J.A. Happ improved his season record to 7-0, in Sunday's 5-0 win over the Marlins. Another seven scoreless frames were added to Happ's increasingly impressive stat-line. His ERA has dropped to 2.68. In his last six starts, he has pitched 43 innings, allowing only 8 runs (1.67 ERA). Happ is the leading NL Rookie of the Year candidate, at least in the Pitchers/Non-Panda Division. At what point do we decide that Happ is evolving into Tom Glavine, and that we are not just witnessing another Ruffin-esque mirage? Well, Happ getting his FIP under 4.00 would be a good start. But you can't argue with Happ's results this season, or the fact that the Phillies are not a first-place team without them.
Happ did have some help on Sunday, as the Marlins left twelve men on base, RISP'ing a perfectly imperfect 0 for 12. Happ short-circuited a gaggle of Marlins' rallies, often with the help of the fielders behind him. (With the peculiar exception of typically slick-fielding 3B Pedro Feliz, whose two errors improved the Marlins' chances of scoring, and artificially inflated Happ's pitch count). The Pete Happy-extended innings pushed Happ's pitch count to 107, through seven innings, leading to a premature exit for the rookie southpaw. Phillies' Manager Charlie Manuel was able to involve four relievers in the final six Marlins outs, as Ryan Madson, J.C. Romero, Scott Eyre, and Brad Lidge combined to finish the shutout.
The Phillies' bats did most of their damage in a three-run second inning, as some poor base-running and situational hitting adversely affected their overall offensive output. Jimmy Rollins went 3 for 5, finishing the contest a homer short of a cycle. (Rollins has a .377 July average, with a 1.062 OPS this month. He has improved his average from .205, to .236, in his last fifteen games.) Raul Ibanez had a pair of RBI. The Phillies' six-through-eight hitters combined to go 0 for 12, stranding a combined eleven runners. Happ's performance on the mound, as well as his key two-out, rally-inducing single in the second inning, were sufficient to help increase the Phillies' winning streak to eight games.
Besides Pedro Feliz' aberrantly hideous performance, and catcher Carlos Ruiz non-aberrant hitless performance, there wasn't too much failure for the Phils on Sunday. Well, except for the fact that Eric Bruntlett was given a start, and permitted four plate appearances. How does this kind of thing happen? Giving Ryan Howard the day off was fine, particularly given his inability to hit southpaws. Not moving Raul Ibanez from left field to first base, and installing right-handed John Mayberry in left for the day? Also understandable, as Ibanez hasn't played a lot of 1B recently, and is coming off an injury. (Manuel indicated that he needs to "keep an eye on Ibanez' groin." Thanks for that, Charlie.) Despite their left-handedness, and their mediocrity afield, Greg Dobbs and Matt Stairs would have been better replacement options for Howard. (Given Bruntlett's offensive numbers, Dobbs or Stairs could bat right-handed and still be superior replacement options.) Was this a failure of roster construction, or of personnel management? Perhaps some of each of those two columns. However, the move did not cost the Phils in the win column, so the timing may have been just right...
The Phillies, now winners of eight consecutive, and twelve of thirteen, games, have charged to a 6.5 game division lead. They face the Cubs on Monday night, with Rodrigo Lopez facing Ted Lilly in a Phillies-unfriendly pitching matchup. The Phillies (and J.A. Happ) can't keep winning forever. Longtime Phillies fans have Ruffin and Combs-shaped scars that bear this truth out. Perhaps the Phils have knowledge of a truth greater than BABIP. A truth deeper than that of regression to the mean. Probably not, but let's continue to enjoy the ride. It's been an incredible couple of weeks for Phillies fans. Not as incredible as the last couple weeks of play in 2008, but strangely reminiscent.