Don't rush to judgment on Phillies

KEVIN C. COX / GETTY IMAGES Chase Utley is greeted by Charlie Manuel after Opening Nigh homer.
KEVIN C. COX / GETTY IMAGES Chase Utley is greeted by Charlie Manuel after Opening Nigh homer.
Posted: April 04, 2013

ATLANTA - Last year, Roy Halladay pitched eight scoreless innings and allowed two baserunners in a 1-0 win over the Pirates on Opening Day. Two years ago, Cole Hamels allowed six runs in 2 2/3 innings in a performance that elicited boos in his first start of the season.

In 2008, the Phillies lost their first two games of the season, both against the Washington Nationals. In 2009, they lost their first two games of the season, both to the Braves.

The moral of the story is that the opening week of the baseball season, more often than not, is amoral. We learned this when the Phillies scored 77 runs over their first 10 games in 2010, and we learned it when Chad Qualls did not allow a run in any of his first six appearances in 2012, preserving tight leads in four of them.

With that in mind, let's take a look at some important pieces of context with regard to Monday night's season-opening, 7-5 loss to the Braves.

1. Last year, Chase Utley went 3-for-5 with a home run and RBI in his first game of the season. The question is not whether Utley can play well out of the gate, which he did on Monday with another 3-for-5 performance, this one including a triple, a home run, and an extra base taken on an RBI single. The question is whether Utley can sustain his play over the course of a 162-game season. In his first 31 games after returning from the disabled list in 2012, the second baseman put up numbers that were similar to the ones he posted in his prime. He hit .264 with a .364 on-base percentage and .509 slugging percentage. He hit seven home runs in 129 plate appearances, a pace that would equal about 37 home runs over a 162-game season. He produced 12 extra-base hits in 110 at bats. In his last 52 games of the season, the contact and on-base numbers remained relatively steady, but his power production dropped significantly. He hit four home runs in 233 plate appearances, a pace of about 13 per 162 games. He averaged one extra-base hit every 11.9 at bats, down from one every 9.2 at-bats in his first 31 games.

Hey, perhaps if the Phillies had kept playing for another 3 months, his numbers would have had time to rebound. We just don't know. What we do know is that in the 83 games that Utley played last season, he was essentially the same player as he was in his first 83 games off the disabled list in 2011. He finished 2011 by hitting .216/.306/.365 with two home runs and five extra base hits in 74 at-bats in his final 20 games.

CHASE UTLEY'S LAST FIVE SEASONS

First 83 games of 2012

BAOBP SLG HR XBH AB

.256.365 .429 11 28 301

First 83 games of 2011

BAOBP SLG HR XBH AB

.269.353 .438 9 33 324

First 83 games of 2010:

BAOBP SLG HR XBH AB

.269.381 .439 11 28 305

First 83 games of 2009

BAOBP SLG HR XBH AB

.310430 .575 20 39 303

First 83 games of 2008

BAOBP SLG HR XBH AB

.298.383 .605 23 49 319

Final 20 games of 2011

BAOBP SLG HR XBH AB

.216.306 .365 2 5 74

Final 32 games of 2010

BAOBP SLG HR XBH AB

.292.403 .458 5 10 120

Final 73 games of 2009

BAOBP SLG HR XBH AB

.250.360 .433 11 24 268

Final 76 games of 2008

BAOBP SLG HR XBH AB

.285.376 .458 10 29 288

2. The front of the Phillies' bullpen was a concern entering the season and it remains a concern. Chad Durbin did not retire any of the three batters he faced on Monday night, and he ended up charged with two runs in a game the Phillies lost by that margin. The veteran righthander struggled in spring training and did not pitch any better against the Braves. He averaged 88 mph on the three fastballs he threw, down a couple of mph from his norm the last few seasons.

Charlie Manuel has deflected questions about Durbin, saying he is typically a slow starter. In his first 14 appearances of 2012, he allowed 11 runs and five home runs with eight strikeouts and seven walks in 12 innings. Over the rest of the season he posted a 1.84 ERA with four home runs, 41 strikeouts and 21 walks in 49 innings. But the games in April count the same as the games in September, so Phillippe Aumont could be in for a trial by fire. The 24-year-old rookie retired three of the four batters he faced against the Braves, walking one and striking out one.

3. John Mayberry Jr. went 1-for-4 with a double but also grounded into a big inning-ending doubleplay. With Delmon Young likely to miss most of April while recovering from ankle surgery, and Carlos Ruiz suspended for the first 25 games, Mayberry is the Phillies' primary righthanded power bat. But he has struggled in April and May in the past, hitting .256/.291/.354 in the first month and .232/.298/.387 in the second. On Wednesday, the Phillies face a tough lefty in Paul Maholm. They need Mayberry to provide some semblance of balance in those kinds of matchups.


On Twitter: @HighCheese

Blog: philly.com/HighCheese

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|