Is it as good as was advertised? Technically, it would get an incomplete, since Roy Oswalt and Joe Blanton aren’t healthy. Even without those two, they get an A. Three of the Big Four are in the All-Star Game. Roy Halladay (11-3), Cliff Lee (9-6) and Cole Hamels (11-4) are all on pace to win 20 games. The last time the Phillies had two 20-game winners was 1916. But the victories aren’t the only reason. The Phils rank first in shutouts (13) and complete games (11), second in ERA (3.04) and fifth in innings (822.1). And the emergence of rookie Vance Worley (4-1, 2.20) means this group is only going to get better.
Brad Lidge started the year on the DL and he still hasn’t pitched. However, it hasn’t mattered much as the Phillies have turned what was supposed to be one of their biggest weaknesses into a legitimate strength. Ryan Madson saved 15-of-16 before landing on the DL, and Jose Contreras was 5-for-5 before he went down. Now, Antonio Bastardo (5-for-5) is making the closer’s job his own. Michael Stutes has also been a revelation, averaging a strikeout per inning. You might recall Wilson Valdez even threw a scoreless frame in a 19-inning win. Danys Baez and David Herndon have had their ups and downs, but the entire bullpen improved when J.C. Romero was sent to the scrap heap.
The group seemed to get a boost with the return of Chase Utley, who is slowly regaining his form. Utley (.280) has four homers in 41 games. Placido Polanco is the lone All-Star, but he’s nursing a sore back and batting just .274 with 88 hits. Ryan Howard has quietly racked up 18 home runs and 72 RBIs (tied for first in NL). Jimmy Rollins (.268) had been sleep-walking, but someone reminded him it’s a contract year. Rollins is 12-for-35 (.343) with four RBIs in July. Carlos Ruiz’s .255 average looks anemic, but Chooch’s ability to handle the staff and throw out baserunners is paramount to the team’s success.
Shane Victorino is enjoying one of his best seasons at the dish, batting .303 with nine home runs and 34 RBIs. But it is Victorino’s glove and his ability to fly around the outfield that makes him a deserving All-Star. After Victorino, the Phillies’ outfield has been lackluster. Domonic Brown has shown glimpses (a two-homer game in June) and also blips (forgetting to step on second base on a would-be triple). Raul Ibanez is starting to turn it around after a horrendous stretch early. The left fielder had six RBIs in yesterday’s victory and a walk-off in Friday’s win. Ben Francisco (.230) has been a huge disappointment, while John Mayberry (five homers in 50 games) has been a nice surprise.
Charlie Manuel is always going to have his detractors. The Phillies skipper isn’t the best at making double switches or managing a bullpen late in games. And, as a well-known hitting guru, it’s got to stick in his craw that the Phillies rank 11 out of 16 NL teams in overall batting average (.247). However, you have to give it to Manuel. Somehow, despite all the hitting woes and injuries, his Phillies own the best record in the majors.