Having ended the first half of the season with a 57-34 record, the best in baseball, the Philadelphia Phillies have much to look forward to in the second half. And although many injuries and questions still loom in the background, the first half of play was very successful for this team.
What makes the first half even more remarkable is that the Phillies were able to win despite injuries and missed time from a bucket-full of All-Star caliber players including Chase Utley, Roy Oswalt, Shane Victorino and Placido Polanco.
In the bullpen, the Phillies are currently on their fourth closer of the year as the first three all went on the DL. First Brad Lidge, then Jose Contreras and finally, Ryan Madson.
The rest of the pen has been run primarily by rookies and inexperienced players over the last several month. But these players have stepped up and are keeping hope alive.
The following is a look at the Phillies 2011 First Half Report Card.
Starting Pitching: A+
The Phillies ended the first half with the best ERA in baseball at 3.02, the fewest earned runs allowed with 279 plus 11 complete games and 13 shut-outs, both of which are also the most in baseball.
Both Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels have earned 11 wins each and their ERA’s are 2.45 and 2.32, respectively. Those numbers have prompted talk of a Cy Young award for one of the two pitchers. Cliff Lee has been outstanding as well with a 2.82 ERA and nine wins.
The starters have suffered some major injuries, including Roy Oswalt and Joe Blanton, both of whom are on the DL. But the rookie Vance Worley has filled in admirably with an occasional spot start from Kyle Kendrick.
The Phillies bullpen has had some real challenges this year, including a plethora of injuries. But thanks to some very young, very solid talent, the pen has endured.
What was thought to be a major team weakness at the start of the year has turned into a strength in many ways.
Lefty Antonio Bastardo has been outstanding and probably should have earned an All-Star nod. In 33 innings, Bastardo has allowed only three earned runs and has a microscopic ERA of 0.82. He has also gone 5-for-5 in save attempts since the Phillies sent their first three closer to the DL.
Michael Stutes and Juan Perez have also been very nice surprises. If Brad Lidge and Ryan Madson can come back healthy in the second half, the bullpen will only be that much stronger.
The Phillies offense for the first half ranks 20th in all of baseball and 10th in the National League with a .250 team batting average. Statistically, this puts them below average.
But their 377 RBI moves them up the list a little, ranking 11th among all teams and 10th in on-base percentage with .323.
The first couple months were rough without Chase Utley, who is hitting .280 since his return. But other top team hitters like Shane Victorino and Placido Polanco have missed time with injuries as well, making it difficult for manager Charlie Manuel to post any sort of consistent line-up on a regular basis.
Ryan Howard is tied for the league lead in RBI with 72, which has helped carry this weakened offense. But with so many rookies in the line-up because of injuries, the other veteran players will need to step up in the second half.
Statistically, the Phillies have the best defense in the National League and are around fourth best in all of baseball with 45 errors and a .987 fielding percentage. Many teams have similar numbers, but looking at the major categories, I would put them in about fourth place.
Among position players, Carlos Ruiz and Ryan Howard have the highest fielding percentages on the team with .996 and .995, respectively. Howard has improved his defense greatly over the past couple of years.
This team has a very solid defense. There were a few games this year where sloppy play brought that into question, but they are humans, not robots. Overall, it was a very good first half for the defense.
The Phillies ended the first half on Sunday with their 172nd consecutive home sellout. They are also first in total attendance for all of baseball with 2,228,630 fans so far this year, according to ESPN. The Yankees were second with 2,173,619 fans.
The Phillies keep winning, and the fans keep the party going.
1st Half MVP: Roy Halladay
Because their numbers are very similar, I was tempted to go with Cole Hamels on this one. But with six complete games and the most innings pitched in the National League, I am giving the first half MVP to Roy Halladay.
This man is a beast. In Tuesday night’s All-Star game, Brian Wilson of the Giants called Halladay a “Cyborg.” That seems fitting.
There is nothing Halladay won’t do to help his team win. With 11 wins, a 2.45 ERA and team-leading 138 strike-outs, Halladay is the MVP.
Most Memorable 1st Half Moment: Tie, Wilson Valdez & Cliff Lee
This one had to be a draw, because both players provided Phillies fans with some amazing memories this year so far.
First, watching Wilson Valdez tow the rubber in the May 25th 5-4 win in 19 innings over the Reds was simply unforgettable. The Phillies ran out of pitchers and Valdez volunteered. He pitched one perfect inning and the Phillies won the game in the bottom of the 19th as a result of his effort.
Before this win by Valdez, the last player to start a game in the field and get the win as a pitcher was Babe Ruth in 1921. But the best part was hearing Valdez joke after the game that he could have gone three or four more innings if needed.
And then this past Saturday, pitcher Cliff Lee provided another memorable moment. In the third inning, after a 10-pitch at-bat and six foul balls, Lee smashed his 1st career home run off the Braves pitcher Tommy Hanson, who watched in disbelief.
Lee spent most of his career in the American League, with few chances to hit. But Lee has remarked on many occasions that he prefers the National League because he loves to hit. And that joy was all over his face as he rounded the bases in front of thousands of screaming fans who gave him a standing ovation.
Watching a man who truly loves the game of baseball be rewarded in a way that is rarely seen was a real treat. Pitchers do not hit many home runs and it is even less common among pitchers of Lee’s caliber.
That was a moment that both Lee and all of the Philadelphia fans watching will not soon forget.
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Photos by Jenn Zambri Photography