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      ......and fortunes rising.
    Philadelphia Phillies
    Yesterday I wrote about a team that was heading south, the Dodgers. For a team heading in the opposite direction, check out the Phillies. On May 6th, the Phillies were sitting at 12-14, third place in a pretty evenly matched NL East race. Something then clicked, and the Phillies started playing like everyone expected going into the season. They've gone 11-3 since to catch the Marlins, who started off on fire, and now sit in first place. Not only have they won a bunch of games but they have won convincingly. The three games they lost have all been one-run losses, and they've outscored their opponents 96-58 during the stretch, (right in line with their Pythag Wins).

    So what changed?
    Well, as much as I hate to agree with Joe Morgan, when the Phillies played the D-Backs on Sunday Night Baseball, Morgan mentioned that in order for the Phillies to get going they were going to need to get better production out of their leadoff guys. He was pretty much right. Jim Thome and Bobby Abreu have been good as usual, Pat Burrell has bounced back from his Aubrey Huff-like 2003 season. Marlon Byrd and Jimmy Rollins, on the other hand, had been out-machines at the top of that order. Both have now started to hit, Rollins has raised his average and OBP close to 50 points, and Byrd has done the same, including two leadoff triples, two homers and six multi-hit games since May 6th. Bill Liming has a chart, here, showing that the Phililes will go as far as their table setters will take them, and are a combined 13-4 when the #1 & #2 hitters have a game OBP greater than .375. Larry Bowa really should keep Rollins and his career .315 OBP at the bottom of the order and just move everyone else up a slot, ("With his skills, he an ideal top-of-the-order guy," said manager Larry Bowa.) but that’s another story.

    Speaking of Bowa, there was clamoring all around baseball that Bowa needed to go. Former player Tyler Houston spoke out against Bowa calling him a "sideshow" with "little man's complex". The Philly media has pretty much tried to impeach him, but where are they now? Its funny how winning solves just about any "chemistry" problem a team may have.

    Will it continue?
    I see no reason why it shouldn't. This is a team that drastically underperformed last year. For the most part the young guys like Byrd, Wolf, Padilla, Myers have started to improve their games. They stabilitzed an already decent bullpen with Billy Wagner and Tim Worrell, and now have the best ERA in MLB. A useful Pat Burrell has returned with 11 HRs and 36 RBIs, and helped Philly rank a quickly rising 7th in OPS.

    Something else thats bound to change: They were hitting a combined .209 with runners in scoring position, including .229 from Abreu and .129 from Thome. Expect that to rise soon, and expect this team to continue its run to the NL East title. Don’t be surprised if they run away with it. The Marlins look to be their biggest competition, but save another Cabrera and Willis entering the picture, its going to be hard for the Marlins to hang with Philly from here on out.