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2004-05-20 12:12
by Mike Carminati

There's a feeling I get
When I look to the west,
And my spirit is crying for leaving…
And a new day will dawn
For those who stand long
And the forests will echo with laughter.

—"Stairway to 'Brad' Heaven". Does anybody remember laughter?

The Phils are now in sole possession of first place for the first time since April 27, 2003, when they were 16-10 and one-half game ahead of the Braves and the Expos. They are 16-8 since being swept by the Marlins, April 20, 21, and 22 (second only to Anaheim, 18-6, over the period).

On April 12, they had just lost five straight (including another three-game sweep by the Marlins). They were last in the NL East, had the worst record in baseball, and were 4.5 games behind Florida, more games than any other team was behind their division leader at the time. They had a day off the next day, then a postponed game, and fell 5.5 games back.

The Phils are 20-11 (.645) since April 12 (third best in the majors after Anaheim, 22-11, and Minnesota, 21-11). No other team in the NL East is over .500 over the same period (Florida is the next best at 16-17).

The Phillies are 16-11 for May. And they haven’t been doing it with pitching, though the pitching hasn't been bad. The staff ERA is 3.95 in May but was 3.33 in April in which they were 10-11. The WHIP Is up (1.25 to 1.43) and the strikeouts per nine innings are down (6.67 to 5.40). Eric Milton is a great example. He was 2-0 with a 3.27 ERA but so far in May is 3-0 with a 5.64 ERA. Millwood is 2-0 with a 5.30 in May but was 2-2 with a 3.38 ERA in April.

The Phils as a team are batting .278 in May with a .353 on-base percentage, .487 slugging average, and .840 OPS (and are 17 of 22 in stolen bases). Their numbers in April were .249/.332/.410/.742. Here are the Phils batters ranked by OPS improvement in May:

Jason Michaels1.323.2821.041
Chase Utley.691N/A.691
Pat Burrell1.253.800.453
Mike Lieberthal.964.578.386
David Bell1.035.666.369
Bobby Abreu1.202.882.320
Marlon Byrd.774.554.220
Jimmy Rollins.658.530.128
Tomas Perez.667.769-.102
Placido Polanco.441.674-.233
Shawn Wooten.463.697-.234
Jim Thome.9051.170-.265
Todd Pratt.619.955-.336
Ricky Ledee.8661.318-.452
Doug Glanville.353.820-.467

The offense has improved by getting guys like Lieberthal, Byrd (.348 OBP in May), and Bell involved and seeing improvements for Burrell and Abreu. They have gone from 4-5 drags on the lineup at the top and the bottom to nary a hole in the lineup. Unfortunately, with Polanco's injury, Rollins has been moved to the #2 spot to do more damage (.288 OBP). Utley is also doing poorly in his callup to replace Polanco, "forcing" Bowa to move Rollins up to #2. Actually, in Polanco's absence, Rollins does have a .742 OPS and .367 OBP in the #2 hole so he hasn't hurt them there.

So now the Phils offense is just about where people expected it to be barring the injury to Thome. However, the starting rotation may be in trouble with Millwood and Milton winning ugly and Wolf missing a turn. I wouldn't be surprise to see Ryan Madson (0.36 ERA, 0.88 WHIP) get a chance to start. But with Rheal Cormier having a tough season, they may need Madson in middle relief. Stay tuned.

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