A four-game lead at the All-Star break ain't something to be taken lightly. They may play in a lousy division, but the Phillies get props for taking advantage and putting themselves in good position to return to the playoffs. That said, a division title is no guarantee. Herewith, a brief review of the first half and a look ahead to the second half.
What Went Right:
- Chase Utley returned sooner than anticipated from hip surgery and has played outstanding ball.
- Ryan Howard didn't wait for two months to begin hitting the ball well.
- Raul Ibanez was even better than advertised.
- Pedro Feliz quietly put up good offensive numbers to augment his slick fielding at third.
- Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth established themselves as All-Star-caliber, everyday outfielders.
- Despite a dreadful 4-14 skid, the Phillies continued to play hard and were rewarded when the breaks evened out.
What Went Wrong:
- Cole Hamels spent three months futilely trying to find his mojo.
- With Hamels floundering and an injured Brett Myers lost for the year early on, the starting rotation has been far too often a liability.
- Brad Lidge returned to earth. And got hurt to boot.
- As a whole the bullpen was inconsistent--sparkling one night, coughing up leads the next.
- The Phillies simply could not gain any traction at Citizens Bank Park.
- Jimmy Rollins was an abject failure as a major-league hitter for huge swaths of the first half, though he continued to shine in the field.
Question for the Second Half
- Can Pedro Martinez pitch six effective innings every fifth night?
- Will J-Roll leverage the offensive rebirth he enjoyed late in the first half?
- Dare we continue to dream of Roy Halladay?
- Can Ibanez's 37-year-old body hold up?
- Which Lidge shows up?
With four in Miami against the Marlins, the Phillies have a terrific opportunity to leap off the starting blocks and bury their closest trailer in the East.
Yes, the games in the first half count just as much as those yet to come, but baseball in late July, August and September simply feels more important.
Fortunately for Phils fans, that's when this group seems to get it together.