Nearly a year has passed since the Phillies were above the .500 mark. Thanks to Odubel Herrera’s walk off double Saturday against the struggling Washington Nationals, the Phillies moved above the mediocrity mark for the first time since last May.
A six-game homestand is a small sample set but can the Phillies play competitive ball this season?
“If things break right, maybe,” a NL scout said. “If Herrera can hit in the majors like he did in the minors. If (Jeff) Francoeur finds himself and (David) Buchanan pitches his well in the spring and Freddy Galvis keeps it up, who knows? But we’re talking a lot of ifs. Maybe the Phillies will be better than many expected, which is saying maybe they can be better than the worst team in baseball but the reality is that the standings during the first week of the season are often very different than how the standings are during the last week of the season.”
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Good point. The Braves, Rockies, Diamondbacks and Reds are among the division leaders. Each of those teams are expected to struggle as much as the Phillies. The NL East order is the inverse of what is expected during the first week of October.
But the Phillies are offering glimmers of hope. Ryne Sandberg’s team came back twice against a Nationals team, which is missing some key parts, Denard Span, Jayson Werth and Anthony Rendon. But plucky wins are wins.
When Herrera, who has won minor league batting titles and was the best story in Clearwater in March, stepped to the plate against Tanner Roark, it felt like the 23-year old Venezuelan was due for his first major league hit. It didn’t make sense but there was a smiling Herrera after the game speaking via a familiar translator (Juan Samuel) with the remnants of shaving cream in his dreadlocks. “I”m very pleased that my first hit was a big one,” Herrera said. “
Herrera, a natural second baseman, is holding his own as a centerfielder and who may heat up offensively when the temperature climbs.
There are a number of bright spots for the Phillies. The aforementioned Francoeur has had some big hits, Ryan Howard, who missed a game-tying homer by inches Saturday night, has three doubles. Howard hit the ball hard every time Saturday night. Cole Hamels bounced back from his miserable opening day start against the Red Sox to pitch very well against the Nats. Hamels fastball location still isn’t there but his changeup baffled the Nats all night. Ben Revere’s great throw from left nailed Washington’s speedy Michael Taylor at the plate. The play was clutch since it would have given the Nats a lead in the ninth inning.
“I think we’re going to surprise people,” Revere said. “We can play. Just watch.”