Thanks to your 2007-2009 Philadelphia Phillies, the '10 team has the super-secret blueprints on how to take home a division title in the NL East, one of the strangest divisions in baseball. While things haven't always gone according to formula this season (read: 2 months of offensive putridity), the collective eye stayed on the prize and as of this writing, things are looking up. Here's a few simple tips from the past three Phillies teams on how to do it:
1. Fight Through Injuries (Chase Utley '07, Tom Gordon '08, Carlos Ruiz '09)
Just a few examples from previous years, but this year has been unusually brutal for the training staff. So far we're looking at extended DL stints for Ryan Howard, Shane Victorino, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Placido Polanco, Raul Ibanez, Carlos Ruiz, JC Romero, Ryan Madson, Brad Lidge, Jamie Moyer, Joe Blanton and the recently departed JA Happ. How previous teams have coped with this is with role players stepping into the spotlight.
Take Kyle Kendrick in 2007. Coming up from AA with a sinker and not much else, KK flashed a 3.87 ERA in the second half, totaling a run-inflated 10 wins and a game two start in the first round of the playoffs. In 2008, Jayson Werth supplanted incumbent Geoff Jenkins with displays of all five tools and clutch hits. '09 saw Clay Condrey, Tyler Walker, Chan Ho Park, and Scott Eyre make up for a criminally ineffective Brad Lidge.
This time around, we're looking squarely at Carlos Ruiz as the leader of this team. With injuries and poor hitting plaguing Rollins, Howard, and Utley, Chooch combines his career year at the dish with tremendously handling the pitching staff.
2. Midseason Pitching Acquisitions (Kyle Lohse '07, Joe Blanton '08, Pedro Martinez '09)
Add to that Roy Oswalt this season and you're looking at a very impressive combined line.
224 IP ; 16-2 W-L ; 3.74 ERA ; 169 K ; 78 BB
Pat Gillick, Ruben Amaro, and the entire scouting staff deserve a ton of credit for this one. While I don't support the win-loss statistic, 16 wins to 2 losses is great to see from these guys. It should be noted that for the most part, the parade of prospects we gave up to get these four pitchers have yet to bite us in our big market ass.
3. Injury-Replacement Hitters (Tadahito Iguchi '07, Matt Stairs '08, Ben Francisco '09)
While Francisco was more of a luxury in the Cliff Lee deal, he was insurance for another Ibanez injury. This year again, we've got them in droves. Wilson Valdez and all of his GIDP's did a serviceable job filling in for Rollins and made Juan Castro even more expendable. Mike Sweeney's played decent enough in a limited role, in addition to his other abilities. Nelson Figueroa even contributed here and there, although he's now with Ed Wade's Houston Phillies.
With a veteran team like this, there's going to be injuries. The guys the front office chooses to fill their shoes are undeniably crucial to the sustained success of the ballclub.
4. Charlie Manuel (Charlie Manuel '07, Charlie Manuel '08, Charlie Manuel '09)
Poor bench usage? Check. Stubbornness to pull Lidge from the closer's role? Check. Overall questionable in-game managing? Check.
And he's the best manager in franchise history. God bless Cholly.
I need two hands to count how many times I've said "we're not making the playoffs" over the past four years. The month of dormancy after the 20-2 Cardinals shellacking in '08 and this year's offensive summer swoon come to mind. But while the Phils needed some luck in the form of Mets back-to-back collapses, the truth of it is when late September rolls around, this veteran ballclub puts themselves firmly in position to take the division title.
With plenty of division games remaining and just one game separating them from the first-place Braves, this September should be another one for the books. There's certainly a ton of flaws with this team, but I can't help but think that once the calendars flip to October, the Braves, Mets, Marlins and Nats will all be looking up at Charlie's bunch.
In light of two consecutive World Series appearances, it may seem easy to take a playoff berth for granted.