Philadelphia Phillies Survive Early Season Distractions

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Philadelphia Phillies Survive Early Season Distractions
(Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

The Phillies organization should be commended for the way it has handled the last six months.  Going from the height of excitement and exhilaration of being World [f***in] Champions, to the depth of sorrow that comes with the passing of an icon like HarryKalas is an emotional swing that has challenged players and fans alike. 

The way the organization handled both—with reserved congratulation for the Champs and reverent, respectful admiration for the legendary broadcaster—has been very impressive and warrants noting before I really get into my article.

After a pretty slow start in which the Phils struggled and scuffled along trying to produce runs while dealing with all these distractions, the bats have finally heated up, and it is not surprising that this turnaround has corresponded to a winning streak and a spot in first place of the NL East.

Though many lineups have been run out this year, we will use the most common one here to go through and evaluate each of the Phillies' batters so far this season.

1. Jimmy Rollins (.211 avg, 1 HR, 7 RBI, 1 SB):

The former league MVP and unquestionable team leader has had his struggles at the plate this year, only recently cracking above the Mendoza line by getting his average above the .200 mark.  His power numbers are not impressive, though Jimmy is not expected to hit for a ton of power. 

His steals are down, but that is because he is never on base (his current OBP of .250 is over 80 points lower than his career OBP of .332).  Maybe the most concerning thing is the 14 strikeouts already notched by the Phils' lead-off man. 

At the height of Phillies fans' frustration with Rollins at lead-offthe main criticism was that he struck out too much, averaging 108 strikeouts per year during the 2001, 2002, and 2003 seasons.

 One of the best adjustments in his game has been his cutting down on K's—only 55 last season—but with 14 at this point in the year, J-Roll is on a disturbing pace reserved usually for power hitters like Ryan Howard. 

At this pace, Rollins could strike out over 100 times this year.  Manager Charlie Manuel has tried moving him down in the order, but Rollins belongs in thelead-off spot.

 Once he starts to see the ball and cut down on those K's, we should see him back to the swaggering, trash-talking captain of team morale we all know and love, but for now it is official: he is in a funk.

2. Shane Victorino (.304, 4, 19)

Shane is one of the few players who is actually out-hitting expectations right now.  With his .304 average 20 points higher than his career mark, the Flyin' Hawaiian is using the whole field, and his superior speed, to his advantage by already racking up 13 extra-base hits and scoring 23 times for the Phightins. 

With this slugging percentage about 100 points higher than his career average, you can probably expect to see a few less big hits from Victorino, and more of the slap-happy singles hitter who is pesky on the base paths and scrappy in the field.

 While his production warrants praise (hopefully it can get him onto his first-ever All-Star Game roster), law of averages probably dictates that he will cool off a bit at some point.

3. Chase Utley (.318, 8, 21)

Utley, the Phillies second baseman whose mouth is the only thing dirtier than his uniform, is off to a characteristically hot start this year.  After hitting .330-plus and leading the league in homers in the first two months of the season in 2008, Chase is back at it this year with an OBP of .458. 

With 17 bases on balls already this year, his walks are definitely supplementing that number, along with an increasing level of health and recovery from offseason hip surgery. 

Chase is still on the road to recovery, sitting out a game as recently as this week, but has not been slowed significantly by these setbacks and looks to be within range of the production people expect from him.

4. Ryan Howard (.291, 6, 22, 29 SO)

Rhyno is traditionally a slow starter, with most of his numbers usually being put up late in the season in August and September (when the games really count), but the slugger has had a pretty good first month. 

Considering at times last year Howard was spotted under the .190 mark and set and matched his own single-season strikeout record with 199 in each of the past two years, his output this April has been a reason for optimism. 

After getting killed last year for his huge strikeout numbers in discussions about the MVP race to the point that some wondered if his production had begun a steady decline, his 29 strikeouts put him on pace for only about 160 this year—still an astronomical number, but a definite improvement from last year.

As a cleanup hitter, though, the former MVP's main role in this lineup is to drive in runs, and his 22 are tied for the team lead with Raul Ibañez and puts him on pace for another 120-plus RBI season. 

And it's a good thing, considering he costs the Phils a cool $15 mil this season after signing his first big-league contract extension this off-season.

5. Jayson Werth (.284, 5, 19, 20 SO)

First let me say, through the whole World Series run and the early part of this season the most confusing thing to me about this team is the female obsession with JaysonWerth. 

Personally, I cannot get past the landing-strip soul patch underneath his bottom lip, and I do not understand how anyone does.  But I digress. 

Jayson Werth is a huge key to the Phillies' lineup, and after proving his mettle as an everyday player by taking Geoff Jenkins' starting job last season, now is the time when the league may be able to catch up with him. 

He is a very strikeout-prone hitter with good pop, but his aggressiveness at the plate could hurt him as the year goes on.  The 20 strikeouts, though considerably less than Ryan Howard's, displays a trend that should be a little alarming in the eyes of Phillies fans. 

Werth does not have the resume of Howard, and does not provide as much offense for the lineup, so cutting down on his strikeouts should be a priority.

6. Raul Ibañez (.343, 8, 22)

With as many extra-base hits as strikeouts to this point in the season (17), Ibañez has been a nice surprise for the Phillies, and his signing is making new GM Reuben Amaro, Jr. look pretty smart for picking him up and letting Pat "the glove" Burrell walk down to Tampa Bay to join the Phils' World Series opponent. 

His slugging percentage (.676) is 200 points higher than his career average, so chances are the power output will slow down, but Ibañez has proved to be exactly the professional hitter the Phils were expecting, and has provided a similarly hot start to the departed Burrell's 2008 season.

7. Pedro Feliz (.311, 2, 17)

Happy Pete is another guy enjoying a hot start, with his 17 RBIs a valuable contribution from the seven-hole in the order.  With little pressure on him to provide offense as was expected in his 'Frisco days, Feliz is relaxed at the plate and has seen some good improvements. 

Most of all for a guy who usually has strikeout issues, to only have 10 at this point of the year is a definite improvement and a sign of hope for a good season overall out of Pedro.

8. Carlos Ruiz (.185, 0, 0, 9 G)

Chooch is just returning from a sternum injury suffered during his time representing Panama in the World Baseball Classic.  He has played his characteristic good defense and the pitchers seem to have responded well to his return, but Carlos has not yet seen much of anything in the way of offensive achievement. 

He only hit .219 last year on the way to a Division title, so an offensive explosion is not necessarily to be expected, but if he remains the Phillies' only major offensive hole, that will be something that fans can live with.

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