There are many reasons to believe that this Phillies season, like the last one, could be headed somewhere special. One of them is hitting a paltry .217 with a woeful .254 on-base percentage.
Yes, Phillies faithful, Jimmy Rollins is a big reason to feel good about this season.
Slumping, frustrating, underachieving Jimmy Rollins.
Look at the standings as the Phils and the rest of the National League East enjoy a day off today. The Phils are four games up on the New York Mets, they have the second-best record in the league, and they've done it with little offensive contribution from Rollins.
All over the region, fans are falling more deeply in love with this team and flocking to their televisions - Is it 7:05 yet? has become the hottest question in town - and the Pied Piper of wins hasn't even broken out his flute yet.
We've seen it for years. When Rollins goes well, so do the Phillies. He was an offensive dynamo in helping the team break a 14-year playoff drought in 2007, his NL MVP year. He scuffled last year but finished with a big kick, hitting .313 with 15 runs and a .411 on-base percentage in 24 games over the final month as the Phils overtook the Mets for the second straight September.
This year, the Phils are winning without much offense from Rollins, and that's a good sign because we firmly believe this:
He's going to get hotter than a hundred habaneros at some point.
"Good players always find a way out of it," said Shane Victorino, one of Rollins' running mates.
Rollins might have taken a big step out of it yesterday.
It felt that way in the bottom of the seventh inning of the Phils' 11-6 win over the Boston Red Sox.
The game was tied, 5-5. Josh Beckett, one of the best and hottest pitchers on the planet - he had allowed just one earned run while striking out 30 in his previous four starts - was on the mound when Rollins, mired in an 0-for-16 slump, led off the frame.
It was one of those red-light situations - big spot, big pitcher - that Rollins has always relished. And it was one of those situations that called for something simple: Rollins needed to be a leadoff man, you know, get on base any way possible. A walk, a hit, the Phils would have taken anything, though they probably weren't banking on a walk. Rollins has just 12 of those in 60 games and none since May 27, a span of 16 games. Rollins has never been one to take his walks, but that's ridiculous. His lack of patience becomes glaring when he's not hitting.
Rollins' at-bat against Beckett in the seventh was encouraging on a couple of levels.
First, he saw pitches and made Beckett work, like a leadoff man should, before running the count full.
And second, he turned on a fastball and showed the short, crisp, line-drive stroke that he features when he's locked in. The ball landed in the right-field seats, a tiebreaking home run that ignited a decisive six-run rally that allowed the Phils to salvage one of three against a team that maybe, just maybe, they might see again if this season ends up where the last one did, in that big shindig at the end of October.
"That was a big hit by Rollins," manager Charlie Manuel said.
Rollins had the right mind-set going to the plate for that at-bat: He was looking to get a fire started. The home run was gravy.
"I was looking to hit a double," he said. "Put another good swing on the ball and hopefully find a hole or a gap. Beckett is one of the best pitchers in the game. That helps you elevate your game in a situation like that."
Yesterday's game pitted the last two World Series winners against each other. The managers of each team, Manuel and Boston's Terry Francona, have been successful because 1. They have good players; 2. Those players have executed; and 3. They've put those players in good environments to succeed. That means being patient when a key player struggles. Francona has had to do it with David Ortiz. Manuel has done it with Rollins.
Manuel's patience with Rollins might be paying off.
"He's starting to hit one or two balls hard a night," Manuel said of Rollins, and no one would dispute that the at-bat in yesterday's seventh inning was a good one, against a tremendous pitcher.
The start of a hot streak, maybe?
"Hopefully," Rollins said. "The last two days I've been feeling good, like I did at the start of '07."
Rollins recalled that he homered off Atlanta's John Smoltz in the first game that season. Smoltz is now with the Red Sox.
"He said something to me before the game today," Rollins said. "Maybe that's a good omen."
The Phils sure hope so.
Because as good as this season has been so far, and as much fun as it has been for the fans, something is missing:
It's time he joined the fun.