Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Rollins Returns, Phillies Blast Bucs

The Phillies lineup got a boost last night as Jimmy Rollins returned from injury. He picked up where he left off, going 2-for-4 with an RBI and the Phillies coasted to a 12-2 win over Pittsburgh.

Missing from the lineup was Chase Utley, who got the day off with flu-like symptoms, but the offense performed well in his absence. Rollins took Utley's spot in the lineup and the middle of the order provided plenty of power. Ryan Howard hit a grand slam and drove in 6 RBI and Jayson Werth hit a three-run homer and finished with 4 RBI on the day.

It was a strong all-around performance as every position starter recorded at least one hit and Kyle Kendrick went eight strong innings, allowing just two runs. Recently called up Antonio Bastardo pitched a perfect ninth inning, striking out two of the three batters, to finish off the Pirates.

Rollins' return forces Charlie Manuel to make a decision regarding the leadoff spot. He can put Rollins back in his customary role or he can leave Victorino there, who has a .920 OPS while batting first this season, compared to a .470 OPS in seven games batting seventh. Of course, the difference could just be a matter of Victorino getting off to a slow start. Or maybe it's something about hitting ahead of Polanco, as Rollins was dominant from the leadoff spot as well before his injury.

Most likely Rollins will reclaim his place at the top of the order and Victorino will bat seventh, which may be better for the lineup anyway as Victorino has done an excellent job of driving in runs and his presence at the bottom half of the lineup should create more opportunities for the hot-hitting Carlos Ruiz.

However the lineup looks today, the offense should be fine. The pitching is not in question today as Roy Halladay takes the hill, but on the whole is still a bit suspect. However, Kendrick delivered an impressive start last night and has looked markedly improved in his last three starts. He has a 2.57 ERA in 21 innings pitched in May, compared to a 7.61 ERA in April. Much of this can be attributed to an improved ground ball-fly ball ratio. In May he has generated 39 ground ball outs compared to 32 fly ball outs. In April the ratio was 40:45, and it would have been a lot worse without the eight scoreless innings he threw against Atlanta on April 20th, in which he had 16 ground balls and 8 fly balls.

The bottom line with Kendrick (which should not come as a surprise) is when he keeps the ball on the ground, he wins. In his three starts when he had more ground balls than fly balls, he is 2-0 with a 0.78 ERA. In four starts where he had more fly balls, he is 0-1 with a 8.70 ERA. (He had one start in which he had the same number of ground balls and fly balls. He allowed four runs in six innings.) Again, this shouldn't come as a surprise, but in the last few starts, it seems he has figured it out which is a promising sign.

The Phillies will need lengthy starts like Kendrick's if they are to survive their bullpen troubles. The team is effectively closer-less, with both Brad Lidge and Ryan Madson on the DL. Jose Contreras is the closer for now, but it seems that they will go to a closer-by-committee system to some degree. J.C. Romero notched the save two nights ago against the Brewers, but that may have had more to do with Contreras needing a day off than anything else. The Phillies have leaned heavily upon the trio of Contreras, Danys Baez, and Chad Durbin and one has to hope that Romero, Daniel Herndon, and Bastardo can provide some solid innings as well, as not to overwork Contreras/Baez/Durbin.

Either way, the team is looking very strong right now. If Manuel can continue to piece an effective bullpen together and Rollins makes his presence felt in the lineup, they should be able to further their lead in the division and not look back.

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