by Kevin Franklin
Sports are full of axioms: If you have two number one quarterbacks, you don’t have a number one quarterback, you can’t teach height and you score on zero percent of the shots you don’t take. Baseball probably has more proverbs than the other three major sports combined, so it doesn’t need any help from me, but I’m going to reach across the aisle and contort the football saying by stating, The Best Offense is a Great Offense.
It is early in the 2010 season and the Phillies are 6-1, and they had a better-than-decent chance to be 7-0, but let’s not be greedy. There is no use in looking back, and that is exactly how this team functions. Won a big game yesterday? Big deal. Lost a heart breaker the day before? Ancient history. These Phillies live in the moment. They don’t project to the following series or the following game, hell, they don’t even focus on the following inning. They stride to the plate like mafia hitmen, with a single purpose to do as much damage with the bat as humanly possible. They’ll let Winston Wolf sort out the damage.
These are heady times for the local nine. Everyone hits, even the pitchers are chipping in. With production like that, there is no weak spot. People talk about the heart of the order, but this entire lineup is the heart of the order. You have a 2009 All-Star hitting seventh and a post season dynamo batting eighth. Gone is Pedro Feliz and his glove at third base, but also gone is the first-pitch swing frustration Phillies fans endured for the past two seasons. Taking his place is Placido Polanco, returning home after a four-year residence in Detroit, and all he’s done this season is knock the baseball all over the park. The man is, after all, a career .300 hitter, something this team, for all of its weaponry, did not have last year.
Today was the home opener for the Phillies, and they won in an almost mechanical fashion, 7-4. It is an offensive juggernaut even better than the past two pennant-winning seasons, thus far. We haven’t been this stoically confident in an offense since the 2004 Eagles. Both Jayson Werth and the mercurial Jimmy Rollins suffered injuries today. On teams of the past, it would have dealt a significant blow to the psyches of the fans and maybe the other players. In step Ben Francisco and Juan Castro, and even though neither of those players will be making speeches at Cooperstown in the future, the machinery of this team just keeps on chugging along. The oddly overwrought National Anthem lasted longer than most opposing pitchers this season.
Rollins’ injury was ill-timed, as if there is any good time for an injury. Actually taking pitches and, heaven forbid, walks, Jimmy may as well have changed his name to “Jim” or “James” because we hadn’t seen this player before. Jayson Werth, sans the Unibomber facial pet he chaperoned in Spring Training, is the only legitimate right-handed power bat in the order, so if anyone out there is in possession of voodoo magic, start dancing with chickens and get him back in right field where he belongs. Still, with all of this to contend with, Chase Utley slugged a right-angle home run and Ryan Howard, fresh from his guru sessions with the pachycephalic Barry Bonds, is enjoying life by ripping shots through the vacated left side of the infield. Shane Victorino, still struggling with batting seventh, will eventually come around, while Raul Ibanez will be constant sports radio fodder for the chuckleheads who rant “Get ridda tha bum!” one day and “Rauuuuuul!” the next. Anything Carlos Ruiz gives to the offense is nuts on a sundae, seeing as how masterfully he handles the pitchers. He also has an On-Base Percentage well over .400, so yeah, we’ll take that from the eight hole hitter.
The pitching staff doesn’t seem to be as reliable, but with Roy Halladay throwing up donuts on the scoreboard, at least 2010 will have a full season ace anchoring the rotation. As far as the bullpen, aside from some hiccups, they’ve been door slammers. Is anyone worried Brad Lidge isn’t back yet? Didn’t think so.
The Phillies are MLB’s version of the run-and-shoot offense. They’re fast-breakers and breakaways. Sure, they may spot you a few runs, but then they’ll steamroll right past you. They’re like Mongo from Blazing Saddles when Gene Wilder says of him, “Don’t shoot him. You’ll just make him mad.”
It’s a great time to be a fan of the Phillies. Each game brings the hope of seeing something new; a Ryan Howard blast jettisoned into orbit, a Shane Victorino death race to the plate just ahead of the relay, a Roy Halladay domination, professional and dignified, as he glides effortlessly back to the dugout following another 1-2-3 inning like Count Dracula after feeding on a fat guy. We’ve been told good teams come to the park not hoping to win, but expecting it. As fans who have endured years of snake oil salesmen promises of the Flyers and Eagles, we have always tempered our optimism by drumming our fingers nervously next to the chicken switch. We WANT to believe, but we just cannot make that last leap of faith into actually BELIEVING it. Even with the success of the past two years, many fans are still more cautious than optimistic. Well, count me as one who has thrown his hat in the ring. I am not hoping the Phillies can make it back to the World Series, I expect it, and I also expect they can take anything the American League has to offer them in October.
These Phillies will outhit you, outrun you and out-field you. They’ll beat you up and beat you down. When the rest of the pitching staff comes together and is healthy, they will out-pitch you, too. They’ll take the extra base, apply the hard tags and take an out to advance the runner. They’ll beat you with small ball and give you whiplash by planting pitches into – and sometimes over – the seats. Their mascot is better than your mascot. If your mother was at bat, they’ll throw inside. If your sister was taking the pivot at second base, they’ll knock her into left field. And if your grandmother was taking the throw to the plate, they’ll bowl her over in a manner that would shock Pete Rose. That’s right, they’d knock down your grandmother.
It doesn’t get any more offensive than that.