Phillies' second-half magic a reason to believe

Phillies' second-half magic a reason to believe

July 1, 2013, 11:30 am
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Desperate for some sort of positive sign?

Desperate for a reason to believe?

Desperate for some encouragement?

This isn’t much, but it might be all we have to go on as the slumping Phillies, who’ve been over .500 for just one day so far this year, embark on the second half of the 2013 season:

The Phillies under Charlie Manuel have been the best second-half team in the majors, just a handful of second-half wins behind the Yankees.

Feel better yet? No?

OK, here’s more: During the eight years that Manuel has managed the Phils, no team in the majors has shown more improvement from the first half of the season to the second.

From 2005 through 2012, the eight full seasons Manuel has been here, the Phillies are 335-313 the first 81 games of the season, a .517 winning percentage.

That’s an average of about 42-39 per year, or three games over .500.

Not bad. But not great. Mediocre.

The second half? The Phils are 392-256, a stunning .605 winning percentage.

That’s an average of 49-32, or 17 games over .500.

That’s remarkable.

Only the Yankees, who are 396-252 the second half since 2005, have won more games after the midpoint of the season since 2005. Four more.

Under Manuel, the Phillies have had just one really strong first half, going 51-30 in 2011 on the way to a franchise-record 102 wins.

Every other first half since 2005, they’ve won 43 or fewer games.

During the same eight-year span, their worst second half was last year, when they went 45-36. Nine games over .500.

So the Phillies have made a living of falling back in the standings early, then making a playoff run late.

The next-best second-half team in the National League since 2005 is the Braves, who have 352 wins –- 40 fewer than the Phillies.

The Phillies hit the midpoint of the 2013 season this weekend in Los Angeles. Their 16-1 win Friday night got them to 39-42 halfway through the season before they lost their next two games.

Just looking at this from a purely mathematical standpoint ... if their second half continues the pattern of Manuel’s first eight seasons, they will finish 88-74. The Reds are currently in the No. 2 wild-card spot, on pace for 91 wins.

So as dead as the Phils seem today, a typical second half could conceivably propel them back into the wild-card race, although it’s quite possible they would need 50 or 51 second-half wins to snag a wild-card berth.

But they’ve won 50 or more games in the second half of three of the last four seasons.

Here’s a look at the Phils in the first half and second half since Manuel replaced Larry Bowa after the 2004 season:

2005: Phils were just 41-40 the first half before going 47-34 the second half of the season to win 88 games, their most since 1993. They finished just two games behind the Braves in the NL East and one game out in the wild-card race.

2006: Phils hit the mid-way point of the season 37-44 and were 11 games out. They came back 48-33.

2007: Phils were just one game over .500 halfway through the season and were six games out before going 48-33 the second half and winning the NL East for the first time in 14 years.

2008: After the first half of the season, the Phillies were just 43-38, the 11th-best record in baseball. They went 49-32 the second half on their way to their first World Series title since 1980.

2009: Phils again went 43-38 the first half, again the 11th-best record in the majors. They were 50-31 the second half and won the National League pennant for a second straight year.

2010: For the third straight year, the Phils were 43-38 at the midpoint, but they went a ridiculous 54-27 the second half, including a 23-4 stretch in August and September, to finish with 97 wins, matching their most wins since 1977, and a fourth straight division title.

2011: Phils finally had a strong first half at 51-30, then duplicated it in the second half to win 102 games, one more than the franchise mark of 101 set in 1976 and 1977.

2012: A brutal first half left the Phils 36-45 at the midway point. Only six teams in baseball were worse. The Phils came back 45-36 to finish 81-81 and avoid their first losing season since 2002.

The Phils have the largest first-half/second-half disparity in baseball under Manuel, with 57 more second-half wins than first-half wins.

One of the big reasons for this is probably Ryan Howard’s penchant for slow starts and big finishes.

Since becoming an every-day player in 2006, the former MVP has shown dramatic improvement in production in the second half of the season.

Howard is hitting .259 the first half of the season since 2006, averaging a home run every 15.8 at-bats and an RBI every 4.9 at-bats. His first-half slugging percentage is .511, on-base percentage is .340 and OPS is .851.

His second-half numbers: .280 batting average, home run every 12.3 at-bats and an RBI every 4.0 at-bats. His second-half slugging percentage is .632, on-base is .387 and OPS is 1.019.

Does Howard have another big second-half in him? He’s 33 now, hobbled and slumping. But historically, he’s been a much better hitter the second half of the season than the first.

Chase Utley historically has been a better first-half hitter, but Jimmy Rollins, like Howard, picks up his game significantly after the 81-game mark.

Here's J-Roll's first-half numbers: .264 batting average, .320 on-base, .408 slugging, .728 OPS ... and second-half numbers: .276 batting average, .335 on-base, .450 slugging and a .775 OPS.

And finally Cole Hamels: 49-44 overall in the first half with a 3.77 ERA and 44-27 in the second half with a 3.05.

What does all of this mean? Maybe not that much. This is a different team, a different roster, a different year.

But the numbers don’t lie. Manuel, who doesn’t have a contract beyond these next 81 games, has won more games than any manager in baseball over the second half of the season since he got here in 2005.

The Phillies’ second-half magic over the past decade can’t be denied. And thanks to a second straight dismal first half, the 2013 Phils are going to need every last bit of that magic.