Crazy Eights: The Unsung Heroes Of The 2010 Philadelphia Phillies
As a friend of mine said to me a couple of weeks ago, if there is anything the 2010 Philadelphia Phillies baseball season has taught us, it is that 162 games can make for a very long season.
In just the last six weeks alone, the Phillies have been without Chase Utley, have spent three weeks without Jamie Moyer or Shane Victorino, and have lost Ryan Howard.
And yet, however improbably, the Phillies have simply prospered during the absence of three of their biggest stars and one of their most consistent starters.
On June 28th, the day Utley went down, the Phils were 40-34 and in third place in the NL East division. After Thursday night's riveting come-from-behind victory against the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Phillies are 64-50 and are playing .600 ball without their All-Star second baseman.
So what in the world is going on?
What's going on is the Phillies have been getting some rather heroic performances from some rather unsung heroes.
8. Raul Ibanez
I have been as brutal to Ibanez as anybody this season. And let's face it, at times he has shown us a variety of looks ranging from over-the-hill to washed-up.
But a funny thing happened to Ibanez after Chase Utley got hurt. Ibanez, who batted sixth prior to Utley's injury and had a .236/.323/.388/.711 to show for it, moved up in the order, and the dividends have been immediate.
In 33 games hitting predominantly second, third, or fourth, Ibanez is hitting .350 with a .970 OPS and five home runs, 22 RBI, and 25 runs scored.
Ibanez has simply been a different player, and we can only hope that as Howard and Utley return to action Charlie Manuel seriously considers leaving Ibanez up front in the order.
7. Ben Francisco
In the weeks leading up to the trade deadline, a small contingent of Phillies fans began calling in to local sports talk radio to say that the Phillies should trade Jayson Werth because Ben Francisco would be capable of putting up Werth numbers given the chance to start full-time.
And yet somehow Francisco, pressed into action with the injury to Shane Victorino as the platoon-opposite to Domonic Brown, has been positively Werthian.
Since July 24th, Francisco is hitting .333 with a 1.086 OPS in 40 plate appearances in 15 games.
6. Ross Gload
You could change Ross Gload's nickname to Ross "Gulp" Gload, as in people's tendency to swallow hard as they say "with Ryan Howard out, we will see a lot more playing time for Ross (gulp) Gload."
But Gload has been up to the challenge of filling Howard's shoes. In nine games so far in August, Gload is hitting .333 with a .448 on-base percentage and 1.073 OPS. He had two home runs, seven RBI, and six runs scored during that stretch and has, somehow, been intentionally walked three times.
Gload's next home run will tie his career high. He picked the right season to attack some career milestones.
5. Placido Polanco
Placido Polanco is not the flashiest defensive third baseman in the league. He won't hit tons of home runs, and you won't look for him on the leaderboards very often.
Nevertheless, he has been rock-steady for the Phillies this summer. Polanco has hit .335 since June 4th, and has failed to reach base only four times in the last 43 games.
4. Wilson Valdez
No one has enjoyed making merciless fun of Wilson Valdez more than I.
His ability to ground into double plays at any given moment is becoming the stuff of local legend, and Valdez often hits into what would otherwise be double play balls even when there are not runners on base or less than two outs.
But a funny thing has happened since he took over second base for Chase Utley full time: Valdez has started to hit.
In 12 games since July 29th, Valdez is hitting .354 with a .380 on-base percentage. More importantly, he hasn't hit into a single double play over that time.
No one would start a season with Valdez penciled at second base and hope to succeed, but as an injury replacement for Chase Utley he's been incredibly underrated.
3. Charlie Manuel
Charlie Manuel is not an innovator, and he is not on the cutting edge of 21st Century baseball managerial tactics. But when a team is going to back-to-back World Series, a guy like Manuel can look like an old-school genius.
At the same time, when a team falters the way the Phils did in the middle of this season, guys like Manuel can look like overwhelmed old sticks-in-the-mud.
Nevertheless, the Phillies' recent success has been an absolute testament to the skills of their skipper. At a time when many were calling for radical changes to the Phillies' roster and batting order, Manuel was steady almost to a fault, and has guided this injury-plagued squad through the storm beautifully.
And I, for one, am not afraid to admit I questioned him unfairly.
2. Ryan Madson
Phillies fans have grown fond of assailing the bullpen in 2010. Fans are worried about Madson and Lidge; fans don't know what to expect from Madson and Lidge; Madson and Lidge scare the fans to death.
Say what you will about Lidge, but Ryan Madson has given Phillies fans little to worry about these last few weeks.
Madson returned from the disabled list on July 8th, and in his first six games back he allowed three runs in 5.1 innings, blew a save, and went 1-1 overall.
In 11 games since July 20th, however, Madson has been virtually unhittable. He has allowed six hits and one earned run in 11.1 innings pitched, while striking out 17 and walking only two. His ERA during that time is 0.79 and batters are hitting just .150 off him.
1. Jayson Werth
Perhaps no player in baseball has been more assailed by his own fanbase than Jayson Werth in 2010. In a contract year, J-Werth got off to a blistering start to the season before going positively ice-cold.
At his worst, Werth's average had dropped into the .270's and he became a national media goat for cursing out a fan–in front of the fan's son–for not getting out of the way as Werth pursued a foul ball at Citizens Bank Park.
Indeed, because Werth's swoon coincided with a slumping Phillies' offense, and the Phillies team as a whole, Werth became somewhat of a poster-child for an under-achieving and under-performing squad. As the July trade deadline approached, fans were not asking whether the Phils should trade Werth, but what they could get in return.
At the end of the day, though, it is impossible not to notice that it was Werth, and not Ben Francisco or Domonic Brown, that Charlie Manuel called upon to play center field when Shane Victorino went down. It is also difficult not to notice that Werth's average is now, somehow, back over .300.
In fact, Werth has been quietly excellent for most of the past month.
Since the All-Star Break, a period of 27 games, Werth is hitting .367 with a .484 on-base percentage and a 1.055 OPS. He has hit three home runs and 11 doubles during this stretch, while driving in 11 and scoring 18. In fact, if you take away the two games after the Break during which he went a combined 0-for-7, Werth is hitting .396 over the last 25 games.
It bears repeating: .396 over his last 25 games. Werth has been playing better than ever, and very few people have noticed.
And that, my friends, is the definition of an unsung hero.