By Chris Murray
While it’s way too early for Phillies fans to start camping outside Citizen’s Bank Park for playoff and World Series tickets, they are, at least for now, happy with the way things are going after their first homestand of the 2011 campaign.
Beginning on Friday, the Phillies will embark on a six-game road trip that will take them to Atlanta and Washington. Cliff Lee (1-0, 3.86 earned run average) will be on the mound against Braves righthander Tim Hudson (1-0, 1.29) in the series opener.
“Atlanta’s always going to be good. We saw them in spring training,” Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard. “Dan Uggla is no stranger to us and we know he’s capable of doing. We’ve got to go down there ready to play and handle some business.”
The Phillies are hoping build on what they accomplished in the first week of the season in which they won five out of their first six games including Thursday’s 11-0 shutout of the Mets.
For one thing, the Phillies have won five out of their six games with their highly-touted pitching staff and an offensive attack looking to prove that they are not the same team that experienced a power outage during the 2010 National League Championship Series.
“There was never a question mark in here,” Howard told reporters on Thursday. “There was a question mark everywhere else. Like I said we had a lot of guys injured and people wrote us off. Guys are doing what they normally do.”
As a team, the Phillies are batting .337 and are showing that they can play small ball by manufacturing runs or by knocking the ball into orbit via the home run ball. In their last two games in their series against the New York Mets, the Phillies scored runs in double figures . They scored 21 runs in two games.
But with just one week and six games into season, Phils manager Charlie Manuel tried to keep things in perspective.
“It’s better than I expected, but at the same time we’ve just six games and we’ve got to keep going,” Manuel said. “I don’t want to talk about it. A few years ago, I remember we scored 20 runs and guys talked about the records we were going to set and we went through a month and we didn’t score very many. Actually, we didn’t score as much as we thought at all. It’s best not to talk about it and let it happen.”
At the forefront of the Phillies power surge in the early going has been Howard. In the first six games, he is batting .480 with eight runs batted in. He said he’s become more patient at the plate and he has altered his batting stance.
“I moved a little closer to the plate and just continue to have the same approach that I’ve had since spring training,” Howard said. “I went back to where I was in 2006, moved in closer.”
The big question coming into the 2011 campaign was how the Phillies were going to fare in right field with the departure of Jayson Werth, who now plays with the Washington Nationals. Ben Francisco, who is still learning to play right field, has been hitting the ball well and has a .320 batting average with two homeruns including a solo shot against the Mets on Wednesday.
“I’m seeing it pretty good, I had a good spring,” Franklin said. “Luckily, it carried over to regular season. I’m still missing a couple of pitches, but I’m seeing the ball well.”
Now no one here is suggesting that Francisco is going to be just as good as Werth, but so far he has not looked bad at the plate or in the field. The only bad play he had was a fly ball in the field that popped out of his glove in the season opening win over Houston.
“Francisco has been swinging the bat real good,” Manuel said. “He’s starting to look better in the outfield. He’s playing better.”
So far, Francisco said he is becoming more comfortable playing in right field. It’s just a matter repitition and having the opportunity play.
“I’ve felt good out there in spring training and I felt good out there on opening day,” Francisco. “My job is to go out there and play a defensive position. You don’t make excuses, you just out there and play.”
With Chase Utley still rehabbing an injured knee, the Phillies bench, similar to last season, has been thrown out to the wolves and forced to contribute when one of the stars is on the disabled list. In the Phillies shutout of the Mets, Wilson Valdez was 4-for-4 with three runs scored.
“We have to go and play the game,”Valdez said. “Y ou have to go out and find a way and get some hits. I always see the ball. We all have to be ready for the time we have to help the team. That’s why we have 25 men.”
The Phillies highly-regarded pitching staff has done well. Roy Halladay, who pitched seven innings in his shutout of the Mets. Roy Oswalt, and Cliff Lee have shown people why this staff has the pontential to be the best in baseball. In their first outings of the year both Cole Hamel and Joe Blanton had rocky starts.