The Phillies after a quarter

From espn.com

by Alex Young

Major League Baseball recently passed its quarter mark of the season. After 45 games played the Phillies sit at a disappointing 26-25 and four games out of first place. The offense has struggled to score runs with out Chase Utley and Ryan Howard and the stellar starting rotation has felt the pressure of the poor run support. Before last weekend, they finally eclipsed the .500 mark for the first time since Opening Day.

They are leaving much to be desired but the Phillies have still offered a few bright spots. These are the top five Phillies’ players of the year so far.

5.  Juan Pierre

When the Phillies signed Juan Pierre this offseason it wasn’t even a sure thing that he would make the team. He has more than earned an everyday spot in the lineup. He’s hitting .316 and while he’s mostly a singles hitter, he provides another set of wheels on the base paths tallying six stolen bases so far this season. He’s also a big defensive upgrade over Raul Ibanez. He’s got a god-awful arm but covers enough ground to make up for it. He’s one of the few players on the team who looks like he’s comfortable looking at more than two pitches in an at bat. He might not be a walk machine but he fouls off a lot of pitches and always seems to take the pitcher to a deep count.

4. Joe Blanton

Heavy B came into the season (a contract year) looking much less heavy, and he’s been pitching like its 2008. It’s easy to forget that Joe Blanton was the big deadline trade in the World Series year. He was as important as anyone down the stretch in ’08, the Phillies didn’t lose a game he started that year. He’s been a bit more hit-or-miss ever since (sometimes giving up a lot of hits.) He’s hit a bit of a rough patch recently but he had been something of a stopper for the Phil’s, especially during the time when Cliff Lee was on the DL.

3. Jonathan Papelbon

For the first time since ’08, Phillies fans can feel confident when their closer enters the game. Other than a few good months from Ryan Madson last year, the Closer situation in Philly has been shaky to say the least. Papelbon has put a lot of those fears to rest, which is good since the Phillies handed him the richest ever contract for a relief pitcher this winter. He’s 14-for-14 in save chances so far with a 2.21 ERA. He’s the one reliable pitcher in what might be the worst bullpen in baseball and his experience and ability will be invaluable especially if the Phillies plan to win low-scoring, close games.

2. Cole Hamels

Not only has Hamels been by far the best pitcher on the Phillies this year, he’s an early favorite to win the NL Cy Young award. We could get into his impending free agency but that’s another post for another day. For now, he’s a Phillie and he’s been flat-out dominant. He’s leading the team in wins (eight), and strikeouts (72), and leads the starters in ERA (2.43), WHIP (1.01), and K/9 (9.53). Ruben Amaro better think twice if he believes he won’t have to give Hamels Cliff Lee money to keep him around next year.

1. Carlos Ruiz

Carlos Ruiz. Solid defensive catcher. Fan favorite. Batting title contender? Yeah that’s right, good ole’ Chooch is having himself a career year. He’s hitting .366, which is more than 90 points better than his career average. He’s got seven home runs, just two short of his career best nine that he hit in 2009. He’s second on the team with 29 RBIs and climbed up four spots in the lineup, from eighth all the way to fourth, where he started last night. A lot of people would say that he was the best eight hitter in the league, but he’s playing too good for Charlie to keep him at the bottom of the lineup. If it wasn’t for Chooch, this season could be a lot worse. Cole Hamels might be having the best season, but considering how tough it’s been for the Phils to score runs, Chooch has by far been the most important.


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