Donut Age: America's Donut Magazine

12, no wait, 13 games in

Thanks to ESPN, I finally got to watch a Phillies game on Sunday. It was a very satisfying 2-1 extra-inning win over the hated Braves, featuring a great start by Brett Myers, some sparkling defensive plays, and clutch hitting for the win. In a game like that, of course, it looks like all is right with the world, but as they say, you're never as good as you look when you're winning. A look through the numbers suggests some areas of concern. Some observations (with the usual caveat that this early in the season, it is pointless trying to extrapolate trends).

First, aside from LF Pat Burrell (who started out white-hot then cooled off, but still has compiled a 1.128 OPS) and the surprisingly productive platoon of Kenny Lofton and Jason Michaels in CF (1.096 and 1.065 OPS, respectively), the team has been weak offensively. Neither Abreu nor Thome has gotten on track yet (.744 and .643 OPS with only one homer between them), which doesn't alarm me much, and David Bell and Mike Lieberthal have been abysmal (.533 and .553), which alarms me more because its quite plausible that both could remain offensive liabilities all year. If Bell really struggles, he might lose his job to Placido Polanco (currently not much better at .578, but he delivered the winning hit Sunday), with platoon-partner Chase Utley (.804 with the GWRBI Saturday) playing full-time at second. Jimmy Rollins, I must admit, is doing better in the leadoff slot than I feared. He's hitting for good average and taking some walks. His .742 OPS isn't great, but it's third-best among the everyday starters, so maybe I should cut him some slack. Put it all together, and what's most notable is the lack of power. Their team slugging is a measly .376, and they've been out-homered 16-9 by their opponents thus far (take out Burrell's 5 HR and .712 SLG and these numbers would look even worse). The power absence is alarming since they play in a fairly homer-friendly park and because offense is the supposed strong-point of the club.

On the other side of the ball, the news is likewise mixed. The starting pitching has actually been quite good (starters' ERA 3.25, 4th in the league). Myers has been outstanding through 3 starts (0.44 ERA, 20K and only 2 BB in 20.1 IP) and new #1 starter Jon Lieber has "found ways to win" (3-0, 2.49 looks good, but he's giving up homers and his K rate is very low). Randy Wolf (has pitched better than his 4.95 ERA would suggest) and Cory Lidle (2.61 but suspect "internals" in just two starts) have been respectable. Rookie Gavin Floyd had one good and one atrocious start; it remains to be seen which will be more indicative of his season.

On the other hand, the relief corps, with the exception of impeccable Billy Wagner (0.00 ERA in 6 appearances), has been the Achilles heel early on (5.85 ERA, charged with 4 of the team's six losses). Even in the last two wins, the relievers have not looked good: Madson gave up the go-ahead run in the top of the 10th on Sunday (but got the win when the offense bailed him out in the bottom half); Monday, Tim Worrell gave up a three-run homer (two charged to Wolf) before he managed to close the deal. Worrell's struggles (his ERA is now a grisly 10.80 in 7 games) and those of lefty Rheal Cormier (9.00 ERA in 5 games) are worrisome since they are being counted on as the principle setup men to get to Wagner.

Of course it's still early. One would expect the underperforming players with good track records (Thome, Abreu, Worrell and maybe Cormier) to return to form unless there's an injury lurking behind their struggles. Once Thome and Abreu start hitting, the team power numbers should start looking better as well.