Philadelphia Phillies: 5 Good Signs at the Start of the Season
The Phillies scored 43 runs in those six games.
Overall, the start of 2011 has been a great success for this team, which had some big questions looming before 2011 kicked off.
Here are five of the most encouraging signs at the start of the Phillies 2011 season.
Jimmy Rollins photo by Jenn Zambri
Those 43 runs in six games are a very big deal for a team whose offensive potential looked grim to some in the absence of both Chase Utley and Jayson Werth, who is now with the Nationals.
The runs have not been the only good news; the way they scored those runs is also impressive.
Normally known as a home run led offense, the Phillies have learned how to run the bases and play small ball, going station to station with a more patient approach at the plate.
The homers are still there, but have not played as prominent a role as they have in years past. In other words, the Phillies can score runs without the big bangs.
Placido Polanco photo by Jenn Zambri
Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins off to a Good Start
Normally a slow starter in April, Ryan Howard’s big bat has made an early entrance in 2011.
Over all six games, Howard has collected 12 hits, including three doubles, two home runs and eight RBIs. On Wednesday night against the Mets, Howard went 4-for-4 at the plate. He is now batting .480.
If the All-Star first baseman can keep up this pace, he is going to strike fear into the hearts of opposing pitchers all year long.
As for Rollins, he had a very rough 2010 that was plagued with injuries. But he is off to a good start in 2011, which is also a contract year for him.
Batting .375 in the three-hole so far, Rollins may be back to the J-Roll of old.
Ryan Howard photo by Jenn Zambri
Wilson Valdez Is up to the Task
When Chase Utley reported major knee injuries this spring training, the fanbase let out a collective sigh of disappointment. The perennial All-Star is one of leaders on this team and probably their best overall hitter.
But Wilson Valdez, coming off a season where he got a lot of playing time due to injuries, is ready to fill the void.
Hitting .429 through six games and five starts, Valdez tried to imitate Ryan Howard on Thursday afternoon, going 4-for-4 with three RBIs. With nine hits and five RBI in his five starts, Valdez has more than adequately filled the Utley void.
And his defense is probably a slight upgrade over Utley. Valdez has a cannon for an arm and now, his bat is on fire too.
Wilson Valdez photo by Jenn Zambri
Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt all gave solid performances this week, as expected. Halladay has pitched twice and was even better in his second start.
As for Cole Hamels and Joe Blanton, their first starts did not go quite as well. But three out of five is not bad.
However, no one should panic about either Hamels or Blanton. Hamels is a notoriously slow starter. Clearly, the California kid does not like chilly weather. His lifetime ERA in April is 4.45. In 2010, Hamels posted a 5.28 ERA in April.
Blanton has similar issues. So both pitchers should get better as the season progresses.
But these five guys are going to be something very special.
Roy Halladay photo by Jenn Zambri
Once thought to be the Achilles heel of this Phillies team, the bullpen has really stepped up their game this year.
Danys Baez has been great after being a total nightmare in 2010, youngster Antonio Bastardo has matured and also looks very sharp and J.C. Romero appears to have made the necessary adjustments to his game that were needed after he had issues in 2010 following elbow surgery.
With Brad Lidge gone and probably not returning until after the All-Star break, there are concerns about the back end of the pen, too. But both Ryan Madson and Jose Contreras are on the ball so far. Contreras collected his first save on Wednesday night and neither pitcher has allowed a run yet.
The pen is ready for the season!
J.C. Romero photo by Jenn Zambri
Ben Francisco is quickly making Phillies fans forget all about Jayson Werth and his exorbitant $129 million pay check with the Nationals.
Batting .320, Francisco has eight hits, five RBIs and two home runs so far. He might have a few more bombs if not for the cold, windy conditions in Philly right now. Francisco has hit the ball very, very hard in nearly every at-bat.
His defense has been good as well. Giving himself up for the team, Francisco smashed back first into the right field wall on Sunday to catch a very long fly ball. He hit it so hard, part of the out-of-town scoreboard was knocked loose.
Francisco’s effort and right-handed power are exactly what the Phillies need in their starting right fielder.
Ben Francisco photo by Jenn Zambri