Phillies take the lead in the 2008 NL East Division race

The Phillies have vaulted out to a four game lead in the NL East here in early June. With the last two National League MVP’s in slugging first baseman Ryan Howard and team leader shortstop Jimmy Rollins, along with one of the favorites for this year’s honors in all-world second baseman Chase Utley, the Phillies offense is off to another great start.

Speedy Shane Victorino has taken charge in center field and on the base paths. Veteran left fielder Pat Burrell has been productive as he plays out the final year of his contract. Newcomers at third base (Pedro Feliz), right field (Geoff Jenkins), and closer (Brad Lidge) have made huge contributions, as has outfielder Jayson Werth in an expanded role.

Newcomer Eric Bruntlett filled in well for Rollins when he missed a month due to an injury and is a quality infield reserve. Greg Dobbs has again been one of the league’s top pinch-hitters. And the catching duo of Carlos Ruiz and Chris Coste has been solid.

On the mound, Cole Hamels is an emerging NL All-Star candidate, as has been closer Lidge. Brett Myers has struggled at times in his return to the rotation, but seems to be rounding into form. Meanwhile, Jamie Moyer, Adam Eaton, and Kyle Kendrick have also pitched well of late.

The bullpen of Lidge, Tom Gordon, J.C. Romero, Ryan Madson, Chad Durbin, Clay Condrey, and Rudy Seanez has been strong all season. The club could probably use another lefty out of the pen, as well as one more reliable big-time starting pitcher, in order to hold off expected second half challengers.

A repeat of their 2007 NL East championship is not only possible, but at this point the Phillies have to be considered the favorites. Their top expected pursuers should still be the struggling New York Mets, and the pitching-starved Atlanta Braves. Meanwhile, the young Marlins remain their closest challengers at the moment as the two clubs open up a three-game series in Miami tonight.