The 2011 edition of the Philadelphia Phillies is one of the deepest teams ever assembled in the City of Brotherly Love.
However, not all has gone right for the team. They have lost players to injury, watched others fail to live up to expectations, and seen one of their Fab Four hurt his back and lose some zip on his fastball. Their offense has also struggled mightily at times, making the fans and front office scratch their heads in astonishment.
The team that once struck fear into opponents now struggles to score more than three runs a game.
However it is a long season, things happen, and everyone—even the mighty Phillies— loses some swagger.
But the Phillies will not lose their division lead again.
Here are five reasons why, when the calendar turns to the end of the season, the Phillies will be left standing as five-time defending NL East Champions.
This Phillies team is a battle-tested, veteran group that knows what it takes to get to October.
Over the past five years, they have seen everything a team can—they have been the underdogs with little chance, they have faced and overcome the largest/latest deficit in MLB history, and they have been the defending champions with the bulls-eye planted firmly on their backs. They have also faced numerous injuries---both to their stars and roll-players---up and down the lineup and in the rotation.
And yet they have overcome all of it.
They've managed to play much better in second half of seasons than in the first and have won four straight division titles, an streak that only figures to extend.
Charlie might not be the most decorated, well-spoken, or well-researched manager in baseball today—he might not even be the best—but he manages to keep the Phillies going strong.
He lets the players be themselves most of the time but rules with an iron fist when needed.
Manuel has earned the respect and trust of his players and front office and the admiration of a passionate fan-base.
The Phillies have question marks in the bullpen and at the back-end of the rotation, and no one is absolutely sure what’s happened to Roy Oswalt’s fastball.
However, nothing that has presented itself could outweigh the Phillies' tremendous rotation—they have the best number-one starter, the best number-two starter, the best number-three starter, and the best number-four starter in the league.
Every team knows when they face the Phillies they ARE going to have to deal with at least one ace---and probably more.
This pitching staff could carry the Phillies all the way.
For years the Phillies owners—who have mostly remained hidden from public view—have been crucified for their lack of willingness to spend money and put the best talent on the field.
They have failed in attempts to build a farm system and spent way too many years trying to patch together a winner in the post-Pete Rose years. (I would have said post-Mike Schmidt years, but the Phillies have been trying unsuccessfully to hang onto an era that ended in October of 1983 against Baltimore, Rose’s last year in a Phillies uniform.)
However, in recent times they have expanded payroll, they have allowed their GMs to acquire top-shelf talent, and, even when they were supposedly at their max-budget (what they will spend, not what they can spend), they have gone above and beyond.
There is no reason to believe they won’t again this year, if need be.
If they need another bat—which at this point I’m not sure they do or if the available options are even worth making a move for—Ruben Amaro probably will be allowed to absorb at least some payroll.
But neither is as talented one through 25 as the Phillies are.
The Braves have a formidable rotation, a scary-good bullpen, and a couple of youngsters who should stick around the majors for the next decade or so.
The Marlins have the best right-hander in the NL not named Halladay (if Josh Johnson is able to return from his injury), a couple of players with other-worldly talent, and a knack for coming through when everything is against them.
However, neither can match the Phillies, who can out-pitch and out-play any opponent on their quest for a fifth-straight division title and what would be their third pennant in four years.
The Phillies may not win the division by 30 games—they may end the season only two or three games better than the Marlins or Braves.
But it’s unlikely either Florida or Atlanta will make a serious run at the division.
The Phillies have been in first place all but 14 hours of this season, and first place is most likely where they'll be at the end of the year. They have shown that they have the know-how to win when the season winds down, how to get better as the calendar turns, and what it takes to finish off a season.
The Braves failed to do so last year (they had injuries, but not nearly as many as the Phillies suffered all year while still managing to stay in the race), and the Marlins have never won a division and won’t start this year.
Another parade is coming, Philadelphia!!