In case anyone’s last name is “Van Winkle” or they have been residing in a town called “Bedrock” it has now become common knowledge that the 2011 Philadelphia Phillies (77-40, 37 games over .500 for the first time since finishing 101-61 in 1977) are officially the best team in baseball. Mind you, these numbers reflect regular season opponents in August rather than postseason opponents in October but we’ll ride the wave nonetheless.
Philadelphia has just completed 20 games in 20 days capped by a 9-1 swing of western division teams including Colorado (4-1), San Francisco (4-3) and what’s left of the Los Angeles Dodgers (5-1). It has been the result of clutch hitting and an improved bullpen recovering from a rash of injuries and rehab assignments and question marks regarding the potential postseason roster. Not to undervalue sweeping Colorado then taking 3 of 4 from the defending champs AND sporting a morale-boosting brawl while in San Francisco.
The Phillies have had nearly impeccable pitching since the beginning of the season. Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee have anchored what’s left of the Four Aces, while the offense struggled the first three months of the season. Roy Oswalt and Brad Lidge have returned from injury rehab as has Ryan Madson. While Jose Contreras remains shelved, Michael Stutes and Antonio Bastardo have secured their roles in the bullpen.
Vance Worley suffered the second-worst start of his career in the series finale vs. the Dodgers. “Vanimal” seemed tame allowing a career-high 6 ER in 4 IP, surrendering a five-spot in the first inning to rally Dodger faithful. Worley simply did not have command of his pitches in the first, although he rebounded and allowed one more run through his next three innings.
Hunter Pence’s two-run homer in the fourth made it 6-2. Michael Martinez reached on an error and scored on Worley’s single to center to make it 6-3. The Phillies scored two more runs in the fifth to make it 6-5. The Dodgers scored a run in the fifth against starter-turned-reliever-turned-starter-turned-reliever Kyle Kendrick to take a two-run lead, but everything for the Dodgers ended there. For the Phillies the ride was just about to get interesting.
The Phillies had runners on second and third and two outs in the sixth, when Chase Utley scorched a single to left field to make it 7-7. Howard followed with his two-run homer (25th HR of year, 7th in three weeks, 91 RBI to lead the NL) to give the Phillies the lead and complete their biggest comeback victory since Aug. 12, 2010, when they overcame a 9-2 deficit to beat the Dodgers at Citizens Bank Park.
David Herndon threw a five-pitch sixth inning. Brad Lidge, Antonio Bastardo and Ryan Madson allowed three hits, one run and one walk and struck out two in the final three innings to keep the Dodgers from erasing the Phillies’ efforts.
The Phillies have scored 186 runs since the end of June, which are the most runs for any team in the National League (7th in NL for season). They are averaging 5.31 runs per game in that stretch, which is 0.43 runs per game more than the St. Louis Cardinals, who rank second. Phillies pitching ranks first in wins, ERA, CG, SHO, R, ER, BB. This has been the best 10-game road trip in the Phillies 129 year history and has led to an 8-1/2 game lead in their own division.
Right now, the Phillies are on pace to win 106 games. Naturally that would mean nothing if they suffer another postseason failure (as they did in 2010 NLCS falling to San Francisco). Philadelphia has a tied or winning record against nearly every team they have played in 2011 save Milwaukee (1-2), St. Louis (2-3) and surprisingly Seattle (1-2). The Phillies haven’t played Milwaukee since April and while they were in St. Louis as recently as June (right after being swept by Seattle) a number of players were missing on both sides. Albert Pujols, Hunter Pence, Placido Polanco, Roy Oswalt and Chris Carpenter to name a few – all of which would play (barring injury) when the teams meet again in September. That is the same month Philadelphia will again face Milwaukee as most of August has them pitted against the NL East.
There is one series against at home Aug. 16-18 Arizona and another at Cincinnati near the end of August (8/30-9/1). Otherwise, the Phillies have the rare opportunity to put the NL East away and pad them lead to nail the coffin shut on Atlanta, Washington, Florida and the NY Mets.
Tonight back at CBP for the first time in what seems like forever, the Phillies square off against the Washington Nationals. Despite being 6-3 vs. Washington this season, the Phillies have had this franchise’s number since they were the Montreal Expos – averaging double digit wins in every season since 2005 (first year of the Washington Nationals). Jayson Werth haters should be in the house but look for Charlie Manuel to be more concerned with resting his regulars and recuperating his pitching staff than pummeling Washington.
Perhaps a filibuster will break out?
About the Author
Written by Christopher Rowe
Contributing writer Comcast Sports, NY Times contributing stringer 1996-2000, Contributing writer Yahoo Sports (2001 World Series). Contributing writer Newsday Long Island (1992-1994, Jets Training Camp) and Newak Star Ledger. Freelance Copywriter, Editor/Founder Atlantic Times Weekly (1993-2003) fantasy football magazine, produced screenwriter and general humorist. Hofstra University grad, Marist College honorary alum, Salesian; Purveyor of the Value and Valor of Philadelphia Eagles 1960 NFL Championship; Adrent believer that Eagles could have won Super Bowl XV...and Super Bowl XXXIX...plus modern decade of Eagles 5 NFC Championships... Believer in the Broad Street Bullies and the 1983 Sixers... Witness to Philadelphia Phillies World Series championships 1980 & 2008, Suffered Phillies first pro sports team to reach 10,000 losses,witnessed "1980 Cardiac Kids," 1983 "Wheeze Kids," 1993 "Macho Row" and many, many, many not-so-memorable seasons in-between... until the Philadelphia Baseball Renaissance of 21st Century, Five NL East division titles 2007-2011, 3 NLCS appearances 2008-2010, 2 consecutive World Series berths 2008 & 2009. 2008 World Champions of baseball [miss ya Harry and Richie]; "collector" of MLB ballparks (42 stadiums including 15 which are gone); Fantasy Football & Baseball player since 1992. Always a sports fan... Tenui Nec Dimittam Contact me firstname.lastname@example.org