This was supposed to be a 2011 season with very few surprises in store for the Philadelphia Phillies.
In the eyes of most pundits, the Phillies were tabbed to have the best record in the National League, and they have certainly more than made good on that projection with the best record (90-48) in Major League Baseball.
How they have achieved elite status in the regular season has been a cross between a dull formality and a spine-tingling rollercoaster ride.
The veteran-laden team has, as expected, received brilliant starting pitching, even if one of their four aces, Roy Oswalt, has been hampered by injuries. The Phillies have suffered their fair share of other injuries as well, even if the standings have hardly reflected it.
So injuries aside, which seven players have provided the most drama to the formality of the 2011 regular season?
How would this one columnist rank these surprises in ascending order, from least to most pleasant?
The answers to these questions are just a click away.
Ben Francisco's Key Stats:
88 Games / 221 AB
231 / .335 /.367
6 HR, 32 RBI, 3 SB
Prior to 2011, the 29 year-old corner outfielder had been a productive fourth man with the Phillies and Cleveland Indians.
With a preseason injury to Domonic Brown, Francisco was counted upon to replace most, if not all, of former Phillie Jayson Werth's offensive production. And If Brown were not ready, Francisco had the advantage of being a sorely needed right-handed bat to hit behind slugger Ryan Howard.
In that light, Ben has been a big disappointment, even if Werth has struggled mightily in his first season for the Nationals.
Then again, Francisco ended up being a bridge of sorts to mid-season acquisition, Hunter Pence. Not a bad thing.
54 Games / 183 AB
.246 / .335 / .393
5 HR, 19 RBI, 28 runs, 3 SB
The jewel of the Phillies' farm system has only shown glimpses of the type of raw talent he possesses.
He may yet prove to be a five-tool player but he is far from a finished product. While nobody expected him to carry the team in 2011, his development has been a little slower than anticipated.
The good news? Brown just turned 24 on September 3, and his swing may well have been hampered by that hook of hamate (which is not a Caribbean island) injury he suffered.
A healthy Domonic Brown could still end up doing a lot for the Phils as a corner outfielder in 2012.
50 Games / 53.2 IP
42 hits, 52 K, 25 BB, 1.25 WHIP
5-1, 3.69 ERA, 10 holds
This spring training sensation was called up to the bigs on April 25 and pitched extremely well in the first half of the season. Indeed, his ERA on July 9 was 2.45.
The last two to three months have not been as solid for the just-turned 25-year-old reliever, as he has displayed a propensity to both walk more batters and be more wild within the strike zone.
Overall, I think that most fans of the Phightins would consider him to be a pleasant surprise with a big upside.
85 Games / 215 AB
.260 / .326 /.516
13 HR, 44 RBI, 29 runs, 6 SB
Entering the season, Phillies' fans did not know what they had in John Mayberry, Jr. He only had accumulated 69 at-bats the previous two seasons for the parent club, and while his six homers were nice, one questioned whether the 27 year-old would ever do much in the bigs.
For one reason or another, Mayberry has had more of a chance to showcase his talents this year and he has provided some much needed right-handed pop while delivering some very crucial hits.
For a team that does not bludgeon opponents from the dish like it used to, 13 homers and 44 RBI in only 215 at-bats has been terrific, and somewhat unexpected, production.
Mayberry has also shown a solid glove in the outfield and has made the occasional start at first base.
Count Big John as a very pleasant surprise who could produce some key hits in the postseason run.
52 Games / 50.2 IP
44 hits, 53 K, 14 BB, 1.14 WHIP
3-2, 2.84 ERA, 28 saves, 3 holds, (only) 2 blown saves
Heading into 2011, it was fair to question whether Madson—so reliable the last few seasons in the eight inning—could close out contests successfully in the ninth inning.
At the time, he had been credited with 20 saves and 24 blown saves. And yes, it is possible to "blow a save" without it being counted as a save opportunity, but still...there was a lot of reality behind the perception that Madson could not get it done in the ninth.
If 28 saves and only two blown opportunities impresses you (and it should), then Madson has been quite impressive this season. Even his good 2.84 ERA would be much lower if not for that horrendous August 19 outing in Washington (capped by Ryan Zimmerman's walk off salami). Yes, six earned runs in 0.2 innings will greatly inflate a good closer's ERA.
Considering that this was one of only two games where Madson blew a lead, Phils' fans should be delighted with his season.
Now, can he do it in the postseason?
57 Games / 53.1 IP
19 hits, 66 K, 21 BB, 0.75 WHIP, .110 BAA
6-1, 1.69 ERA, 16 holds, 8 saves, 1 blown save
Antonio Bastardo could well be the number one pleasant surprise of this season.
Indeed, on a staff that includes Cy Young Award candidates Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, the 25-year-old Dominican has numbers that none of the others can match.
In 53.1 innings pitched, Bastardo has yielded only 19 hits. That is almost (literally) unhittable territory, as his .110 BAA will aver. With better control this season, his WHIP is still a puny 0.75.
The smallish lefty has done a brilliant job, whether called upon as a setup man or to close out games when Madson was on the shelf.
When it comes to pleasant surprises of this campaign, Bastardo probably deserves to be tied at No. 1 with our next candidate.
The Wonder of Worley:
20 Games / 18 Starts / 110.1 IP / 1 CG
93 hits, 96 K, 36 BB, 1.17 WHIP
11-1, 2.85 ERA, (2 holds)
When your team almost never loses when you start a game (16-2), that's very good news.
When your own win-loss record is 11-1 in your rookie season, that's simply amazing.
Nobody knows if this season will be the high point of Worley's career or just one of many very successful seasons for this 23 year-old fan favorite.
Most baseball experts do not fawn over his non-electric stuff, but instead reference his deceptive throwing motion. However one attributes it, Worley has tallied more strikeouts than he has allowed hits this year—a surefire sign that something is troubling hitters.
And everyone raves about his fearlessness and poise on the mound, no matter the situation.
Looking ahead to the real season in October, it has yet to be determined whethr Worley will replace veteran Roy Oswalt as the No. 4 starter or fill another role in relief.
Whether he starts or fills in, most Phils fans will be delighted to see the lumbering Vanimal take the hill.
Matt Goldberg, a featured columnist for the Philadelphia Phillies and all-around baseball fanatic, is also a noted humor author and speaker. For more information, please visit www.tipofthegoldberg.com