Phillies aim to build on first-half success
To repeat, first-place club's starting pitching must improve
PHILADELPHIA -- Some of the numbers add up. Others don't.
The Phillies enter the second half of their season Thursday in Florida in first place in the National League East. In many ways, it is easy to see why. They have one of the best offenses in baseball and have played great defense. Five of their everyday players earned a spot on the National League All-Star team: Chase Utley, Raul Ibanez, Ryan Howard, Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth. It was just the fifth time in franchise history the Phillies had five players at the All-Star Game.
But in other ways, the Phillies are a puzzle.
Jimmy Rollins struggled through the worst first half of his career. Brad Lidge suffered through a knee injury and blown saves. Cole Hamels has been inconsistent. Brett Myers had season-ending hip surgery. The rotation as a whole has struggled.
The Phillies even lost 14 of 18 games at one point.
But here they are, in first place, ready to defend their World Series championship.
Let's take a look at what happened in the first half, and what is in store for the Phillies in the second half:
Club MVP: He missed much of June and most of July with a strained left groin, but Ibanez remained one of the most productive hitters in baseball in the first half of the season. It is hard to imagine where this team would be without him.
Call him "Ace": Hamels remains the undisputed ace of the Phillies. An inconsistent three months have not changed that. But rookie left-hander J.A. Happ has been the team's most consistent starter so far, although he has made a little more than half as many starts as Hamels, Joe Blanton and Jamie Moyer. Happ started the season in the bullpen, but replaced right-hander Chan Ho Park after he struggled. He has been impressive.
Greatest strength: Everybody knew the Phillies were going to hit this season, and so far, they have not disappointed. They have four players on pace for 100 or more RBIs: Howard, Utley, Ibanez and Werth. They have four players on pace to score 100 or more runs: Ibanez, Utley, Werth and Victorino. They are just the second time in baseball history to have four players with 20 or more homers before the break: Ibanez, Howard, Utley and Werth. The offense should continue to be the team's strength the remainder of the season, especially with Ibanez back in the lineup.
Biggest problem: Pitching, pitching, pitching. Specifically, starting pitching. The Phillies have one of the worst rotations in the National League, which is why they are in serious pursuit of starting pitching help before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. Pedro Martinez has been acquired. Will Roy Halladay be next?
Biggest surprise: Ibanez has been a heck of a player for years with the Mariners and Royals. That is why the Phillies said goodbye to Pat Burrell and signed Ibanez to a three-year contract in the offseason. But Ibanez has been better than advertised. It might be the ballpark. It might be the lineup that surrounds him. It might be his talent. In fact, it is probably a little bit of everything.
Team needs: The Phillies signed Martinez during the break. They're also trying to add Halladay. Also on the list: potential relief help and a right-handed bat for the bench.
He said it: "The good thing about our team is that our guys are very hungry," Lidge said before the season started. "We're confident. We haven't lost the desire to be great. I think you look around the clubhouse, a lot of guys on our team want to be compared to the Yankees or whoever -- teams that can put together a run of a couple years. It's incredible to be remembered as a World Series winner, but if you can do that a couple times? Then you're forming a legacy, and that's what we want to try to do."
Mark your calendar: The Phillies play a four-game series against the Mets at Citi Field on Aug. 21-24. The Mets are struggling and who knows where these two teams will be in the standings at that time, but the Phils could bury the Mets' postseason dreams with a strong showing that weekend.
Fearless second-half prediction: The Phillies win their third consecutive NL East title, and this year, they don't need to overcome the Mets in the final weeks to make it happen.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.