Everything the Phillies seem to touch comes up roses this year. Got any manure? The Phillies will turn it into compost that will make the roses grow even more fragrant. The World Champions were deemed at the beginning of the year to be weaker than they were the year before. And though they are World Champions, there was the general feeling that they got where they were because the Mets couldn't close the deal for the last two years. The Mets haven't been a team to overcome this year. But the Phillies have showed they have built a team that can win year after year.
The Phillies won the division in 2007 with 89 wins. Last year, they won 90. They started this year with Kyle Kendrick, a seventh-round draft pick who won 21 games over the previous two seasons on the shelf. Jamie Moyer was throwing meatballs and Cole Hamels was a worry as he had arm problems during Spring Training. They let Pat Burrell--inconsistent, but an OBP machine--walk and replaced him with Raul Ibanez. Chan Ho Park was in their rotation. And sure enough, they started the season 6-8. Jimmy Rollins got off to a horrible start.
Raul Ibanez? They were already left-handed heavy in their lineup. Ibanez was as bad in the field as Burrell. The move was decried by Rob Neyer and other analysts on ESPN.com. This space published a scathing indictment of the move. But Ibanez has 32 homers and the best OPS of his career. We were all wrong (at least for this year).
Carlos Ruiz was a concern as the every day catcher. He had a 63 OPS+ last year (100 is league average). But this year, his OPS+ is 108. And he's doing slightly better throwing out runners.
They quickly figured out that Chan Ho Park wasn't the answer in the rotation and brought up J. A. Happ, a third-round draft pick in 2004 with an rather ordinary record in the minors of 28-28. He went 10-4 before coming up lame. He was the best pitcher on the staff for a while. He was 10-2 before losing his last two starts.
Brett Myers went down at the end of May. They had to give starts to guys like Rodrigo Lopez, Antonio Bastardo and Andrew Carpenter. Those guys weren't very good, but still went 6-4 collectively.
Then, when their pitching was struggling, they got into a bidding war for the services of Roy Halladay. They were the favorite to get him until Boston joined that party. Frustrated, they turned to Cleveland and got Cliff Lee at the trade deadline. He's gone 6-2 with an ERA+ of 138 and a WHIP of 1.073.
Then we heard rumors that they were in talks with Pedro Martinez. Pedro? Nobody wanted him. He wasn't throwing hard anymore and he was asking for too much money. He'd only be a five or six inning pitcher. Surprise! They signed him and he is 5-0 and he has been spectacular, with two shutouts and games where he's pitched into the eighth inning. Truly amazing.
The Phillies depth is horrible. They don't have one back up player with an OPS+ over 91. But they haven't needed depth. Their only starter that missed any time at all has been Ibanez and he only missed 20 games or so.
Jayson Werth is a guy the Dodgers pretty much gave up on. But he has improved every year as a Philly and this year has hit 33 homers and is a force in their line up (and an All Star). Victorino has taken a step forward and made up somewhat for Rollins offensive deficiency. And of course, Utley and Howard are two of the best players in the league.
The Phillies have made all the right moves. Everything they have done has paid off in big dividends. Are they a lock for the NL Division title and another shot at the World Series? That will depend on Hamels and Blanton, both of whom have been decent but not invincible. Speaking of invincible, Brad Lidge was a year ago. What a difference a year makes. He is having a terrible season and the Phillies have had to turn to Ryan Madson with spotty results.
But don't count them out. They find a way to win and they find it with the unlikeliest players. They just have a way of making it work and turn everything they touch into gold.