In the parlance of that iconic psychedelic rock band, The Grateful Dead, the 2010 Philadelphia Phillies went on a long strange trip that was marred by a slew of injuries. Of course, GM Ruben Amaro, skipper Charlie Manuel, and the rest of the team kept on Truckin', and they somehow enter this week's playoffs with the best record in baseball.
Baseball fans would not have been surprised if you told them that the two-time defending pennant winners would boast a fourth consecutive NL East crown, and a 97-65 record, five games better than the next best team (the San Francisco Giants) posted.
But if you told them that they would do so with significant injuries to all three of their infield stars—Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins—they might start to take notice. If you also told them that several other key players went down at one point or another—including new third baseman Placido Polanco and pitcher Jamie Moyer (remember him?)—they might be truly impressed.
THE INJURY BUG
The Phillies shortstop/second base tandem of Jimmy Rollins and Utley is probably the best in the major leagues when you consider all aspects of the game including leadership. Rollins was hampered by injuries all year, and never really got going, hitting just .243 with a .694 OPS in 88 games. Utley seems to have found a bit of a groove in September, although his .275 batting average with 16 homers, 65 RBI, and 75 runs in 115 games is below his considerable standards.
Howard wasn't hit as hard as his two fellow infield stars, but did miss 19 games and played through various injuries. The same could be said of new third baseman Polanco, who missed 30 games.
Phillies nation owes a debt of gratitude to a 32-year-old utility infielder named Wilson Valdez. Valdez, who counts the Phils as his sixth team in as many years, played a terrific shortstop, and got the occasional key hit, posting a career best .258/4/35 with 37 runs in 111 games.
It's hard to believe that the Phillies were once mired seven games behind the Atlanta Braves with roughly two months to go in the season. That they won by six games is more of a testament to the Phils' surge, than it was to any Braves collapse. The Braves played well enough to edge out the San Diego Padres for the Wild Card.
While the last two months showed the Phillies to be the strongest team in baseball, their long, strange trip of a season included stretches of seemingly indifferent play. Hard to believe (now), Harry.
Riding their Big Three (H2O) of starters Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, and Roy Oswalt, and an offense that started to show life down the stretch, in the last few weeks the Phils played a brand of baseball that their fans hope will continue in the postseason.
On the season, the Phillies were 52-29 at home (good for second in the NL) and 45-36 on the road (tied for first). Their 3.67 ERA (down half a run from their 4.16 of 2009) was fifth in the league, and their 772 runs scored (down from their league-leading 820 of 2009) was good for second best.
Roy Halladay lived up to all his hype and more, anchoring the staff with an NL best 21 wins, while leading the league in innings pitched, complete games, and shutouts (and a perfect game to boot). While they did not have the dream 1-2 punch of Halladay and Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels returned to form with a misleading 12-11 record. Hamels had a terrific ERA (3.06, 12th in the league) and ranked fifth in strikeouts, while topping 200 innings.
Amaro acquired Oswalt from Houston in a trade that saw us give up promising lefty J.A. Happ. All Oswalt did was go 7-1 with a 1.74 ERA (and a WHIP of 0.90) in 12 starts with his new team.
MOST VALUABLE ADDITION
Obviously, the two Roys top the list, but Amaro should also earn kudos for bringing Polanco back to Philly. He played a steady third base, and is simply a great professional hitter. Injuries affected his batting average, which dipped below .300 at the end (.298).
Domonic Brown showed flashes of great things to come, Ross Gload and Mike Sweeney are big bats off the bench, and Wilson Valdez (as mentioned above) was a godsend.
LEAST VALUABLE ADDITION
Reliever Danys Baez came over from the Orioles as a veteran bullpen arm, who could close if we needed him to. In 51 appearances (and 47.2 innings) he was brought into two save opportunities, and blew both. It's good that Brad Lidge regained just a little of his 2008 form down the stretch.
His overall stats: 3-4, 5.48 ERA, 28K/23 BB, and a WHIP of 1.64. In addition to all those walks, opposing batters hit .301 against him. Ouch!
MOST VALUABLE PHILLIE
The wise choice would be Roy Halladay, who will likely notch his second career Cy Young Award in his first NL season. He anchored what may have been the best starting rotation in the league.
The sentimental choice would be Carlos "Chooch" Ruiz, who again did a superior job behind the plate, while leading the team in batting average (.302). The beloved, diminutive catcher—known to some as Señor Octobre—had an OBP of .400, and is one of the team's best clutch hitters.
It is hard for a team to not suffer injuries during the 162 games marathon that is a major-league season. The Phillies certainly had their share and more, but showed their grit and their talent (in no small part due to Manuel's steady hand) in surging to the top of the league.
Of course, this team was built to not only reach the playoffs, but to also do some damage once there. With "H2O," experienced bats, good defense, and a confident, steady manager, the Phillies are poised to do exactly that.
The 2010 season was a long, strange trip for which Phillies fans will truly be grateful if they can maintain their momentum for another month—and 11 more wins.