Saturday, April 17, 2004

Threepeat | Hold off on that Larry Bowa speculation. After their unfortunate 1-6 start, the Phillies have won three straight to climb out of the division cellar. The latest victory, this afternoon's 6-3 triumph over the limp Expos at sparkling Citizens Bank Park, was keyed by homers from David Bell, the white-hot Pat Burrell, Bobby Abreu, and Placido Polanco. Billy Wagner closed the door to earn his fourth save in four tries.

What's notable about the Phillies' rebound is that they're winning games exactly the way most anticipated. The bats are coming around, especially in the long-ball department, yet the offense is too inconsistent to be blowing teams away. Burrell looks much more like the 2002 version, and Bell, healthy at last, is performing like the professional Bowa promised he was. The starting pitching has been decent but not overwhelming -- not surprising for a staff with a bunch of No. 2 guys but no real ace. Middle relief and setup have been solid. And Wagner has been the kind of lights-out certainty we all longed for when Ed Wade acquired him from Houston. As Phillies Fan's Bill Liming noted, "This is the team we expected to see right out of the gate."

Just before the winning streak began, Jayson Stark surveyed scouts around the league for their opinion on whether the 1-6 start was reality or illusion:

"They're a boom-or-bust club offensively," said one advance scout. Another scout wondered about their lack of "that prototype leadoff guy." And scouts who have watched them see a palpable tension in the way their hitters approach big at-bats -- and wonder if that reflects the personality of their tightly wound manager, Lawrence R. Bowa.

Whether it does or not, this is a club with no excuse not to win its division. So while Bowa is not in imminent danger, remember that this is a team committed to all of its significant players for the next three to five years. And this is too important a season in the life of the franchise to expect that the men at the top could possibly sit back and let this season fall apart without making a change.

On the other hand, there is also so much talent here, there is no reason to think this outfit can possibly keep playing this lousy. So our panel's verdict: illusion.

The Phils will go for the sweep tomorrow afternoon when Randy Wolf takes the hill against Claudio Vargas. After an off day Monday, the how-the-hell-are-they-doing-it-again Marlins come to town for a three-game set, giving the Phillies a chance to make up some ground in the N.L. East.


Post a Comment

<< Home