The keys to the Philadelphia Phillies successful run for the 2008 World Series was an explosive offense and a lights-out bullpen.
Closer Brad Lidge blew his first game since 2007 early in the 2009 season and has been hampered by a knee injury. The offense, however, has been dangerously good.
As evidence, of the Phillies first 10 wins of the year, nine were come from behind. The team's formula for success this year, which finds them in first place in the east on May 8 with a 14-12 record, seems to keep a team to five runs, catch up and hold the lead for Ryan Madison and Lidge in the eighth and ninth, respectively.
And the most glaring offensive stat is that the Phillies are hitting .517 (15-for-29) with the bases loaded this season. They rank eighth in offense among Major League teams and their 37 home runs tie them with Colorado for tops in the National League.
Ryan Howard, Shane Victorino and newcomer Raul Ibanez all have hit grand slams this year. Most impressively is Howard's recent slam in St. Louis tied him with Phillies Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt with seven career grannies. Howard, however, has done it in 2,164 at-bats while Schmidt did it in 8,352 at-bats.
Here are this year's top Phillie performers and the rest of the lineup:
Jimmy Rollins: Rollins has started the year slowly .211 in 109 at-bats. As the leadoff hitter he needs to get on base more. When Rollins hit a home run to start the game last year, the Phillies usually won. Grade: C
Shane Victorino: Victorino showed a flair for the dramatic in last year's World Series. He recently duplicated his playoff grand slam with a grannie recently against Washington. He is riding a 16-game hitting streak going into Friday's game and I only see greater things for "The Flying Hawaiian." He is hitting .304 in 112 at-bats. A -
Chase Utley. Utley without a doubt is the best all around player on the Phillies. They would not have won the World Series without two key fielding plays. He seems recovered from off-season hip surgery. He is hitting .318 in 85 at-bats with eight home runs. A
Ryan Howard. Some say he strikes out too much and should hit for a better average. Poppycock. He gets paid to hit home runs, not singles. He has shed25 pounds and playing much better defense this year. He is a hot streak hitter but absolutely has owned September the past two years. And June. He is hitting .291 with 6 home runs and 22 RBI. Grade A.
Jason Werth. Werth won the full-time right field job last year and has not proved manager Charlie Manuel wrong in the move. He hit a third-level home run in St. Louis, his fifth of the year. He is hitting a respectable .284. Grade B.
Raul Ibanez. What a find! In his first year with the Phillies, in just over 100 at bats, Ibanez is hitting .343 with 8 home runs, 8 doubles and 22 RBI. With Manny Ramirez out for 50 games due to an illegal substance infraction, Ibanez will be the best free agent player in the first two months of baseball. Grade A+.
Pedro Feliz. In his second year with the Phillies, his rep has been a stellar defense and an inconsistent offense. He has been better this year, with a .311 batting average. Grade A.
Carlos Ruiz. His handling of the pitching staff and play at the plate is among the best in the league. His hitting could be better. He is hitting .185 in a season marked by injury. Grade D or incomplete.
The bench: Matt Stairs is enough to drive fear into any manager with men on base late in the game. He has 2 home runs. Greg Dobbs is not his usual steady sub this year, hitting .136 in 22 at-bats. He should come around. Eric Brunlett and Miguel Cairo are adequate to good utility players. Chris Coste, the backup to Ruiz, is off to a slow start, but should come around.
Phillies fans drooled at the chance to get Garry Sheffield. But only as a right handed bat off the bench to compliment Stairs. The Mets can have him. Bench grade B.
Even if Lidge blows a few games this year, as long as he saves 3/4 of the games he pitches in, the rest of the bullpen will follow suit and have a good season. To gain momentum this season, the starting pitching has to be more consistent.
Because, one thing for sure. The only thing that separates this Phillies offense with the Big Red Machine of the 1970s, is two consecutive World Series titles.
The first part has been completed. This Phillies offense simply is that good.