Now that month number one of the season is in the books, it's as good a time as ever to take a closer look and give our first evaluation of the 2011 Philadelphia Phillies, who finished off the month of April with 18 wins -- the best in the history of the club.
After they dropped the New York Mets on Saturday afternoon, the last day of the month, they were 18-8, good enough for best record in the Major Leagues (along with the Cleveland Indians) and good enough for first place in the National League East.
Predictably, it's been all about the pitching. With a rotation that has been compared favorably to the starting staffs of the Atlanta Braves of the 90s and the Baltimore Orioles of the 70s, the Phillies have not held back on opposing batters and have made no qualms about letting the arms carry the team in the first month of the season.
Every single starter has been as good as advertised, and has done more than their fair share of heavy lifting for this team that is a bit long in the tooth on the offensive side of things. While the Phillies still boast a lot of the same faces that were crucial to the offenses that could put up seven or eight runs a game as recently as 2009, it's a wildly different squad.
Not that the Phillies are any worse for it, as the Utley-less lineup has provided just enough support to the starting five, despite the fact that Wilson Valdez and Raul Ibanez are getting more at-bats than anyone would care go admit. (More on the offense tomorrow).
But so far this season, it's all about the pitchers.
Roy Halladay is following up his Cy Young campaign with an impressive 2.14 ERA through six games and is every bit the pitcher that he was in 2010. He's even tossed a pair of complete games, including a supremely efficient one on the final day of the month in which he threw 18 straight strikes to start the game on his way to downing the Mets.
Cliff Lee, the prodigal son whose start on the second day of the season might just have been the most anticipated start in Philly since Halladay's first home start in 2010, hasn't fared quite as well as Halladay in his return to Philly, but save for a pair of iffy starts, is setting down the opposition with aplomb, thanks to pinpoint control that has seen him walk just over a batter per nine innings.
Roy Oswalt, who is the most understated member of this pitching rotation -- and perhaps has very quietly done his part. Save for one start, he hasn't allowed more than two runs in any outing as he very quietly takes the mound every fifth day.
Cole Hamels, the youngest of the group, and with any luck, the recipient of a nice extension before season's end, has been dominant of late, with an ERA of 1.55 with 31 strikeouts in 29 innings since he got lit up in his season debut.
Joe Blanton, often lost in the glare of the other four, has been solid in his previous two starts after getting tuned up by the opposition in his first two outings to begin the season. Just when things looked to be turning around for the right-hander, his season was derailed by a trip to the disabled list.
Not to be overlooked is the bullpen, who, despite suffering the losses of the injured Brad Lidge and Jose Contreras, have held their own as, with a 2.67 ERA, while tossing the fewest innings (67.1) of any 'pen in the league, courtesy of the distance-going starters.
Before his recent trip to the DL, Jose Contreras was a rock as the closer, while Ryan Madson (0.82 ERA, 10.6 K/9) has been as good as ever, but it's been the young Antonio Bastardo, with his 0.87 ERA and 16 strikeouts in 10.1 innings pitched, that has been the surprise late in games.
Just a couple months ago, the starters coyly downplayed all that “greatest of all time” chatter. Now one month in, they are letting their arms to all the talking.