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
Saturday’s Phillies game against the Braves featured Cliff Lee doing it all and everyone else, not so much. Lee pitched eight very solid innings of one run ball, allowing only three hits and striking out nine batters. he even made a few diving plays on the field.
But the Braves starting pitcher, Tommy Hanson, matched Lee. He also allowed just one run.
And that one run was something very special. After a 10-pitch at-bat and six foul balls, the Phillies pitcher, Cliff Lee, smashed his 1st career home run off Hanson in the third inning. Yes, the man really can do it all.
Lee ran the bases smiling and even looking a little giddy as fans went wild, realizing the importance of the moment. It is not every day we see a pitcher hit a home run. And for a guy like Lee, who gives it 110% every time he is on the field, it was especially rewarding.
While Lee did everything he could to help the team win, sadly, the rest of the team did not join him. Of course, they were facing an amazing pitcher so most expected this to be a close game. But the Phillies had some opportunities to score and did not execute.
John Mayberry Jr. doubled in the sixth, but then left the bases loaded in the bottom of the 10th. Ryan Howard went 0-5, leaving two men on base in the sixth, including Mayberry. And Raul Ibanez, the hero of Friday night’s 10-inning win, made the last out Saturday in the 11th with a fly ball.
In extra innings, the Phillies leaned on the same bullpen pieces as they had the night before, only in a different order. Antonio Bastardo and Juan Perez pitched a scoreless the 9th and 10th. And then Michael Stutes gave up three runs in the 11th.
A foul ball pop-up made the 11th interesting as Howard dropped the ball, but it was a very tough play in and out of the shadows. Overall, the defense was solid, but that one, plus a walk to start the inning, turned out to be important later.
So the Phillies lost 4-1 and go into today’s game with a chance to win the series. Game time is 1:35pm and Cole Hamels will pitch. Derek Lowe is scheduled to start for the Braves.
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Tonight’s outing was a do or die situation for Kyle Kendrick. His first two starts of the year were disasters and rumors began to circle about sending him back to the minors. Lucky for Kendrick, he put together a great start against the division rival Braves; not so lucky is that the bullpen had to get involved and blow the game.
Kendrick’s outing is the only good news from the evening. With JA Happ suffering from a flexor pronator muscle strain and missing his next start, the rotation has a few big question marks looming. Joe Blanton is rehabbing and should be back soon, but if Happ goes on the DL, this team will need Kendrick to pitch up to his potential.
He did just that tonight; Kendrick cruised through 8 innings, allowing only 4 hits and escaping a bases loaded jam in the 4th by inducing a ground ball double play. Those 8 innings matched his career high. Kendrick looks more confident and comfortable on the mound; this gives everyone reason to hope that the struggles are behind him.
And while the Phillies offense took the weekend off, scoring only 1 run in two games, they began to creep back to life tonight. The Braves ace, Tommy Hanson, lasted just 4 2/3 innings, allowing 6 hits and 2 runs. Chase Utley led the offense with 2 hits and 2 RBI and every starting position player had at least one hit except for Carlos Ruiz.
Most encouraging was watching the Phils hitters be patient at the plate, which allowed them to work Hanson and get him out of the game early. The 3 runs they scored through 7 innings were all pieced together with base hits and a few doubles, which is another sign that this normally power-hitting offense is really gelling together. But sadly, this is the end of the good news…
So while Kendrick should have had his first win of the year, leave it Ryan Madson to ruin his night. Madson came in for the 9th to save the game and blew it instead. With 2 outs, Madson walked a batter and then gave up a home run to make the score 3-2. The Braves rookie sensation, Jason Heyward, stepped to the plate and Madson tossed him a cookie, which he sent flying over the right field wall to tie the game at 3-3. Start praying that Brad Lidge comes back soon and is in good shape….ugh.
Jose Contreras was sent in for the 10th and proceeded to give up a walk-off home run to the first batter, handing the game over to the Braves. This was a disgusting loss for the Phillies. It gives credence to all the worries about the weak Phillies bullpen. There is no longer a question about whether we should be concerned about the bullpen. The only question left is what are the Phillies going to do about it?
The Phillies have 2 more games in Atlanta as part of this 9-game road trip. Roy Halladay will start tomorrow night and try to go 4-0 in April. Game time is 7:10pm. Let’s pray no bullpen is needed.
Photo by Jenn