All things considered, April didn't turn out that badly for the Phillies. They finished the month with an 11-9 record, and trail only the Florida Marlins in the NL East. For a team coming off a World Series Championship, the first month of their defense was far from smooth.
Not only did they stumble out of the blocks with inconsistent offense and awful starting pitching, but they also lost Harry Kalas. Kalas, the voice of the franchise and millions of Philadelphia childhoods, will hopefully provide inspiration along with a sobering dose of reality for this team the rest of season.
The Phillies start the second month with a big weekend series at home against the Mets on Friday, and for two teams that have underperformed to this point, these divisional games are critical. The heightened state of the Mets-Phillies rivalry means that the players don't need to be reminded of the importance of this early season matchup.
This is the first meeting of the two teams since Cole Hamels called the Mets "choke artists" over the winter, and the Phillies have used late-season runs the last two years to pass the Mets for the division title. Hamels will not pitch in the series, but that shouldn't diminish any of the intensity.
The Mets need to make up ground, and the Phillies have the perfect opportunity to put some space between themselves and arguably their most dangerous rival. To handle the Mets and have a successful remainder to the season, the Phillies will need to accomplish some of the following.
The Phillies Have To Pitch Better
Starters, relievers, no one is free of blame here. It starts with Hamels and Brad Lidge getting healthy and returning to form. Lidge is the larger concern, already with a blown save and a 7.27 ERA. If Lidge can't fill the closer's role like he did last year, the Phillies would probably end up turning to Ryan Madson, but with him pitching the ninth, it raises the question of who would pitch the seventh and eighth. J.C. Romero cannot get back from his suspension soon enough.
Someone out of the group of Blanton, Myers, and Park is going to have to emerge as the No. 2 starter. Jamie Moyer is 3-1, but with a 5.09 ERA, he's hardly been spectacular. Moyer gives you all he has, but there will be games where he gets hit. Myers is pitching the best out of the other starters but needs to avoid the long ball, big innings, and manage his pitch count a little better.
Park has yet to show the form he displayed in Spring Training that won him the job, and Blanton has been the worst of the bunch at 0-2 with an 8.41 ERA. The Phillies have a dangerous offense but not enough firepower to overcome these bloated pitching numbers.
Speaking of the Offense
It's the same old story. The Phillies need consistency. Capable of scoring double-digit runs on any night, the Phillies also go stretches of games where it looks like they'll be lucky to ever score again. Strikeouts still plague the starting eight, and the slow start of Jimmy Rollins leaves the team without its catalyst.
Rollins will likely rebound, Ryan Howard will have one of his big months, and in the best case scenario for Phillies fans the team's stars will take turns carrying the offense. The task in April fell to Chase Utley and Raul Ibanez. Utley's play, considering he was coming off serious surgery, was nothing short of remarkable. Ibanez was the team's most consistent and dangerous offensive weapon, and the team MVP for the opening month.
Utley has it in him to hit .340, but Ibanez will eventually cool off, and when he does the Phillies will need someone to pick up the slack. Jayson Werth also still needs to prove himself as an everyday player. One hot stretch is all that kept Werth from having a dreadful opening month. If the Phillies have to start exploring platoon options in right, they become a much weaker team.
If the pitching just gets marginally better, the Phillies should be in position at least to contend for their third straight division crown. It appears that, aside from the Nationals, this division is going to beat itself up pretty well. This means it would be a surprise if any team streaked out to any kind of significant lead. It also means that every game counts, especially home divisional games like the Phillies have this weekend.
Chan Ho Park (0-0, 7.16) faces Mike Pelfrey (2-0, 6.32) at 7:05 Friday night in the opener.