NL East: The Phorgotten Phils

We all know that the 2011 Philadelphia Phillies are good, but not many seem to realize how good.

This season has certainly had its share of surprises: the Diamondbacks dominance in the west, Adam Dunn’s struggles just to get a glimpse of the Mendoza line and Jose Bautista proving that 2010 wasn’t a fluke, just to name a few.  On the other hand, some things have gone as expected: The Yankees and Red Sox will make the postseason, Mariano Rivera is still a dominant closer and Ozzie Guillen’s anger management classes haven’t had much of an effect, just to name a few.  Least surprising of all, though, may be the performance of the Philadelphia Phillies.

Most preseason predictions had the Phillies winning the NL East and it was easy to see why.  The group of starting pitchers was given all sorts of nicknames before even showing up to spring training.  The last time this happened was with the 1995 Mets and Generation K (which we all know didn’t go so well).  The question never seemed to be “would they win” but “how many would they win”.  So it’s easy to understand the lack of noise surrounding the team’s success so far this year.  A situation living up to expectations is rarely newsworthy.  What is surprising, however, is how little noise is being made about how good this team has actually been.

For starters (pun unfortunately intended), four members of the Phillies rotation boast ERA’s under 3 (Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Vance Worley).  Halladay and Lee have also amassed over 200 strikeouts already.  Worley is 11-1 with a 2.85 ERA and he’s just a rookie.  Hamels is 14-7 with a 2.60 ERA and also has a WHIP under 1, yet he’s almost an after-thought…a very dangerous after-thought.  So even though veteran Roy Oswalt may not have lived up to what some had hoped for him, the team doesn’t seem to be all that affected.

The bullpen, a seemingly weak area for the Phillies coming into this season, has found a couple truly dependable arms.  Ryan Madson has been an effective closer, saving 29 of his 31 opportunities (through Friday, September 9).  Meanwhile, lefty reliever Antonio Bastardo has gone from specialist to just plain special in his first full major league season.  Bastardo has an ERA under 2, a 0.81 WHIP, 66 K’s in 54.1 innings and has kept opponents to a .119 batting average.

The Phillies are on their way to the best record in franchise history.  After Friday night’s win (their 5th straight) the Phillies have 93 wins, 8 short of the franchise best 101 (1976 & 1977) and there are still 21 games to go.  In other words, the Phillies have never been this dominant in the franchise’s 122 seasons (129 if you include their time as the Philadelphia Quakers).

Perhaps what’s most impressive about this accomplishment is that they’ve done it when virtually every offensive player (not named Shane Victorino) is having an down season.  Furthermore, many important pieces of this team have spent significant time on the disabled list at various points in the season.  Still, the Phillies have been able to sustain their dominance since April.  Credit their pitching.  Credit their manager, Charlie Manuel.  Credit their GM, Ruben Amaro, for making some key moves prior to, and during, the season.  Really though, credit the team as a whole, as they find ways to win on a daily basis.

Once October begins, the Phillies regular season accomplishments will cease to mean a whole lot.  Many teams have coasted through the regular season only to make a quick trip back home to join their lesser counterparts.  All season long though, something special has been going on in Philadelphia and it shouldn’t be ignored.

Around the Division:

Atlanta Braves -  Brandon Beachy’s 142 strikeouts give him the most ever by a Braves rookie pitcher.  Jair Jurrjens was the previous record-holder with 139 K’s in 2008.  More impressively, rookie closer Craig Kimbrel notched his 41st save on 8/31, breaking Neftali Feliz’s record (40) set just last season, for most saves by a rookie.

New York Mets - Johan Santana is getting closer to making an appearance for the Mets this season, just to prove to fans that he does still exist.  Second-year first baseman Ike Davis will not need ankle surgery after all, however Jay Horwitz, the team’s long standing VP of Media Relations, is out indefinitely with a broken ankle of his own (and that WILL require surgery).  Horwitz has been the Mets PR guy for over 30 years, has only missed 3 games during that time and hadn’t missed a game in 21 years.

Washington Nationals - On September 3, rookie Tom Milone became the first pitcher to hit a home run on the first major league pitch he faced since Adam Wainwright did it for the Cardinals in 2006.  Stephen Strasburg looked sensational in dominating the Los Angeles Dodgers in his first major league start since last year’s Tommy John surgery.  Strasburg’s next start is Sunday, 9/11 against the Astros.

Florida Marlins - Hanley Ramirez will be out for the remainder of the season, closing the books on the young shortstop’s most disappointing season to date.  Ramirez will have surgery next week.  According to Larry Beinfest, the Marlins president of Baseball Operations, the surgery will be performed by Dr. James Andrews and will start out as arthroscopic surgery with a possibility that open surgery will be necessary.  Ramirez’s recovery time will depend on the type of surgery he ends up having.

Shai Kushner is a Senior Writer for  Email Shai at:  Follow Shai on Twitter at: @BD_ShaiKushner.