Philadelphia Phillies: Why They Could Get Even Better in the Second Half

J SContributor IIIJuly 6, 2011

Philadelphia Phillies: Why They Could Get Even Better in the Second Half

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    Going into the final weekend of the first half of the season, the Phils hold the best record in baseball and a four game division lead.  They have built this record largely on the accomplishments of their lauded pitching staff, with the offense chipping in just enough.

    Despite holding the best record in baseball by a healthy margin, there are some out there who believe the Fightins can get even better in the second half.  Count manager Charlie Manuel in with that crowd.  There have been no shortage of injuries and slumps that could have derailed this team along the way.  In many ways this team has overcome a lot of to achieve this record. 

    Here is a look at five things the Phillies can reasonably expect to improve in the second half as they continue their march towards 100 wins.

Bullpen Health

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    It really is quite amazing if you look at the Phillies current bullpen depth chart.  The names you see occupying the pen are Danys Baez, David Herndon, Scott Mathieson, Juan Perez, Drew Carpenter, Michael Stutes and Antonio Bastardo.

    Injuries to three different closers and the waiving of J.C. Romero have forced the Phillies to in essence employ the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs bullpen.

    Yet, despite injury after injury, the pen continues to produce.  So here comes the good news.  One by one, during the second half the bullpen is going to find itself getting back and healthy.  So not only will they be getting better arms back, but those arms will be more rested and fresh given their time off.

    Additionally, guys like Michael Stutes and Antonio Bastardo who are being relied upon to hold down the back of the bullpen will move out of those roles.  The very men right now who are shutting the door so effectively on opponents will become the 6th and 7th inning guys.  That depth will be amazing and tough to rival for any other team.

    Imagine how intimidating it will be for a team to realize that even if they are able to pry Roy Halladay out of the game in the 6th inning they still have to worry about facing Michael Stutes, Antonio Bastardo, Jose Contreras, Brad Lidge, and Ryan Madson.

Starting Rotation Health

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    Roy Oswalt started this season on fire.  A stint on the DL later and he looked like a Kyle Kendrick clone.  Velocity down, strikeouts at career low levels and teams hitting him around.  It was finally determined he had a bulging disc in his back and is now spending time on the DL.  Should he get healthy, you can likely expect to see the Roy Oswalt of April against as opposed to the Roy Oswalt of June.

    Joe Blanton started off struggling -- but what else is new.  Blanton throughout his career has always pitched better in the second half of the season.  Last year he posted a 3.48 ERA in the second half.

    Both of these players are currently spending time on the disabled list trying to recuperate.  Team officials are hopeful that by August both could be in Phillies uniforms again.

    In the meantime, the Phils may have found someone worth keeping in Vance Worley.  Worley has pitched out of his mind this year to the tune of a 2.20 ERA.  Now while his peripherals suggest he cannot keep that up, he still has shown that he is more than capable of holding down a spot in the rotation moving forward.

    So during the second half the Fightins will be hopefully getting back a healthy and dominant Roy Oswalt and a healthy Joe Blanton due for his annual second half surge.  Come September if both are healthy, Worley may be added to an already loaded and finally healthy bullpen.

Ryan Howard

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    By this point in his career, almost everyone knows that The Big Piece is a notorious second half player.  It seems that as the weather heats up so does his bat.  In years past it also seems that as his bat heats up so do the Phillies.

    A few weeks ago I took a look at how Howard's midseason performance had stacked up against himself through the same amount of games in previous years.  The finding was that he more or less was performing at a similar level.

    Now we move onto the good stuff.  For his career, in the second half of the season Howard has a batting average 33 points higher, an OBP 56 points higher, a SLG 91 points higher and an OPS that is 147 points higher than the first half.

    He almost literally turns into a one man wrecking machine in the second half of the season.  That can only mean good things for the Phils and their improving offense.

Chase Utley

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    The Phillies offense limped through nearly the first two months of the season sans their best hitter.  Any time you take a Chase Utley who is nearly a career .900 OPS player and replace him primarily with Wilson Valdez and his .570 OPS you are going to have some troubles.

    Combine that with the fact that Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard are traditionally cold during these months and the once formidable Phillies offense was averaging only 3.8 runs per game.  An offense that just last year still ranked as second best in the National League had dropped off the cliff to the bottom third of the NL.

    Enter Chase Utley.  Just like that the Phillies offense instantly improves.  Now that offense is back to averaging 4.5 runs per game.  Had the Phils been averaging 4.5 runs per game all along this season they would currently be the number three offense in the NL. 

    Moving forward in the second half, with a healthy Utley leading the way, the Phils offense can expect to hold their own with the best offenses in the National League.

Domonic Brown

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    I could have gone a few different ways with this last slide.  I could point out how much, like Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins is a better player in the second half; how the Phils could acquire a new bat such as Juan Rivera or Michael Cuddyer to bolster the offense. Or how both Ibanez and Polanco have been ice cold and are due for hot streaks. 

    I even could have pointed out that over the last five years, the Phillies have been one of the best second-half teams in baseball.

    Instead, I am going to talk about Domonic Brown.  Some may see the .237 batting average and .318 OBP he is sporting and see him as a disappointment.  Don't count me in that crowd.  I see a rookie who is holding his own with an OPS of 100.

    Sure being average is not what you are looking for out of a highly touted prospect, but we have to remember he is a rookie.  The learning curve can be steep, and he is proving he belongs by showing great plate discipline and outperforming his fellow corner outfielders Ben Francisco and Raul Ibanez.

    I also see a player who, had he been playing since day one, would be on pace to hit 20 HR this season and is fourth on the team in both SLG and OPS.  Currently, he has been a bit of a victim of bad luck as his BABIP is unsustainably low at .241.  Considering the average BABIP is around .300, one can reasonably assume that his has nowhere to go but up in the second half.

    Currently, Brown has a .730 OPS.  I am going to make the bold prediction that by end of the season, Brown will have at least 15 HR and his OPS will challenge the .800 mark.  He will be the final missing piece that the offense has been missing thus far this year.