Inside the Phillies: At the break, a look back

Infielder Wilson Valdez found himself linked to Babe Ruth after his stint as a relief pitcher in a 19-inning win over the Reds.
Infielder Wilson Valdez found himself linked to Babe Ruth after his stint as a relief pitcher in a 19-inning win over the Reds. (STEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer)

All in all, the first half of the season was a good one for the Phillies.

Posted: July 10, 2011

We have reached the all-star break and the Phillies are on pace to win more than 100 games for only the third time in franchise history.

The starting rotation, even with one of its four aces (Roy Oswalt) and the expected fifth wheel (Joe Blanton) on the disabled list, has more than lived up to expectations. The bullpen, despite being on its fourth closer (Antonio Bastardo), has far exceeded expectations.

The lineup, rarely intact for the second straight season because of an assortment of injuries, continues its downward spiral from the height of its success, when the team won the World Series in 2008.

Thanks to the pitching, the Phillies have had exactly four losing streaks the entire season. They lost two in a row twice and four in a row twice. Conversely, they have won three in a row four times, four in a row once, five in a row once, and have a season-best winning streak of seven games.

After Sunday's first-half finale with the hard-charging Atlanta Braves and another All-Star Game that inexplicably decides home-field advantage in the World Series, the second half of the season will begin for the Phillies against the Mets on Friday night at New York's Citi Field.

The trade deadline will loom and general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. will have to make one of those decisions that could determine whether or not this team is good enough to win its second World Series in four years.

Before that, however, we're going to take one final look back at what was a pretty special first half for the Phillies.

Best moment

They can play games from now until the end of time and the odds that Wilson Valdez's name will ever again be linked with Babe Ruth's should remain right around infinity. But that's exactly what happened in the early morning hours of May 26 when manager Charlie Manuel was forced to use Valdez as a pitcher in the top of the 19th inning against the Cincinnati Reds and the affable utility infielder delivered a scoreless frame. When the Phillies scored in the bottom of the 19th, Valdez became the first big-league player to start a game in the field and end up the winning pitcher since Ruth did it in a 1921 game against the Philadelphia A's.

Worst moment

Even though he had not been at his best since the middle of April, it was still difficult to watch Oswalt land on the disabled list after revealing he was dealing with severe back pain following a June 23 start in St. Louis. His return date is uncertain. Even more uncertain is how effective Oswalt will be when he does return.

MVP

If not for the hand injury that sent him to the disabled list, this award would go to Ryan Madson, who finally showed that he has what it takes to handle the closer role. But because Madson had to temporarily surrender that role to Bastardo, the pick here is Ryan Howard.

He is hitting only .254, which is well below his .277 career average. But he is second to Milwaukee's Prince Fielder in the league with 71 RBIs, thanks to his .317 average with runners in scoring position. Of the 11 players who went into the weekend with at least 60 RBIs, only Boston's Adrian Gonzalez, Milwaukee's Fielder and Ryan Braun, and St. Louis' Lance Berkman had a higher average than Howard with runners in scoring position.

Howard deserved to be on the all-star team more than Shane Victorino.

Ace of the half-year

Cole Hamels has emerged as a superstar and could be the best of the current aces by the time his career is over, but right now Roy Halladay remains the ace of all clubs because of his determination to finish everything he starts. Lee had a good April and incredible June, but struggled in May.

Biggest surprise

The Phillies expected the aces to shine, but the young arms of Bastardo, Michael Stutes, and Vance Worley have been the difference between this team's being merely good and really good. If Worley can pitch in the second half the way he did in the first, the Phillies will have four aces even if Oswalt does not return.

Biggest disappointment

Ben Francisco had a chance to take control of the right-field job while Domonic Brown recovered from hand surgery in April and could not do it. Francisco has to wonder if he will ever get a big-league opportunity like that again. Raul Ibanez's inconsistency ranks a close second.

By the numbers

Three has been a fascinating number for the Phillies all season. They have scored three or fewer runs 48 times this season. Only Seattle (55), San Francisco (54), San Diego (53), Oakland (51), and the Los Angeles Dodgers (49) had scored fewer than three with more frequency going into Saturday night's games.

What the Phillies have done better than any other team is win those games. They are 19-29, a major-league best .396 winning percentage when scoring fewer than three.

The Phillies are also one of only four teams in baseball that have held opponents to three or fewer runs at least 50 times. The Phillies are 42-9 in those games. Atlanta has held its opponents to three or fewer 53 times and is 45-8 in those games.

Looking ahead

Circle July 26-28 and Aug. 4-6. Those are the six dates the Phillies will play the defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants in rematches of last year's NLCS. The July series is at Citizens Bank Park and the August one is out in San Francisco.

The Phillies' other significant series for the second half are all in September. They will play Atlanta Sept. 5-7 at home and close out the season in Atlanta Sept. 26-28. St. Louis comes to Philadelphia Sept. 16-19.


Contact staff writer Bob Brookover

at bbrookover@phillynews.com

or @brookob on Twitter.

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