Have the Phillies Become the National League Frontrunners?

Philadelphia Phillies have been Major League Baseball's best team since the All Star break.

Ed Millerby Ed Miller

Have the Phillies Become the National League Frontrunners?

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It is surprising what a healthy lineup can do for a team's ego. Less than two months ago the Philadelphia Phillies were struggling to keep above mediocrity, while the Atlanta Braves were ahead in the division by six games. A lot has changed since then.


The Phillies, who now lead the NL East by five games, have been the best in the major's since July 22, having gone 41-16. They have won nine straight and look to continue their ways over the next couple of weeks and into the playoffs.


But are the Phillies poised to make another postseason run that could include a trip to the World Series?


The Phillies have what is arguably the greatest pitching rotation in the team's history. The staff is led by 20 game winner Roy Halladay, who on Tuesday became the first pitcher to win 20 games in a season since Steve Carlton did it back in 1982 and the first right hander to do it since Robin Roberts won 23 in 1955. Halladay is among the league leaders in innings pitched this year at 241.2 and has a 2.53 ERA to back up all his hard work. Every team has strength in the ace spot but when you look at the Phillies number two pitcher, Cole Hamels he is as good as any team's number one starter.


Hamels already has a lengthy resume which includes World Series and NLCS most valuable player awards from when he helped lead the Phillies to a championship in 2008. After a shaky year last year Hamels is back and having a career year, proving he has not lost anything. Though the Phillies at times have been unable to get him run support, Hamels has done exactly what he is expected to do and that is keep the Phillies close in ball games. He is 12-10 this season with a 2.93 ERA and 207 strikeouts all of which are career bests for the left hander.


The final big threat in the rotation is a guy they acquired near the trade deadline from Houston, Roy Oswalt. Though many thought Oswalt could be trouble with his back issues, he has been a huge help for the Phillies during their playoff push. Oswalt has gone 7-1 since joining the Phillies with an ERA of 1.94, making the Phillies the only team in the MLB to have three starting pitchers with ERA's under three. In the trio's last 11 starts they have gone 11-0 with an ERA of just under three.


And we have not even mentioned the offense.


The Phillies have been led by Ryan Howard recently, who after his time on the disabled list has been just what the doctor ordered. In past seasons, Howard has been quiet until September, when it looks almost as though someone has awoken a sleeping giant. The same can be said for this year. He is batting .280 this season with 30 home runs and 104 RBI's, a little less than normal but in the month of September he has hit six home runs and batted in 19. While he has continued his usual September dominance another Phillies bat has recently come to life, that of Jayson Werth.


Despite hitting a quiet .294 this season, Werth has still managed 25 home runs and 79 RBI's and has hit five home runs in the last seven games. Combine those numbers with the steady play of Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz and it is not hard to tell that the Phillies are no longer slumping.


Oh and did we mention the Phillies are still missing Jimmy Rollins who has been listed as day to day with a nagging leg injury. His leadership has been missing not to mention his base running and fielding skills are something the Phillies can always use.


So keep an eye on the Phillies who are almost a sure thing for winning the NL East this year with their magic number to clinch being six. How deep they can go in the playoffs we are not quite sure but given their recent play and freakishly good pitching we could see them playing in the fall classic for the third year in a row.