Phillies Making Own Breaks Toward Third Straight NL East Crown

Scott EisenlohrAnalyst IJune 5, 2009

When the Philadelphia Phillies beat the San Diego Padres 10-5 on Tuesday night, a couple important things happened.

The Phils went 10 games over .500 at 30-20 and 2 1/2 game lead over the New York Mets in the National League East. Certainly the race in the NL East is not over by a long shot. But temporarily, it gave the Phillies some breathing room from the week-to-week flip flop with the Mets.

The Phils followed up with a win the following night against the Padres, 5-1. The lead widened to three games, as the Mets got rained out Wednesday.

But more significantly, it was the second win this season by a rookie pitcher, Antonio Bastardo, pictured above, in his first big league game of the year.

Back in May, Triple-A callup Andrew Carpenter pitched 4, 1/3 innings to pick up the win in a rain-shortened game, a 7-5 victory over the Washington Nationals.

Hey, wait a minute: Wasn't it a few years ago that Major League pitchers with no prior Big League experience beat the Phillies?

Just another sign that there is a new sheriff in the NL East: The Phightin' Phils.

Raul Ibanez, who was sought by several teams in the off season, came to the Phillies to take over for Pat Burrell. Pat was good, but is a mere after thought, considering:

Ibanez leads the league in RBI (52), runs (44), second in home runs (19); and seventh in batting average at .337.

Another break.

Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins? From the Phillies minor league system. Howard hit is 16th home run the other night, a monster shot to straight away center field at San Diego's Petco Park.

Shane Victorino? A Rule 5 pickup. Jason Werth? Free agent signing.

Good scouting and a fruitful minor league system.

The pitching staff is starting to take place. The bullpen is solid again with the return of J.C. Romero from his 50-game substance abuse penalty. Ryan Madson may be the best pitcher in the bullpen. And Brad Lidge is lights out once again.

Once the Phillies stay at 10 games over .500, they can play different ball. Winning ball. Taking two out of three from teams to keep pace.

A lot can happen. Brett Myers is probably lost for the season with a hip injury and Victorino is currently day-to-day with an injury.

But Cole Hamels is coming around to pitching like he did last year, J. Happ looks a lot better than Chan Ho Park as a starter, Joe Blanton is getting sharp and the ageless wonder, Jamie Moyer, recently picked up his 250th Major League victory.

Park is back in the bullpen, where he can be effective.

The Phils could use another starter and a right-handed bat off the bench, but other than that, and injury, I see this team leading the East or jockeying with the Mets and Braves for the top spot.

Heady company, three division crowns in a row. They are not there yet, but they are certainly playing like defending World Series champions.

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