With 21 games having been played in the 2011 major league season, the Philadelphia Phillies are 15-6, boasting the best record in all of baseball. They’re on a pace to win 116 games and tie the 1906 Chicago Cubs and 2001 Seattle Mariners for most wins in one season.
Yet, incredibly, the Phillies have struggled this season with two of the most important aspects of the game: hitting and relief pitching.
The Phillies have a team slash line of .261/.324/.380. They rank seventh in the 16-team NL in batting average and eighth in on base percentage, but just 11th in slugging percentage and 12th in OPS.
They’re not hitting for power either. Their 16 home runs rank them 11th in the NL.
In the most important statistic, which is runs scored, they rank eighth, meaning they’re average.
Among the hitters, Chase Utley is unable to play due to patellar tendinitis in his knee. Raul Ibanez is hitting a pathetic .187. Carlos Ruiz, Jimmy Rollins, and Wilson Valdez are struggling to get on base and drive in runs.
Only Placido Polanco (.366 batting average and 15 runs batted in) is having a great season. The rest of the team is merely average, maybe even slightly below.
Their relief pitching hasn’t been any better. Closer Brad Lidge hasn’t pitched this year due to a torn rotator cuff. He might return around the All-Star break.
Jose Contreras, who took over for Lidge as the team’s closer, was placed on the DL yesterday with a complicated injury that basically resulted from the 39-year old being overworked.
Setup man Ryan Madson, who is now the short-term answer at closer, has been pitching well but he’s struggled in the past when he was switched to closer.
25-year old Antonio Bastardo has shown loads of potential as a lefty specialist and is being regarded by some as the team’s future closer.
But David Herndon, JC Romero and Kyle Kendrick are inconsistent and are either a hit or miss each time they pitch.
Which is Worse?
The Phillies have still been winning this season, more than any other team in baseball in fact. They’ve been winning because of their strong starting pitching, despite an offense that hasn’t scored more than four runs in its last 13 games.
Based on the simple fact that the Phillies are still winning games while their hitters aren’t producing, the bullpen is the bigger concern for the team, especially with the loss of another key member to injury.
The next few weeks aren’t going to be easy for the team. The starting pitching is going to have to step up (not that they haven’t). The hitters NEED to start hitting.
But most importantly, the Phillies have to be able to win games when their starter exits in the seventh inning with a 3-2 lead. Right now, the bullpen is the key to success for the back-to-back-to-back-to-back NL East division champions.