Doubters of the Phillies better beware, because MLB's best team is cruising along as one of the premier threats of the season. After two World Series appearances in the last three years, Philadelphia was fully expected to rank among the top clubs in baseball this season. However, with part of the team's heralded pitching rotation struggling to maintain consistency in the early goings of 2011 and the offense missing key pieces such as Chase Utley for the first few months of the campaign, some analysts weren't sure how to evaluate the Phils, and many fans questioned whether or not the team is truly capable of vying for another championship. Well, heading into the middle of June, there's really no question the Phillies are on a roll--a roll that's keeping hopes of another title very much alive.
After Sunday's victory over the Cubs to close out a four-game home series, the Phillies became the first team in Major League Baseball to reach 40 wins on the season and solidified their first-place position among all organizations (only the Boston Red Sox are within one win of holding the best record in the game. And to think the City of Brotherly Love is capable of that much success on the diamond with superstars like Utley absent from the lineup for significant chunks of time and part of the "Legion of Arms" pitching staff struggling out of the gate, there's no telling how dominant this team could be down the stretch. There have been some issues along the way; there's no doubt about that. But overall, things have just been working for the Phils thus far in 2011.
Lately, the Phillies' bullpen has been bombarded with criticism, with highly-regarded veterans like Jose Contreras and J.C. Romero faltering in crucial situations, but the team still ranks second in MLB when it comes to cumulative earned run average. With an ERA of just 3.15 through 66 regular season games, Philadelphia ranks second among all teams, while it ranks No. 1 in terms of complete games recorded on the mound (six) and second in total strikeouts. The Phillies have also notched eight shutout pitching performance so far, and while their offense has generally epitomized inconsistent production, things have recently been picking up as the regulars re-gel into the lineups and previously injured contributors get into the mix; at least seven runs were scored in two of the last three games the Phils played.
If the Phillies can continue to string together games of at least mild offensive success (and they'll need to, because GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. remains firm in his recent proclamation that the team will not make a major upgrade via an in--season trade), maybe, just maybe, MLB's best team will become, you know, even better. When all parts on both sides of the ball are functioning to their full potential, this Phillies team is one dangerous opponent. The Phils have proven that as of late, and if they're somehow able to keep things together as the year progresses, it's a good bet they'll wind up where they've been the last several seasons--in the playoffs and hunting for yet another World Series championship.
Some would argue the Phillies are a bad team that's had good luck and therefore boasts the game's best record. And while it's clear the Phils haven't been as explosive or reliable as in recent seasons, whether it be offensively or in terms of relief pitching, wins are wins, and at the end of the day, the only thing that counts is if the team came away with a victory. Philadelphia has obviously been winning (more so than any other club in any other division and in any of the two leagues), and that's clearly worth recognition.