Monday, July 15, 2013

The Phillies Are Invincible

Last night in Philadelphia, the Phillies lost one of the bigger reasons why they have gotten back into the periphery of the NL East race, when CF Ben Revere suffered bad luck and a 6 to 8 week injury. On top of Ryan Howard and Roy Halladay going down, Chase Utley suddenly losing defensive reliability, Carlos Ruiz hitting like last year was Nothing But Drugs, Jimmy Rollins not going deep in forever...

But wait, there's more. Jonathan Papelbon has been shaky for the better part of a month, and blew another save today. They've been having real issues in the bullpen for years now. Cole Hamels was, until recently, one of the most disappointing big name pitchers in the National League. The farm system is mostly bereft of impact players.

Which hasn't stopped them, at least not yet, from biting your legs off.

Such behavior was in evidence today with their eventual win over the White Sox in extra innings. That allowed them to storm to the break with a 9-4 mark that puts them back at .500 for the first time in a long while, and makes them one of the more intriguing questions around.

They've done it with pitching. Hamels has been great the past few times out, Cliff Lee is Cliff Lee, and they are getting yeoman work out of people you've never heard of (Jonathan Petitbone), or never been impressed with (John Lannan, Kyle Kendrick). The bullpen seems better now that they've exiled Philippe Aumont, a classic million dollar arm and five cent head, to the minors. While they still are far from airtight down there, they aren't arsonists any more, either. Howard's injury may be a blessing in disguise, in that replacement Darin Ruf has hit so far, balances them out against left handed hitting, and Howard has been pretty bad for much of the year. Domonic Brown is still a major power stick in the depressed NL, Michael Young has hit for much of the year, and in the suddenly injury-riddled NL East, .500 isn't out of it.

There's also this: for whatever peculiar magic, this has been a second-half team ever since manager Charlie Manuel came to town. Only the Yankees have a better second half record than the Phillies since 2005, and while this has the strong whiff of Andy Reid Can't Be Beaten After A Bye Until He Gets His Head Caved In, there might be something to it. Manuel doesn't panic, doesn't hang his players out to dry in the media, and gets his aging regulars a fairly solid amount of rest, while working in new players well. He's also got a front office that hasn't thrown in the towel on any season before last one, and throwing in the towel on Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino in 2012 might have qualified as addition by subtraction.

Can they keep it up? Math says no. They are still -45 in run differential (to give you an idea, Washington is a half game up on them while being -14, and the Mets are 4.5 behind while being -27), and teams that have gotten this flat out lucky generally do not remain that way all year. They've exhausted their games with the Marlins, which might be a good thing, given how that team has stopped being jaw-droppingly terrible in the past month and a half. Atlanta is dropping outfielders like old men fumbling with change, but the wild-card out seems like a very foolhardy bet, given the strength of the Cardinals, Pirates and Reds in the Central. It's hard to see how they have the assets to be a buyer, given the lack of studs in the farm system, or how the 2013 versions of Howard or Halladay return from injury and provide real value. They'll need a lot of fungible pitchers to keep being a lot better than their career marks, and the offense to overcome the loss of Revere, while Ruf avoids any drop. It's not likely.

But, well, at least they are .500 again, and with the possibility of preventing the area's media from spending every waking moment and electron on who Chip Kelly's camp cuts are, and how this totally validates your hypothesis on what his team's will look like, and how he's a stone cold genius / utter boob. Whether we thank luck, clutch behavior, or the pillars of an unexpected run isn't as important as the idea that they've bought another week or two of relevance. And maybe even a stop to one of the weaker runs in Philly sports in decades.

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