season? Could he be a Cy Young contender or even frontrunner? Neither is out of the question by any means.
Lee's slated to start next against the Cincinnati Reds in the away series opener at Great American Ball Park.
Chase Utley's Hot Hitting
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Coming into the 2013 season, Chase Utley was one of the Phillies' biggest question marks. He hadn't played in a season opener, let alone a spring training game, since 2010. His knees had degenerated more and more over the last two years, and while he looked in better shape upon his return from the DL in late June of last season, he still wasn't himself.
In spring training, Utley came in looking healthy and played in most games. Although he got off to a slow spring start, he eventually brought his average up to .268 with an .875 OPS. It was respectable to say the least, and for Utley, anything is a good thing, especially since he's on the field.
Upon the start of the regular season, though, Utley exploded and has started out hitting .333 with a 1.031 OPS comprised of a .395 OBP and .636 SLG. He's slugged two home runs and has nine RBI and three steals. What's even more impressive is that on Opening Day, when Utley hit his 200th career home run against the Atlanta Braves, he came just a double shy of hitting for the cycle.
The fact that Utley's stealing and going for extra bases shows that not only is he able to run, but that his knees are able to support the workload. And while his defense has looked average so far—he's already got two errors on the year—as long as he hits, it'll make the fans, Charlie Manuel and the front office happy.
The only question remaining is whether Utley will be extended or re-signed after the season. That's a discussion for another day, though. For the moment, Utley's producing and is healthy. That's all that matters.
Michael Young's Consistency
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Like Chase Utley, Michael Young has started off hitting on a tear. Well, not fully—Young had a 4-for-5 game Sunday against the Kansas City Royals that brought his average up to .333 from below .200—but since then, he's been able to maintain consistent production. And, like Utley, Young came within a double of the cycle Tuesday against the New York Mets.
Young had a very mediocre spring, batting .269 with a lowly .678 OPS. He did hit five doubles and drive in 16 runs during that time. But as the regular season came, Young turned it on as well, and he's now hitting .375 with a 1.053 OPS. He's also got two doubles, a home run and three RBI.
Acquired from the Texas Rangers in exchange for pitchers Josh Lindblom and Lisalverto Bonilla, Young has been able to thrive due to the fact that he doesn't have to worry about the potential of playing a different position every night, if at all. He's now entrenched at third base for the Phillies this season, which has also boded well for him defensively. Though it's a small sample size, Young has yet to commit an error at the hot corner.
As a seasoned veteran in the MLB, Young has an aura of leadership about him that radiates among the rest of the clubhouse. He's embraced his change of scenery and could be in line for a nice, possibly multiyear contract at season's end. If he can maintain his production all season long, his presence on the roster will be invaluable to the Phillies' potential success, even if he remains for only one year.
Mike Adams' Shutdown Ability
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In an offseason with an abundance of small yet cunning moves, Phillies GM Ruben Amaro's biggest signing of the 2012-13 offseason was not one that brought an All-Star to Philadelphia on a $50+ million deal. Rather, it was a move that filled a gaping hole on the Phillies' roster with one of the best players in the business in said role. The role was the setup man, and the player was Mike Adams.
Adams was inked to a two-year, $12 million deal with a vesting option for a third year. Although he'll turn 35 years old in July, Adams didn't break out until the 2008 season with the San Diego Padres, so the wear on his arm isn't as great as would be expected for a pitcher of his age.
When I say that Adams has been one of the best in the business, he truly has been one of the elite setup men in all of baseball over the last four to five years. From 2008 through 2011, Adams never posted an ERA above 2.50. While he had a slight decline to 3.27 last season, it was mainly due to thoracic outlet syndrome, which had cause him to surrender three home runs in his final appearance of the 2012 season and spike his ERA.
Now that Adams is healthy, he's back to his old self so far. Although he's thrown only 3.1 innings to date, he has seven strikeouts and has yet to allow a walk. In addition, Adams has only surrendered two hits (unfortunately one of them being a home run) on the season in his four appearances, resulting in a 2.70 ERA and 0.60 WHIP. Assuming Adams will be able to keep up production at a level somewhat akin to this and years past, he should remain a force in both the Phillies bullpen and around the majors.
John Lannan's Peak Pitching
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Easy, here. When I say "peak pitching," I'm suggesting that Lannan's pitching at his full potential. Nothing more.
Signed to a one-year, $2.5 million deal in the offseason, Lannan came with little risk. He's had a few years of experience in the majors and, aside from against the Phillies, has been a serviceable arm. Lannan's also under team control for 2014 if the Phillies were to keep him. it was a pretty crafty signing by Ruben Amaro.
What few expected was that Lannan would be the Phillies' second-best starting pitcher almost two times through the rotation. Granted, he starts on Friday against the Miami Marlins and consequently has one fewer start under his belt until then. But Lannan was rather impressive in his Phillies debut given his standards, and though he didn't get the win against Kansas City due to the bullpen, he pitched a solid seven innings with five strikeouts to the tune of a 3.86 ERA.
Lannan won't be expected to anchor the Phillies staff and chances are he won't. But for what the Phillies have seen from Lannan in the past, it was a nice start. Here's hoping he can make it last throughout the season.