Could we be watching some of the best players to wear the red pinstripes? This is an appropriate point in the season to examine these questions, as it is a time when analysts are projecting Cy Young winners, MVPs, Rookie of the Year and any other awards you can think of. So let's take a close look - how good are these Phillies and how many "bests" do they really have?
Best team, regular season
The current team is certainly a strong contender. Last year, the Phillies won 97 games and this year they added Cliff Lee. Fifty-one wins at the midseason, given their injuries, is very impressive. The only other candidates would be the 1976 and '77 teams that won 101 games in back-to-back seasons. They were filled with stars: Steve Carlton, Mike Schmidt, Greg Luzinski, Larry Bowa, Bob Boone, Bake McBride, Tim McCarver and Garry Maddox. They were a much better hitting team than today's Phils, and that tips the balance to them. Consider that the '77 team scored 847 runs, hit 186 home runs and batted .279. Our current Phils entered last night having scored 346 runs (which would translate into about 651 for the season), having hit 69 homers (about 129 for the season), and batting .245.
The current Fightins', however, have a significant edge in pitching with a 3.06 ERA and 265 earned runs allowed. Although the '77 Phils had a 3.71 ERA and allowed 600 earned runs, they had a talented staff with a starting rotation of Steve Carlton (23-10), Larry Christenson (19-6), Jim Lonborg (11-4), Randy Lerch (10-6) and Jim Kaat (6-11), and Tug McGraw (2.62 ERA), Gene Garber (2.35) and Ron Reed (2.75) in the bullpen. But, despite the strong 2011 staff, the large disparity in hitting is too much to overcome.
Winner: 1977 Phillies.
Best pitching staff
Even with half a season left to play, this is a no-brainer. No pitching staff in club history comes close to this one. Our big four are clearly the best ever, and our fifth starters, Joe Blanton and a surging Vance Worley, only make the case stronger for this year's staff. Even the bullpen - an area with many question marks heading into the season - has been impressive because of the maturation of Ryan Madson and the emergence of such young pitchers as Antonio Bastardo and Michael Stutes. If and when Brad Lidge and Jose Contreras return, this staff will be totally lights-out.
Winner: 2011 Phillies.
Best starting pitcher
This is a tougher call. Roy Halladay gets the nod over Cliff Lee on the current staff, based on the career numbers: 180-89, 3.27 ERA, 64 complete games and 19 shutouts for Halladay, compared with 111-67, 3.77 ERA, 24 CGs and nine shutouts for Lee. During his magical Cy Young year in Cleveland, Lee did go 22-3 with an ERA of 2.54, but Halladay's ERA over the previous 3 years was 2.78, 2.79, 2.44, and he is at 2.44 this season.
But how does Halladay stack up against two great Phils hurlers from the past: Steve Carlton and Robin Roberts? Robby was a true workhorse. In each season from 1950 through 1955, he won more than 20 games, pitched more than 300 innings and averaged 27 complete games. He had a career 3.41 ERA, 286 wins, 305 complete games and 45 shutouts. But he also lost 245 games, so his winning percentage was only .539, compared with Roy's .669. Advantage, Halladay.
Steve Carlton was as amazing as Robby in the durability category. He pitched 24 seasons (15 with the Phils). He won four Cy Youngs, had a record of 329-244 (241-161 with us), an ERA of 3.22 ERA, with 254 complete games and 55 shutouts. His winning percentage was only .574, but remember, he pitched for some woeful Phillies teams. In 1972, he was 27-10 with a 1.97 ERA for a Phillies team that went 59-97. Amazing.
Winner: Carlton nips Halladay by a nose.
Best power hitter
Three contenders here: Dick Allen, Mike Schmidt and Ryan Howard. Allen is the easiest to eliminate. He might have had more raw power than anyone who ever played the game, but injuries and personal problems kept him from achieving the consistency and career numbers needed to contend. Schmitty was incredible, with 548 career home runs, 1,595 RBI and a .527 slugging percentage. He played 18 seasons and averaged 37 HRs and 107 RBI per 162 games.
But as great as Schmitty was, Ryan Howard is better. In less than eight full seasons, he entered last night with 270 home runs and 815 RBI with a .563 slugging percentage. His average per 162 games is 46 HRs and 138 RBI. Incredible - no question, we take him for granted.
Winner: Ryan Howard.
Best hitter for average
No contest here. Obviously, no one on the current team would be a candidate. Pete Rose did very well for us, but broke .300 in only two of five seasons he played here. Placido Polanco and John Kruk are lifetime .300 hitters, but spent only part of their careers here. The best ever for us was the late, great Richie Ashburn. Whitey hit .308 for his career and had four incredible seasons when he hit .344, .330, .338 and .350. And remember, in his last season in the majors, he led the "Amazing Mets" in their inaugural season of futility, hitting .306.
Winner: Richie Ashburn.
Best relief pitcher
Brad Lidge had a year like no other in 2008, and Jim Konstanty was incredible for the Whiz Kids in 1950 (16-7, 2.66 ERA and 22 saves), but Tug McGraw gave us 10 good seasons, including the World Series championship in 1980 (1.46 ERA during the season, 1.17 in the Series).
Winner: Tug McGraw.
Gene Mauch was the most talented and did an incredible job turning a 47-win team into one that went 81-80, 87-75 and 92-70 over the next 3 years (the last of which, sadly, was the infamous collapse of 1964). Another no-contest here, though, as Charlie Manuel is clearly our best manager ever. Don't tell me he has had superior talent - all he does is win, and that is all that matters. He is great with veterans and rookies alike, and he has managed through injury and controversy with an even-keeled approach.
Winner: Charlie Manuel.
Bob Boone with a slight edge over Carlos Ruiz.
Winner: Bob Boone.
Larry Bowa (.980 fielding percentage), Jimmy Rollins (.983) and Manny Trillo (.981) are neck and neck, but Trillo excelled at turning the doubleplay and making accurate relay throws.
Winner: Manny Trillo.
Gotta go with the Secretary of Defense.
Winner: Garry Maddox.
I've had a great time going through this exercise, but, truth be told, it's a meaningless one, as only time will tell whether this Phillies team can become a true dynasty and our greatest team of all time or whether we are merely witnessing a really good couple of seasons. Our 1980 team won only 91 games, and, in 2008, the Phillies won only 92, but we were world champs when all was said and done. If this team wins 100-plus and brings us another championship, you can throw all of the numbers and comparisons out the window, as it will clearly go down as the best Phillies team in history. *