Philadelphia Phillies' Biggest Early-Season Surprises and Disappointments
The Philadelphia Phillies have started the 2014 season in a rather intriguing fashion. They stand at 7-8, and while they've shown flashes of brilliance, there have also been many moments of struggle.
For what it's worth, the Phillies' offense has been rather good and is in the upper echelon of the National League in many key categories. While the pitching hasn't been so great, singular events such as Dan Uggla's go-ahead grand slam on April 14 have not alleviated matters, either.
Whether for better or worse, there are a few surprises and disappointments to go around at the onset of the Phillies' 2014 season. Here's a look at them.
Surprise: Chase Utley's Scorching Start
After showing up healthy to a second consecutive spring training, the hope was that Chase Utley could be even a shell of his former self. At age 35 and coming off a new two-year contract extension, Utley needed to be the one player the Phillies could rely on from an offensive standpoint, at the very least.
So far, Utley has been much, much more. His .462 batting average leads the major leagues, as does his bWAR of 1.4 and fWAR of 1.6 (latter courtesy of FanGraphs). Utley's 1.286 OPS also leads the NL, as do the numbers that comprise it. With an OBP of .517 and a SLG of .769, Utley tops all other NL hitters in those categories.
The man has been on fire and shows no signs of stopping any time soon. The Phillies will certainly take it, however long it lasts.
Disappointments: Brad Lincoln
The Phillies' acquisition of reliever Brad Lincoln from the Toronto Blue Jays was a high-risk, high-reward trade. In surrendering little value to get Lincoln—the Phillies traded backup catcher Erik Kratz and minor league pitcher Rob Rasmussen for him—what did the Phillies have to lose?
At best, Lincoln would be a dominant setup man or middle reliever. If all else failed and his command became an issue, he'd serve as depth. And while the Phillies are still only 15 games into the season, it's worth wondering whether Lincoln will be worth much at all to them.
After a disastrous start to the season—an 11.57 ERA and 2.14 WHIP in just two outings—Lincoln was not only demoted, but outrighted off the 40-man roster. No other team in baseball was willing to claim him.
The good news is that Lincoln will get some time to polish himself up in the minors. But the Phillies' bullpen remains without much reliability, and Lincoln's demotion doesn't help that cause.
Surprise: Jimmy Rollins' Production
The 2013 season was awful for Jimmy Rollins. Six home runs, 39 RBI, and a .667 OPS just didn't cut it, especially for a healthy player who played the entire season.
Entering 2014, the expectations for Rollins were vague. Would he repeat his 2013 and prove his contract to be a burden, or would he live up to it and provide value?
Fortunately, Rollins has done the latter to date, batting .259 with a .759 OPS, two home runs, 10 RBI, and three steals. It's not like Rollins has played at a dominant level, but the early going has shown to live up to what Rollins is able to do.
It would be nice if J-Roll could hit for higher average, but after last year, anything is an improvement.
Disappointment: 4th Place in the NL East
While the Phillies' 7-8 record is upsetting, it can't really be considered a surprise or a disappointment. After two consecutive non-winning seasons, the Phillies are no longer the top dog in the NL East.
However, there are still expectations, and the Phillies should at least be able to finish third in the weak division behind the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals in some order. That the New York Mets are above them at the moment is discouraging, to say the least.
Of course, there's still plenty of time and a plethora of games to be played. But the Phillies need to get their act together if they want to contend for any sort of postseason spot later in the year, let alone third place in the division.
Surprise: Domonic Brown's Consistency
While Chase Utley has stolen the spotlight as the Phillies' best hitter, Domonic Brown has quietly stepped in as the team's runner-up for that distinction.
Among starters, Brown's batting average is second only to Utley's, at .288. His eight RBI are good for second as well, and his .362 OBP stands at third behind Utley and catcher Carlos Ruiz.
It has been disappointing that Brown has only slugged one home run this year, but the season is still in its infancy and Brown has plenty of time to make up for the lack of power. What the Phillies will welcome is Brown's consistency in getting on base since he struggled with that last year.
Phillies fans should, too.