The story of the 2011 Philadelphia Phillies doesn't take too many literary devices. There are no underlying themes, sub-plots and nearly three-quarters through the tale, there doesn't seem to be an unexpected twist looming.
At least not yet anyway.
The way it's shaping up 91 games into the season, the Phillies appear destined to be on the road for their second World Series title in the last four years.
How did we get here? It's elementary.
"When you think of us, especially this half, our pitching definitely jumps out at you," manager Charlie Manuel said after his team took two of three from the second-place Atlanta Braves to improve to a major-league best 57-37.
The Phillies record is so good that they can merely play .500 ball over the final 71 games and they will finish with 92 wins. If they keep winning at their current rate, the Phillies will win 102, which is one more than the 1976 and 1977 teams that set the franchise record.
Of course when the '76 and '77 teams won 101 games, they did it with an offense that led the league in homers, runs, batting average, slugging, etc., etc. Those teams pitched a little bit, too, with Steve Carlton winning 20 in 1976 and 23 more for the Cy Young Award in 1977.
Conversely, the 2011 Phillies pitch a lot, but dont really hit that much. Headed into the All-Star break, the Phillies are seventh in runs, ninth in homers and 10th in batting average.
Still, even with the mediocre offense, the Phillies are on the cusp of running away from the rest of National League. Of course the injuries haven't helped much, either. After all, Chase Utley has missed 50 games, yet still is one of two players batting better than .275.
At the same time, All-Stars Shane Victorino and Placido Polanco have missed chunks of time, while others like Jimmy Rollins, Raul Ibanez and Ben Francisco have battled streakiness, ineffectiveness and opposing pitching corps in tune with the technology available to them. These days a hitter cant flinch or hiccup without it going onto a jump drive in some video room.
Still, when the Phillies get healthy and are able to put their lineup back together, Manuel says he expects to see the hits fall.
"You look to the second half, and I expect us to score more runs, especially if we get our team back and get healthy," Manuel said. "When Victorino went into the five-hole he started to show some consistency. He's a switch hitter, and he's got some power, and if we can get Polly well, he's a .300 hitter. And we've got Utley now, so there's no reason why we can't score more runs."
Meanwhile, others may wonder if Manuel is driving his pitching too hard considering the starting corps has led the world in innings pitched, while the bullpen has had the least amount of work. Plus, both groups have also shared in the injuries. Roy Oswalt and Joe Blanton have posted incomplete seasons that have virtually been washouts.
In the 'pen, Brad Lidge hasn't thrown a pitch yet this season and there is some speculation that Jose Contreras might have thrown his last. Ryan Madson has also spent some time on the disabled list, which has thrust rookie Michael Stutes and inexperienced lefty Antonio Bastardo into major roles at the back of the bullpen.
In other words, Manuel's starters have gobbled up the innings because they have had to this season.
"The value in that is it allows our bullpen to get proper rest," Manuel said. "If you notice, our guys in the bullpen pretty much keep their roles that way. We don't have to go out of sync and do something as far as pitching somebody too long in a game or too often. They get their proper rest, and we can keep them organized that way."
Of course with the way Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Halladay have pitched, not even Manuel can wrestle the ball away.
"Being able to go out and pitch seven, eight, nine innings, if you want to be good in this game, that's what you have to do," Hamels said. "I've been able to do that numerous times and I've been able to get into that groove. That's where I'm able to get comfortable, and I like the feeling. That's something where I want to stay."
In a staff filled with aces, Hamels has stood out on the stat sheet. He has put together an 11-4 record and 2.32 ERA that should garner him some first-place Cy Young votes, but it's easy to see how Hamels could have been better.
In June he went three straight starts without a win, mostly because his teammates gave him just three runs of support in all of those games. Plus, the Phillies have scored just four runs combined in all four of Hamels' losses and 11 runs in his four no-decisions.
Sure, Halladay has the innings and the complete games, Lee has the shutouts, but Hamels' consistency has been uncanny.
E-mail John R. Finger at email@example.com
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