Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Philadelphia Phillies' Timing is Right for Another Championship

Philadelphia Phillies' Ryan Howard (C) celebrates with teammates after clinching their division championship after beating the Washington Nationals in their MLB National League baseball game in Washington September 27, 2010.  REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)

Part 4 of 7 Phillies Championship Advantages

As they say, timing is everything. After a highly challenging 2010 season wrought with unending obstacles, that little bit of wisdom might particularly ring true for the Philadelphia Phillies. 

The primary hurdles related to the non-stop stream of injuries that proliferated throughout the season. Perhaps the others involved a sense of confidence that spilled over to become a lack of urgency. 

As the season edged toward late July, to say the Phillies were a disappointment is putting it mildly. Losing six out of seven games after the All-Star break left the team just two games over .500 with a 48-46 record. 

The Phils found themselves staring up at both the Atlanta Braves and New York Mets, a full seven games off the pace. Additionally, they had four teams ahead of them in the Wild Card race. 

The next day, Cole Hamels locked into a pitcher's duel with Adam Wainwright in an attempt to avert a four-game sweep at the hands of the St. Louis Cardinals. The Phillies finally broke through to score a pair of runs in the 11th inning to secure a gut check victory. 

Something seemed to kick in on that day. Or perhaps it was the next day. 

Upon returning to Philly, the club announced a changing of the guard in its coaching staff. Hitting coach Milt Thompson was out, Triple-A instructor Greg Gross was back in. 

With all due respect to his abilities, surely Gross didn't immediately bring pearls of wisdom that caused the club's dormant bats to awake, but in fact they did. 

The Phillies proceeded to sweep the seven-game home stand against the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks to draw back into contention. 

The impact could be felt in both the clubhouse and the front office. Any notions that maybe this just wasn't the Phillies year quickly evaporated in favor of a renewed conviction to succeed. 

General Manager Ruben Amaro and the organization responded by taking a couple risks. First, they summoned prized prospect Domonic Brown to the big leagues to replace disabled Shane Victorino. 

And, then on July 29th with the trade deadline looming, Amaro pulled the trigger on a blockbuster deal to land Houston Astros ace hurler Roy Oswalt. The Phillies now had matching "Roy's" to wrap around a resurgent Hamels. 

Surprise that the second year GM was able to land yet another premier starter was exceeded only by the Phillies ownership's willingness to take on another big salary. 

Like the uncharacteristic in-season coaching change, the move signaled that the front office was "all in" for 2010. The pre-season aspirations of attaining another championship were still clearly in their sights. 

After a somewhat disoriented Oswalt struggled in his Phillies debut and a Brad Lidge meltdown led to a pair of losses in the nation's capital, the team quickly shook off any disappointment. 

A stretch run to remember resumed. 

The Phillies needed just 66 games to double up their 48-win total. A 48-46 record was followed up with their current 48-18 run. 

Doing the math, that's a 216 point jump in winning percentage to a spectacular .727 mark. 

As they say, the Phillies truly are peaking at the right time. 

Beyond the empirical evidence, lies the more subjective assessments that further support this to be true. 

The overall team is currently healthier than it has been all season, particularly the starting eight and the back-end of the bullpen. Additionally, each of the "Big Three" have a history of pitching their best when the stakes are the highest. 

In the case of Halladay, his "big-game" reputation has been built with superior work down the stretch in pursuit of a playoff spot. He is 28-11 with a 2.47 ERA over his career in September and October. And, Halladay's two-hit division clinching shut-out on Monday did not detract from that image. 

Oswalt has done the same. The other Roy sports a 32-9 lifetime record with a 2.59 ERA in those two months— plus a 4-0 postseason record. 

Hamels simply has a pair of 2008 postseason MVP trophies as a testimonial.  

All-in-all, the timing appears right for the Phillies best work of the season just as the fall tourney begins. Yes, timing really can be everything. 

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