The Phillies long run back to first place and the best record in the national league can be attributed to the team’s experience, both players and management. As many as seven games back, and seemingly out of first place for good at one point, experience has been the key to reclaiming first.
The Phillies had to overcome many obstacles to regain the division lead. Injuries were the biggest obstacle as it seemed the team never had their intended starting line up in place for more than a game or two. Shane Victorino, Placido Palanco, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, and Carlos Ruiz all spent time on the disabled list. That’s six of eight starting line up regulars who have missed significant time. Add the injuries to Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge, and you begin to see the amazing season the Phils have put together.
The Phillies also had to overcome poor performances from a number of players. Virtually the entire offence has struggled at some point in the season. Some players like Howard bounced back to have good seasons; others like Victorino, Rollins, Utley, and Werth struggled all year. Only two regulars have had standout seasons, Ruiz and Polanco.
The bullpen was a disaster for most of the year. Most of Ruben Amaro’s offseason pick-ups bombed. The bullpen has only 2 solid options, Madson and Lidge. Even the normally reliable Chad Durbin has been suspect at times. Even Madson and Lidge only became reliable over the past six weeks.
Starting pitching has been the strength of the team all season, even more so since the Roy Oswalt trade, but has not been without its issues. Kyle Kendrick has been on the verge of demotion all season long, and Joe Blanton had his typical ineffective first half.
So how is it that with so many starters lost to injury, so many underperforming players, so many failed off season moves (the bullpen), and only two (recently) reliable relievers, how is it that the Phillies have overcome all of this adversity to end up back in first place?
One answer is experience. This team has been here before. They know what it takes to get to and succeed in the playoffs. They know most of all that to win a championship requires a long haul. That means keeping a level head during the season whether the team is playing well or poorly. Never get too high, never too low. That is the epitome of the Phillies and Charlie Manuel. Always hang in there and keep plugging away. You don’t win the division in April or May, you win the division over the 162 game schedule. The team will suffer injuries, lapses in hitting, pitching, and fielding throughout the season, but you keep your focus and keep driving toward the goal.
Charlie Manuel is at the center of this level-headedness, and it also shows in his player’s mentality. Being in the World Series the last two years, Manuel knows better than most that this is the key to getting back. While other teams are fading, the Phillies keep grinding out series wins, taking at least two of three in each series, and keep moving toward the division. The Braves are hanging very tough, and they are no doubt frustrated by the fact they have surrendered first place to the Phillies after holding it for 99 days. But their lack of experience is showing a bit, as they find it harder and harder to win critical games late in the season.