The Phillies are starting to gell again, thanks to insurgence from Dom Brown (right), Vance Worley, Michael Stutes and Antonio Bastardo, youngsters making their mark.
Antonio Bastardo, Domonic Brown, Michael Stutes and Vance Worley are more couples than cargo. The Phillies youngsters aren't the train cars screaming around this first half of track, careening to a 54-32 record, far and away the best record in baseball.
That's on the shoulders (and elbows and wrists) of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels.
But these four offer what even those three can't.
They're something extra, to help the Phillies best their best.
They're connective tissue, between now and the fall.
The Phillies have been better than expected, but they needed more.
That's why these summer months light up the trading block. That's why front-office phone bills soar, and players fly across SportsCenter bottom lines.
It's because this is when teams need surges. It's when Opening Day rosters start to stale. Things start to fall into place (or apart) and teams adjust accordingly.
The Phillies don't look like they need that right now. Not because of logic, however brilliant its delivery. Not because of stubbornness—Charlie Manuel said Friday, “We could definitely use a solid right-handed hitter,” and “our odds get better if we have one." Not because of tight-lipped GMs misdirecting with old excuses about lean finances.
How much more confident do these four make you feel?
But because they have that in-house. The solution is already here, in vibrant youth and fearlessness.
It's here in Vance Worley, who wrapped a 4-1 midseason stretch with yesterday's 1-0 win over the Marlins, effectively wiping the hard drive of that 11-run shellacking by the Mets in May. It was announced after that he's headed to the warming bulbs in Lehigh Valley, to hedge against another dormant two weeks catching up to him, what beget the New York meltdown.
When he's back—Worley's informally penned in for Game 2 in the next Mets series—Worley will be back to weed-whacking his 2.20 ERA like did in June, when he dealt a 0.64.
The Phils need that like they needed closing help, in lieu of a scroll-looking injury reports for both. Worley can putty the rotation while Roy Oswalt and Joe Blanton inch back toward contribution, just like Antonio Bastardo has spackled the game-sealing duties while Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge get right.
If there's one bloc the Phillies need unabated reliability from, it's those last three outs. Hard to justify $40 million—the sum of Halladay, Lee and Hamels earnings—if relief pitching blows it like they've been known to around here.
Bastardo has taught us different. Like Madson (15 saves in 16 opportunities), Bastardo wraps what others start, like Worley's fourth win yesterday, also Bastardo's fifth save in as many tries. In 31 innings this season, the Dominican has allowed just three total (all earned) runs, two on home runs.
In other words: save for two pitches, he's been almost perfect.
Bastardo's revisionist history—maybe Phillies ninth innings don't have to be white-knucklers—is the kind of reassurance that gets you through the night (and summer).
What gets you through to Bastardo has been Michael Stutes, the bail-out from off-nights of starting pitching every skipper covets. No matter how you slice it—only 8 runs in 27.1 innings, with a 3-0 record in decisions—Stutes has been a sure-thing.
Stutes is surer on the road, where he's working a 1.59 ERA in 11.1 innings, compared to his 3.38 at Citizens Bank Park. If you ever wanted a swing to follow your pitching on bus trips, that would be its direction.
And even Dom Brown shows inklings of improvement, exorcising a forgettable June—he batted .165 with only 8 RBI in 79 at-bats on the month—with a .333 last-seven games, a small sample size, but foundation plenty primed for building off of. It's also what he's erected since falling to a season trough of .200 on June 23.
You'll take that like you did yesterday's not-so-safe slide (dude's leg was blatantly above home) to plate the game's one-and-only, and decisive, run yesterday.
Now Brown just has to make that flash longer before it fizzles.
The best part: Worley and Brown are 23 years old, Bastardo 25 and Stutes 24. Those figures read like a weekender's goals for golf—the lower the better.
Don't underscore their contribution. This matters, for a team skittish about its foothold on the division, health and chops up-and-down the order.
Without reinforcements, this goes one of two ways.
It could have stayed even, a keel that ran well into the postseason. Maybe the Phils status quo today—first in the NL East and in Lane 1 toward a pennant—would've stood up through September. Maybe Game 150-something would've caped a 20-win season for Hamels, a few games after Halladay and Lee did.
Maybe somewhere between,
Maybe—really cranking out imagery here—Ryan Howard would earn his third-highest first baseman salary (behind Mark Teixeira and Adrian Gonzalez).
But it could've soured, too. Maybe injuries would've struck them where they were down, in the bullpen or starting rotation—maybe (gasp!) even one of the three dealers. Maybe the bug would've made headway where it hadn't yet, the batting order. Hard to imagine how Phillies hitters would flop if one of their core went lame.
Maybe you bounce back. Maybe you don't.
Maybe you add a piece. Maybe you can't (or won't).
But these four remove the moving parts. They simplify the machine. They reduce the equation to bite-size, with fewer letters (variables) than numbers (results)—the mix everybody can enjoy and be easy over.
In other words: you don't have to make a move, whether it be a transaction or peaking over your shoulder.
Because know what you'll find. And you know you'll like it.