With Bruce Bochy’s masterful handling of the National League’s pitching staff at the 2011 All-Star Game, which resulted in a 5-1 victory, either the Phillies or Bochy’s San Francisco Giants, are in very favorable position to win the 2011 World Series.
Not that I am discounting the other contenders, however, both the Phillies and Giants have the more overwhelming hurlers. When you hand home-field advantage to pitching staffs as potent as the Phillies or the Giants, one cannot underestimate the enormity of such an advantage.
For those of you who are taking the Giants chances of repeating lightly, it says here that would be a foolish sentiment. Any pitching staff that is led by Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain is a formidable one at very least and one that is now not only dangerous but, experienced in the post season. I also seem to recall seeing Brian Wilson as the last man standing in 2010, and no one in the major leagues exudes more confidence than the delightful bearded wonder.
Of course, the Phillies starting rotation of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, a hopefully healthy Roy Oswalt and a seemingly outstanding youngster, Vance Worley, constitute perhaps the greatest rotation in recent memory.
However, for those of you with short memories that are claiming that this year’s edition of the San Francisco Giants do not measure up to last season’s World Series victors, I have some rather convincing and disturbing statistics to the contrary.
Consider the following: At last year’s All-Star break, the San Francisco Giants had accumulated 47 victories. The 2011 team had 52. At last season’s All-Star break, the Giants staff ERA stood at 3.50. The 2011 Giants owned an ERA of 3.20. The WHIP for the 2010 Giants was 1.35 at the break. The 2011 Giants boasted a WHIP of 1.23.
The Phillies and the Giants are once more on a collision course and the Phillies front office, manager Charlie Manuel and their players are more than well aware that the Giants pose an enormous threat to their championship aspirations.
One of the biggest concerns of the Phillies has been their lack of a consistent offense. Despite scoring 14 runs in each of Cole Hamels’ last two outings (before Saturday), runs have been hard to come by for the Phillies. In all fairness, however, the Phillies have somewhat of a “contradictory” offense, since they struggle to score often and yet lead the league in batting average with two outs and runners in scoring position. Therefore, at times they score “when they have to.”
Also, at the break, it seemed as if Domonic Brown, a tremendously talented and powerful prospect, was beginning to hit much more consistently. Brown possesses a good eye at the plate and seems to work the count very well for a 23 year-old youngster.
On the contrary, Placido Polanco, the Phillies veteran and All-Star third baseman, was mired in a 20-106, .189 stretch, made even more bothersome by a lower back injury which forced him to miss several games before the break as well as the All-Star game. (He has since been placed on the Disabled List, ed.) Polanco’s slump has lowered his once mighty batting average to .274.
Of course, there is Chase Utley, generally considered by many to be the most talented player on the team. Chase, of course, missed the initial 46 games of the 2011 campaign with a leg injury and his return seemed to provide a spark for the Phillies. However, Utley in many ways is reminiscent of “The King’s New Clothes,” as people are seemingly almost hesitant to bring up his obvious shortcomings. Yes, he is one of the greatest instinctive players in recent memory and when he is hot, he can carry a team on his back for extended periods of time. However, no one seems to mention a rather glaring disturbing trend, one that has seen his OPS (on base plus slugging percentage) dip for four consecutive seasons.
When you add that Chase is batting .280 with 4 home runs and 18 RBIs in 41 games at the break, all indications are that his OPS is dropping for a fifth consecutive season. Utley is also the practitioner of an extremely unorthodox batting style which often renders him in a less than “ready” position as the ball arrives. Utley also frequently feeds Jimmy Rollins soft back-handed tosses which leave Rollins vulnerable to oncoming base-runners and too often prevents the turning of a double play. That all being said, Chase Utley is the ultimate gamer, a great base-runner, a clutch ballplayer and an invaluable teammate. One may very well describe him as an “imperfect superstar.”
Speaking of imperfect superstars, the Phillies have one in Ryan Howard. “Howie,” as he’s known to many of his teammates is the main source of power for the Phillies. Ryan has improved his fielding immensely, as he has only committed four errors at the break and he is constantly digging low throws out of the dirt, preventing many a throwing error. Yes, there are a great number of strikeouts, however, the RBI machine is on pace for another typical 128 RBI season and he is currently tied with Prince Fielder, another slugging first baseman, for the NL lead with 72 RBIs. At the break, Howard sported a BA of .257, with 18 doubles, 1 triple and 18 home runs. (But not one of those home runs against a left-handed pitcher, ed.) Howard’s fielding percentage of .995 would constitute a career high.
