Silver linings for the Phillies?

Posted: June 14, 2014

It was a great day for clouds at Citizens Bank Park. In fact, the sun never made an appearance Thursday during the 3 hours and 5 minutes it took the Phillies to finish off a three-game sweep of the San Diego Padres with a 7-3 victory that included another game-winning hit from Reid Brignac and a three-run homer by John Mayberry Jr.

"It was a game with a lot of rain out there," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said. "I don't think I've ever seen that much rain in three hours of a game, but the guys hung in there and played a good game."

You could argue that even with all those clouds and a little bit of momentum you still couldn't find a silver lining in this Phillies season. They're still eight games under .500 at 28-36, and they're still in last place in the National League East. This pig needs a lot of lipstick and a gallon of eyeliner to make it look like anything other than overcooked bacon.

It's different, of course, if you're one of the players, coaches, or decision makers consumed by the daily grind of a 162-game season. They have to believe that something big can come from something as small as a three-game winning streak.

Like, possibly, a four-game winning streak.

"Well, now we have a chance," Sandberg said. "That's what we want to build on."

Charlie Manuel was still the manager the last time the Phillies won more than three games in a row, and doesn't that seem like a long time ago? They won five in a row from June 2 through 6 of last season and climbed to a game above .500. They lost five straight immediately after that, and a couple of months later Sandberg was moving into Manuel's office.

"I don't know if I was [aware of that] or not," Sandberg said when asked about his team's inability to string together four wins in a row. "We can definitely build on this series and continue forward. Starting off this homestand with a sweep could go a long way for us."

Thursday marked just the fifth time that the Phillies had won as many as three games in a row under Sandberg. They've done it four times this season.

"Obviously we know where we're at, and we haven't played the way we wanted," pitcher Kyle Kendrick said after overcoming another shaky first inning to earn just his second win in his last 20 starts. "Now we've won three in a row, and hopefully we can keep that going into tomorrow.

"We have a team coming in that obviously hasn't played well, either, so hopefully we can take advantage of that and go on the road. I think we have the guys to do it. We just have to put everything together and get on a roll and start getting some momentum and feeling like we can win some games."

Wishful thinking?

Probably, but the Friday arrival of the Chicago Cubs could be a silver lining. The Cubs have the worst road record in the National League at 11-23, and the Phillies just took advantage of one bad team and now have a chance to beat up on another.

Win six in a row and confidence can grow from there.

You don't have to look hard at all to find a team that overcame a start as poor as the Phillies' this season and still went on to win its division. On June 21 last season, the Dodgers were 30-42 and tied for the second-worst record in the National League. They went 62-28 the rest of the way.

Yes, I know all about the June arrival of Cuban outfielder Yasiel Puig, which injected life into the entire organization. I also know that Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, the Phillies' Cuban defector, has a 0 percent chance of having that same impact this season.

But the Dodgers' resurgence wasn't just about Puig. It was about the return of Hanley Ramirez and the resurrection of a bullpen that was horrible through the first three months of the season. The Phillies offense isn't getting a Puig or Ramirez clone, but the bullpen improvement could exceed what happened for the Dodgers in that department last season.

"The bullpen, I'm pretty excited about that part of it," Kendrick said.

The relievers have a 2.74 ERA over the last 15 games, and with Ken Giles making his debut Thursday with a fastball listed at 100 m.p.h., just a couple of days after Jake Diekman lit up the radar gun with triple digits, there is some reason for hope there. This is no longer the worst bullpen in baseball, and it has a chance to be one of the best.

That was the silver lining on this cloudy day.


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