Guys. Guys guys guys guys guess what?!
The Phillies won again last night.
It was awesome. It was awesome! AJ Burnett was brilliant, dispatching the Cardinals in 111 pitches and tossing a complete game. He walked just one batter, and it was the first one he faced. Burnett would take outs any way he could get them. Groundouts. Flyouts. On the bases (he allowed 7 hits, so he needed a few of those). He even sprinkled in three strikeouts -- two in the seventh, and one in the ninth. His only hiccup was in the third inning, when he hit Matt Carpenter with a pitch and then allowed to straight singles to score him. That's barely a hiccup, because just in case you forgot, AJ Burnett threw a 111-pitch complete game last night. Burnett didn't limit his contributions to pitching, though. He also hit a double and brought in the game's first run in the fourth inning. His RBI was the first for a Phillies' pitcher this year.
Burnett's not the only one who did some hitting. The Phillies tagged Cardinals' starter Jaime Garcia for four runs and seven hits last night. You remember Jaime Garcia, don't you?
Every Phillies starter had a hit last night. Every starter but Cody Asche, who finally returned to action after a stay on the DL. Asche hit a few balls hard, though, which is a good sign.
In the end, it was a miracle that the swarming moths didn't eat everyone alive. The stadium was filled with their flitting white wings, swirling everywhere and threatening to completely obscure the game from view. Scott Franzke reported that the Phillies bullpen was actually waving towels in the air to fend them off. The Best Bugs in Baseball. (h/t Phrozen)
So, what is happening here? To me, it's pretty obvious, actually. Everything is going as well as it possibly can or the Phillies right now. Their starting pitching is humming along, and it's being backed up by an awakened offense and a solid bullpen. Kyle Kendrick, David Buchanan, AJ Burnett, and Cole Hamels have all been pitching very well, and even Roberto Hernandez has been able to limit the damage. Ryan Howard has apparently enjoyed this road trip, hitting .364/.462/.818 over the Phillies 5-game winning streak. Over the last 10 games, Howard has hit .297/.395/.568. Chase Utley, mired in a crappy June, still hasn't let his average fall below .300, and has been hitting .333 over the last 5 games. Marlon Byrd, Domonic Brown, John Mayberry, Carlos Ruiz, they've all done their part, too. And the bullpen? That's how it was supposed to be. What they're doing now, that's the dream.
This can't last. For even the best teams, this can't last. Something will happen, because something always happens. Someone will get hurt, players will get cold, and they will lose again. How teams deal with those down times, those fallow periods when everyone's banged up and in a rut and yelling at themselves on the field all the time, that's what sets the best teams apart from the others. Having enough talent on the team to allow holes to be filled without a huge drop in quality. Sometimes it's luck -- remember Wilson Valdez? -- but it's also about having a solid, capable foundation.
That team is not the Phillies. That's just not them. If that's news to you, I'm not sure you've actually been watching the Phillies. There are a few teams that have the same red/white/gray uniforms, maybe you've been watching one of them. I like hope and optimism as much as the next guy, but I'm also a fan of realism. The Phillies are on a precipice, and the next few months could determine if they go over the edge or turn around to keep climbing and putting off their inevitable fall into the abyss.
But damn this is fun. When it comes down to it, I want the Phillies to win. Baseball is supposed to be fun, and winning is fun. The Phillies up until now have not been very fun, and so I'm enjoying the hell out of this. Seeing what the Best Case Scenario Phillies look like is a blast. It's been so long since the Phillies have made me feel this way, and it's thrilling. It feels good. Plus, since the NL East has been a putrid tire fire this season, the Phillies are only 3.5 games out of first place. 3.5 games! There is a lot of damage to be done and a lot of havoc to wreak in the NL East, because if everyone is going to be mediocre, the Phillies have a chance to make the standings look weird.
The Phillies won again last night, and it was awesome.