Left fielder and fan favorite, Raul Ibanez, who just turned 39 on June 2, recently experienced two horrendous slumps, one in which he went 0-35, followed by an equally disturbing 0-18. However, Charlie Manuel’s faith in his classy veteran began to pay dividends just before the break, as Ibanez went on a tear.
His numbers now read a respectable .244, with 18 doubles, 1 triple, 12 homers and 47 RBIs at the break, due in large part to an amazing week, which saw the likeable Raul blast 3 homers and knock in 13 runs.
Of course, John Mayberry, who has displayed flashes of brilliance, is a solid backup for both Ibanez and Shane Victorino. Victorino, the three-time Rawlings Gold Glove winner, of course, is having another terrific season, batting .303, with 9 home runs and 9 triples at the break.
Jimmy Rollins, the catalyst and de facto captain of the Phillies, was really coming on strong at the mythical half point, raising his batting average to .268, due to a week in which he batted a scalding .444. Rollins had 15 doubles, 1 triple, 8 homers, 36 RBIs and 52 runs scored. Rollins had also stolen 19 bases, only being thrown out twice.
Of course, Carlos “Chooch” Ruiz had done his usual fantastic and almost unheralded handling of the pitching staff.
In games that the Phillies scored three or more runs, they have gone 49-12. If that is not impressive enough, in games that the Phillies have scored two or more runs, the record stands at 55-19. In other words, when the Phillies score exactly just two runs, their record is 6-7, almost .500. When the Phillies score four or more runs, their record is 38-5. When the Phillies score five or more runs, their record is an incredible 32-3. The Phillies have lost just one game all season when they’ve scored six runs or more. When scoring at least six runs, the Phillies are 22-1. When the Phillies score 7 or more runs, they have not lost a game, going 20-0.
However, as we’ve said, the Phillies are often an offensively challenged team. To further illustrate that fact, consider that the Phillies have scored 3 runs or less in 48 of their 91 games; scored 2 runs or less in 30 games; scored 1 run or less in 17 games; and have been shut out 5 times. However, when you consider that the Phillies pitching staff has thrown 12 shutouts at the break, you can see why they hold the best won-loss record in the majors at 57-34.
Cole Hamels, until receiving a great amount of run support in his last two games (before the break), is a perfect example of having a right to be frustrated. However, Hamels’ maturity has reached a point in his career that he never even seems to be fazed by having little to work with. At the break, Hamels had made 19 starts. In 9 of those games, Hamels teammates have provided him with 2 runs or less. Once he was shut out, on three occasions he was backed with 1 run and in five instances, 2 runs. And yet, Cole stood at 11-4, 2.32, with a comic book 0.93 WHIP at the break.
Roy Halladay entered the All-Star game, in which he threw two perfect innings, with a record of 11-3, 2.45. Cliff Lee entered the break with a mark of 9-6, 2.82. Young Vance Worley, quickly becoming a household name in South Philadelphia, entered the brief respite with a 4-1, 2.20 ERA.
As far as the bullpen is concerned, Ryan Madson’s hand injury provided an opportunity for two rookies, who, in turn, took great advantage to display their respective abilities. Michael Stutes, in a set up role, compiled a 3-1, 3.26 mark while southpaw, and temporary closer, Antonio Bastardo, was nothing short of sensational. Bastardo’s record of 3-0, 5 saves in as many opportunities, an overall batting average against of .103, and with a strikeout walk ratio of 38-14 in just 33 innings encompassing 36 appearances, was incredible.
When Madson returns shortly as should former closer Brad Lidge, Charlie will have perhaps the deepest bullpen in baseball. It also appears that the Phillies have unearthed another jewel, a 32 year-old left-handed veteran specialist named Juan Perez. When Perez commands his back-breaking curveball, which he has to date, it is a virtually unhittable pitch.
To summarize, I believe the Phillies have the best team in baseball, especially if Roy Oswalt, the fourth Musketeer, returns in good health. I also believe that the Phillies are indeed, the team to beat in the post-season. However, I also believe that the San Francisco Giants are quite capable of defeating the Phillies once more. For us baseball purists, the Phillies and Giants will provide us with many thrilling battles, not only this season, but many seasons to come.