Prior to the Phillies home opener, manager Pete Mackanin said his ball club will be better than what the experts suggest.
It seemed like “coach speak” at first – of course he’s going to say that – but through nearly one month of action, he’s right.
Here are five things we leaned after the first three weeks of the season:
Maikel Franco is the real deal
A little over 100 games into his career, it's become pretty evident that Franco is living up to the hype. He's off to a fast start this season, leading the team in batting average (.296), home runs (5) and RBI (13) among other categories. Perhaps the most impressive attribute of his is his fielding ability and range at the hot corner. His throw from the seat of his pants on Saturday in Milwaukee will be on his highlight reel for a long time.
The bullpen will be in flux
Almost a month in and the bullpen is unfolding like a game of roulette. It's going to be a "next man up" situation all season with the shuffling beginning a few weeks back when the Phillies called up Elvis Araujo then more recently, Andrew Bailey. The relievers have a 5.26 ERA in 68.1 innings of work. Despite the flaws on the backend, the Phillies’ starting pitching has done well enough to limit the relievers’ usage.
Discipline needs to improve
To see where the Phillies are at right now, it’s tough not to imagine where they could be if they had a little more discipline at the plate. The team has drawn only 46 walks, which is two ahead of Tampa Bay for fewest in the league. With more patience at the plate, the Phillies would be able to steal more bases, which they surprisingly rank 16th in the MLB with nine steals, and give their pitching staff more run support to work with.
Help is on the way
Cody Asche will begin hitting in May and a return to the field should soon follow. Asche isn’t a difference maker in a lineup, but his .252 average and 46 RBI from 2014 would be nice to have in the order. He would also help out the team’s issues in the corner outfield positions. Aside from Asche getting healthy, the call-ups of J.P. Crawford and Nick Williams could both happen over the summer. That’s a long way to go, but infusing the lineup with some youth should benefit everyone from 1-to-9 in the order.
This isn't a last place team
This has some to do with the demise in Atlanta, is 10 game under .500, and a lot to do with the Phillies early start. Right now, the Phillies are a fringe .500 team ahead of both Atlanta and Miami. There are still the long summer months to get through, but this team doesn't appear to be as weak as expected. The rotation has shined early on for the most part while the bats are slowly coming around. Expectations haven't changed, but it's always nice to know there are a few teams behind you.