We are approaching three long years since the Philadelphia Phillies won just their second World Series in franchise history. As we approach this milestone in the coming months, the Phillies are putting the entire league—both National and American—on notice: They are the team to beat in 2011.
Jimmy Rollins doesn't need to say this. The performance of this squad speaks volumes as to how well they are prepared to make a stretch-run when it counts.
October will be theirs, and here's why.
The outfield has a gaping hole defensively. For what the Phillies may lack defensively in left field with Raul Ibanez though, they make up for in center and right with Shane Victorino and Domonic Brown.
The defensive skill sets both Victorino and Brown bring to the table will bode well for the Phillies.
Hitters find it mighty hard to find a way to put the bat on the ball efficiently when they take on the Phillies, but it becomes even more difficult to place the ball in the gaps.
Left-center, right-center and the far right of the outfield are all covered. For right-handed hitters who try to hit the other way, they are stuck in an adverse situation. For lefties who try to pull the ball, good luck.
Managing to find a way to put the ball in the gap will be too difficult with Victorino and Brown covering the outfield like water covers the Earth.
While people continue to rave about the Atlanta Braves' bullpen, people are not even noticing what the Phillies are putting together in their 'pen.
Back in Spring Training, Michael Stutes fought very hard to win a job among the starting rotation. While he didn't make the Opening Day roster, he has been called up and has yet to leave the big's. Stutes has been a staple for the Phillies bullpen as they continue to do the job that is expected of them—hold onto the lead.
This newbie doesn't pitch like a rookie. Instead, he has dominated foes with a 2.92 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP in 24.2 IP. Stutes has 26 K's and is allowing opposing batters hit for an average of .179. He is 3-0 thus far and proving himself to be a critical piece to the Phillies' bullpen.
When first called up, Bastardo reminded many of a younger J.C. Romero; he was a kid who needed to work on both his command and control.
Well, he is now in his second full season with the Phillies, and while he is still a kid, the command and control have progressed and helped Bastardo mature into one of the better relievers in the National League.
Phillies' insiders have even speculated that Bastardo is the closer of the future for the organization.
This season, Bastardo is sporting a 0.96 ERA to go along with his WHIP of 0.86. Hitters are batting just .120 against the Dominican Republic native, as Bastardo has 33 strikeouts in 28 IP.
Ryan Madson is dealing with inflammation in his hand, and with Brad Lidge on the shelf looking like damaged goods, Bastardo is closing in on taking over the closer role this year—unless of course the Heath Bell rumors are true, and the Phillies deal for the Padres closer.
Regardless, Bastardo has the goods to compete well into October. His maturity is great for a 26-year-old, plus his command and control issues are nonexistent.
The unsung hero of the postseason the last couple seasons has been catcher Carlos Ruiz.
Ruiz has been clutch when it has mattered. The ability to deliver a hit when it matters most is of intriguing importance here—after all, Ruiz is only a career .259 hitter. In the postseason, he is averaging .280. Since 2008, Ruiz has knocked in 15 RBI while slamming three balls over the fence.
One can't underestimate the importance of having bottom-of-the-order hitters turning into sluggers when it matters most.
Defensively, Carlos Ruiz is arguably the best catcher who has played in the postseason over the span of the last three years. He bears a .994 fielding percentage, but more impressively, that fielding percentage has been 1.000 the last two postseasons.
Handling a pitching staff that consists of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels is no easy task—neither is one that will have to keep balls in front of him later in the game when the bullpen is called upon.
Actually, if the bullpen is called upon.
The last two years, a banged up Chase Utley has been detrimental both defensively and at the plate for the Phillies.
With Utley appearing to be as healthy as ever, maintaining his health is key for the Phillies. By doing so, he puts the organization in a position to win its third World Series title.
With those issues appearing to be behind him, Utley is now capable to fulfill what his talent suggests and deliver when it matters most in both aspects of the game.
To Phillies fans, he is known as "Uncle Cholly."
To the rest of the baseball world, he is known as an engineer of craftiness.
Phillies skipper Charlie Manuel knows when to make a move and when not to make a move. His knowledge of the game and of his players is critical. Despite his bias towards loyalty, Manuel makes moves when it matters most, both defensively and offensively.
Being capable of staying in command of his ball club, Manuel will continue to show why he is one of the better managers in the game today. Having him in the dugout is crucial to the Phillies' success.
When people think of the Phillies, they immediately imagine Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and the pitching staff.
Well, Placido Polanco has proven that a steady bat will work wonders for any lineup, even one that could be as potent as the Phillies.
Polanco continues to set the standard, hitting-wise, in Philadelphia.
Last season, elbow issues kept creeping up on him, and he struggled at the plate, hitting just .207. This year, Polanco is taking things in full stride, leveling the bat off well and making contact to spurn his batting average to a highly-respectable .289.
Maintaining such a hit-to-at bat ratio is key for the Phillies and Polanco, who hopes to make his mark and win a World Series ring.
First baseman Ryan Howard has been amiss in the postseason, and his reputation for being a choke artist is ever-apparent. Optimists will point out he hit .303 last year in the playoffs, but realists will point out he didn't hit any home runs or drive in any runs.
Howard now says he is motivated. His swing is getting better, plus he is driving in plenty of runs, as usual.
Typically, he struggles on pitches down and away; this year, he has improved somewhat. As he continues to improve in that area, plus as he keeps his eye on the ball and drives in runs when it matters in the postseason, no team will be able to muster up enough runs to knock off the Phillies during a seven-game series.
Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels.
Those three names strike fear into the hearts of hitters in Major League Baseball. If Roy Oswalt can get plenty of time to let his back heal, the four-headed monster will be in full-swing come October.
No pitching staff has been more dominant overall than that of the Phillies. Lee and Halladay's resumes speak for themselves, while Hamels is now a top-tier pitcher as well.
There is no doubt the Phillies grouped this squad together in order to get back to the World Series and celebrate with another parade in the center of Philadelphia. There is also no doubt that they will put together enough power to help these pitchers out.
The Phillies are determined through their starting pitching to win another ring.