No team is happier than the Philadelphia Phillies that the All-Star break has arrived.
At 37-50, the Phillies sit 14 games out of first place in the National League East and 10 games back in the Wild Card standings.
However, during the Phils’ recent string of division success, the second half of the regular season is what has propelled them toward postseason play.
Since 2007, the Phillies have gone 257-157 from July on during the regular season.
This season, the team’s second half will have a different feel for two reasons. For one, the Phillies haven’t been this many games out of first place at the All-Star break since 2002.
Secondly, they will be getting Roy Halladay back.
After Halladay went on the disabled list with a shoulder strain on May 28th, no Phillies starting pitcher besides Vance Worley had an ERA under 4.00 for the month of June.
Meanwhile, since joining the Phils, Halladay has gone 19-6 with a 2.50 ERA following the All-Star break.
With an offense that has improved since the start of the season and has already received boosts in Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, it’s now the pitching staff’s turn to receive reinforcement.
A return to form by Halladay is key for the Phillies to find success in the second half.
The bullpen isn’t the only area of the Phillies’ pitching staff that has struggled recently.
After witnessing four starters post ERAs under 3.00 in April, the Phillies have seen the ERAs of a majority of their rotation increase as the season continues.
Phillies starters had a 2.86 ERA last season, making them the only team in the NL whose starters finished with an ERA under 3.00. This season, however, the team’s starters have combined for a 4.04 ERA.
Pitching in Halladay’s absence in June, both Cliff Lee and Kyle Kendrick had ERAs over 6.00, while Cole Hamels and Joe Blanton had ERAs over 4.00.
In total for the month, the Phillies’ regular starting pitchers combined to go 7-13 with a 4.90 ERA in 27 starts.
Although he struggled mightily in May, Halladay’s ERA on the season stands at 3.98 after finishing April with a 1.95 ERA.
Prior to May, Halladay had never had an ERA over 3.50 in any month since joining the Phillies.
If Halladay’s numbers in May were a result of the shoulder strain he was pitching with, the rest of the season should see him pitch much closer to his career averages.
With Lee coming off a nine-strikeout, two-earned run performance, Halladay’s return could help the rotation put up numbers similar to last season rather than continuing with the performances seen this season.
Although he cannot single-handedly cause the starting rotation to pitch like they did last season, Halladay’s return will greatly improve it following a forgettable first half.
Last season, the Phillies only had losing streaks of four games or more three times, due in large part to the success of the starting rotation.
This season, the Phillies have only strung together more than two wins in a row twice.
Due to the way the rotation was initially set up, and because of injuries to 60 percent of the original starting rotation, losing streaks have been far easier to achieve than winning streaks.
Unlike last season, when the Phils were able to pitch Halladay, Lee and Hamels in a series, the team has hardly had the chance to pitch three All-Star starting pitchers in the same series.
With injuries to Lee, Worley and Halladay, Kendrick has had to remain in the rotation for a majority of the season. When combined with Blanton’s up-and-down year (3.81 ERA in April, 5.94 ERA in May and 4.54 ERA in June) it’s clear that the Phillies have lacked the consistency in their rotation that they thrived on last season.
Throw in Lee’s ERA, which increased through each month of the first half of the season, and the rotation becomes a symbol for the inconsistency that the team as a whole has felt all season long.
However, that could change when Halladay returns.
Even while going 4-5 prior to his injury this season, Halladay still managed to give up three earned runs or fewer in eight of his 11 starts.
If the Phillies are able to alter their rotation so that Halladay pitches directly behind either Hamels or a more consistent Lee, the team would have at least two All-Star-caliber starting pitchers throwing back-to-back throughout the second half. This would lead to more series wins, another area the team thrived on last season.
With the bullpen struggling and the offense still working injured players back up to full speed, any advantage the rotation can give is crucial.
Halladay’s return will have two effects involving Kendrick.
For one, the Phillies will have another right-handed pitcher in their bullpen.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the Phillies won’t have to use him in the rotation.
Kendrick has added depth to the Phillies’ starting rotation and provided the bullpen with a long-relief option during his tenure with the team.
Well, the latter role may suit him better at this point.
Kendrick is coming off a month of June that saw him go 1-4 with a 6.96 ERA and an opponents’ batting average of .305.
After winning his first start of the month, the Phillies lost four of Kendrick’s next five starts, with the right-hander taking the loss in three of those instances.
On the season, Kendrick is 2-8 with a 4.89 ERA.
However, once Halladay returns, both the Phillies’ rotation and bullpen could receive a boost.
Last season, Kendrick had a 3.41 ERA in 31.2 innings in relief.
Kendrick’s effectiveness out of the bullpen in the second half may be uncertain, but what is certain is that the Phillies will be receiving a major upgrade to their rotation once Halladay returns.
To put it nicely, the Phillies’ bullpen has struggled this season.
To be more accurate, the Phillies’ bullpen currently has the second-highest ERA in the major leagues.
This makes the fact that Halladay has finished first in his respective league in complete games in each season since 2007 even more important.
The amount of innings that Halladay has thrown during his career, combined with the injury that he is currently recovering from, could make the Phillies hesitant to leave him in games for as long as they previously allowed.
However, with few solid options in the bullpen other than Papelbon, the team could have little choice.
By having another pitcher who can consistently go at least seven innings, the Phillies would have to rely on their bullpen for one inning leading up to Papelbon. Although this is still no easy task, it would decrease the number of innings needed from the bullpen in the second half.
Halladay does not have to pitch complete games as frequently as he has throughout his career. If Lee can turn in more eight-inning performances, combined with Worley and Hamels lasting at least seven innings, the Phillies may only need two innings of relief from a pitcher other than Papelbon over a four-game stretch.
A lower ERA along with more innings pitched is another way that Halladay will improve the starting rotation once he returns, making him key in order for the Phillies to find success in the second half.
With the trade deadline drawing nearer, the trade speculation surrounding Hamels will continue to swirl.
That will make focus within the Phillies’ starting rotation during the second half even more important.
Although the Phils have Lee, who was previously part of a trade-deadline deal, having Halladay back will give the team two veteran pitchers who have been in situations similar to the one Hamels will be in following the break.
If Hamels is not traded, it could mean that the Phillies’ recent play has given reason for optimism that at least a Wild Card spot is still obtainable.
If that’s the case, the team can’t afford for Hamels—or any player—to become distracted with the trade deadline looming.
Having a starter like Halladay back will not only give the Phils a great chance at winning once every five days, but it will also impact the rest of the pitching staff.
From his preparation in between starts to his performances on game day, even a young bullpen can benefit from being around him on a consistent basis and watching how he prepares.
However, more importantly, Halladay will combine with Lee to give Hamels two veterans to turn to as the trade speculation continues.
That makes Halladay’s return key for finding success in the second half.