First, let me get this out of the way, this weather makes me furious. It’s too hot. Isn’t that a song? It’s not tolerable. I have no patience for this. Where is the cold front, dang it. I’m going to read a Wally Lamb book in the dairy aisle after I write this. That should hold me over until September. So J-Roll…
Back in my illustrious elementary school days, we’d always be playing something at recess. There was a kickball phase. There was a regrettable soccer phase, and then we played football up until the point where it was no longer cool to actually do anything at recess but loiter around staring at the girls (during which I wished we were still playing football). If we were playing something, we’d usually pick teams in the conventional manner, but I knew this one kid who was exceptionally cocky. Cockier than me even, and I was like the Jeff George of recess quarterbacks. Occasionally when there was a large group of kids wanting to participate he’d say something like, “Let’s just do, Me, him, him, him and him vs.” The implication being he was going to take about five or six athletic kids and beat the uncoordinated throng.
Putting aside the self-esteem implications, you almost have to respect the unwavering sense of bravado. It’s something that you can excuse in a clueless 4th grader. He’ll outgrow it. Most of the time. For me, Jimmy Rollins is still like that kid I knew in school. He still thinks he’s better than everyone else, he acts like it, and doesn’t apologize for it. It’s the reason he doesn’t blink before saying on the radio a couple of weeks ago that there will be no hometown discount for the Phillies when it comes to his contract negotiations. Taking less money is something the kids who didn’t get picked would do.
J-Roll’s act can divide the fan base. Some feel we need his swagger on a team full of quiet, lead-by-example guys. Others view the whole thing as a sign of Jimmy’s unwavering stubbornness. They can’t stand the fact that Jimmy just does Jimmy, regardless. That self-satisfied grin doesn’t leave his face whether he’s fouled out to third or hit a lead-off home run. About the only time there is any consensus on Rollins is when he’s going good. And, now happens to be one of those times. Rollins is hitting .382 in July with 14 runs scored and some pop as well. For those waiting for Rollins to kick it in gear for a contract push, this could be the big finish we were hoping for.
Jimmy is back to leading an offense that is fighting to get better despite injuries and its limitations. The Phillies are hanging in there in July, scoring 5.7 runs a game through 15 contests and they’ve done that without Polanco and Victorino. The inexplicable hot streak of Michael Martinez and the slowly evolving maturity of John Mayberry have certainly helped, but it’s been Rollins leading the way and helping the team compensate during the stretches where Ryan Howard isn’t producing.
Of course, Rollins is a streak player. This whole team seems to fit that bill. And, when they were all younger and there was a little more depth of talent that played fine, because one or two guys were always hot. That hasn’t been the case the last two years, but with the influx of pitching the Phillies have still managed to go 108-54 in their last 162 games. It’s hard to believe that number has caused so much anxiety.
This weekend starts the last long homestand of the year, and it will put Rollins, Mikey Mart and the rest of the guys to the test. The pitching deep National League sends in San Diego, San Francisco and Pittsburgh–three teams that don’t give up a lot of runs. You’d expect the Phillies to have a winning homestand, at least 6 out of 10, but I think most of the focus will be on the offense rather than the number of wins that pile up. Sure, Cole Hamels and Roy Halladay need to bounce back, but few are worried about that. It’s more like, exactly how much of the future do we need to mortgage to get an outfielder, and does that outfielder need to be Carlos Beltran?
A lot of the attention will come next week in the rematch with the Giants, but this series should tell a lot as well. Until Aaron Harang goes on Monday the Padres will be throwing guys who the Phillies either haven’t seen, or haven’t hit. That’s not to say they won’t, though, because like I said–Rollins is hot. We know he believes the Phils will score plenty of runs, but will he be circling the bases, or making a bunch of right turns back to the dugout?
All right, everyone enjoy the weekend, if that’s possible given the weather. Hey, Tuesday looks manageable. And, who knows, maybe the NFL will actually get this labor deal done. Maybe Tiger will hire a new caddy. Maybe Carlos Beltran will have a new home, or maybe one of the Padres will stay in town. Possibilities are endless. Until Monday…