Doesn't April seem to last an eternity?
For those of us working in the financial services industry, the word April conjures up images of angry and impatient taxpayers.
Across most of the country, torrential downpours and volatile temperature swings are the norm. For a select few, April is the start of a long and grueling baseball season.
April has never been kind to the Phillies. The inaugural first pitch barely left the hands of ex-GM Pat Gillick and the natives were already sharpening their spears.
You see, at that moment, the reality was settling in: The Phillies are known for digging themselves into a hole, and they did everything they could to make us believe that that was happening again. They dropped three out of their first four games and lost early season "Gimmes" against the Braves and Padres.
Yet, the first month of the season is behind us and, get this, the Phillies stand alone in first place.
While that might seem like a head-scratcher, it's not that surprising. The Phillies are a resilient bunch and have proven their propensity for defying the odds. But clawing back into first place has not come cheap and it has not come easy.
Bright spots early on have been the bullpen and the re-emergence of the never-say-die attitude that fueled the Phillies towards their second straight NL East title in 2008.
Their seventh win of the season (4/24 vs. the Marlins) might be the most indicative of the type of season that it has been so far. Limited to three hits over the first eight innings and trailing 0-3 in the ninth inning, the Phillies mounted a seven run barrage in the ninth inning propelling them to a come-from-behind victory.
Wins of the "come-from-behind" variety have been the norm in the early going. The heart attack kids have certainly tested pacemakers throughout the Delaware Valley. The newest addition to the roster has definitely been the talk of the town. Raul Ibanez has left us saying, "Pat Who?" with all due respect to Mr. Burrell, as Ibanez is the biggest reason why the Phillies are currently seated in first place in the division. He has exceeded even the most lofty expectations and has the town chanting, "Rauuuuuulll!" with every base hit and sliding catch.
The glaring question marks surround the depth of the rotation and the health of the Phillies pitchers.
Cole Hamels started the season on the mend and has not been able to hit his stride. A comebacker to the shoulder spelled an early exit from one start and an ankle injury ended another. Hamels is the ace of the staff and any extended absences will make it nearly impossible to repeat last year's success.
The back end of the rotation has also been very inconsistent, and at some point, short outings will tax the overused bullpen. Brad Lidge had shown signs of wear, but has been pretty good since sitting out three games with left knee inflammation.
Giving up the long-ball has plagued the pitching staff, and the Phillies don't have a starter with an ERA lower than 5.35 (Phillies pitchers have already given up 46 HRs this season... on pace for an alarming 350 HR). Jimmy Rollins has started slow but predicts that he'll hit .400 in May and thankfully the rest of the offensive juggernaut has carried the team thus far.
There is no doubt that if this team is going to vie for another World Series title, Rollins is going to need to pick it up.
The future seems to be hope-filled for the Phillies. Hamels is scheduled to start later this week, and Chan Ho Park has proved to the managerial staff that he is capable of the type of performance that won him the job in spring training.
Joe Blanton is coming off his best performance this year to date and JC Romero is halfway through his 50-game suspension.
The Phillies cannot survive unless their roster is healthy and rested; Charlie Manuel will need to trust some of his role players to fill in for his starters. Regular rest will be critical over the next two months as the team tries to retain first place and remain healthy for the stretch run.
All in all, given past struggles, the Phillies should feel pretty good about where they stand and cautiously optimistic about the prospects of repeating. Their recent success will remind other teams that the Phillies are still the defending champions, so the bulls eye will reemerge.
But if there's anything that we have found out this month, it's that this team is up for a fight.
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