The Phillies' season is half over and the glass is almost entirely full.
What you have witnessed through the first 81 games of this 2011 season is some of the best baseball this franchise has ever played.
Sometimes we're so busy examining the imperfections that we fail to notice the special qualities that go into being the first team in baseball to reach 51 victories, achieved Wednesday night with the Phillies' 2-1 victory over the Boston Red Sox.
The instant general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. fooled us all and signed Cliff Lee, the expectations reached an extraordinary level for a franchise that once had tumbled to some of the most extraordinary lows in baseball history.
One-hundred regular-season wins were on the spring-training checklist and it was a goal shortstop Jimmy Rollins simultaneously embraced and enhanced by suggesting the Phillies could match the 116 wins posted by the Seattle Mariners in 2001.
Because of the inconsistent offense, which went into Wednesday night's game against the Boston Red Sox ranked 17th in runs scored, 18th in home runs, and 20th in batting average, that goal seems unrealistic right now.
Something special could still lie ahead, according to Rollins.
"We can be pretty good," he said. "Hopefully, it will be something you can talk about."
The underachieving offense has made the pitching staff's accomplishments even more special. The Phillies scored three or fewer runs 44 times in their first 81 games, an astonishingly high number for a team once known as the Broad Street Bashers.
More astonishing: The Phillies had won 17 times when scoring three or fewer runs.
More astonishing than that: The Phillies are 34-3 when they scored four or more runs.
"The anticipation was that our starting pitching was going to be good and, of course, it has been," manager Charlie Manuel said.
No, it has been better than good. It has been great.
The Phillies are 36-14 when Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels take the mound.
There have been times in this team's past when you could expect something incredible every fifth day. Now, it is expected and delivered almost on a daily basis.
Only a bulging disk in Roy Oswalt's back has prevented Amaro's master plan from working to perfection.
The unexpected pitching contributions made the Phillies' first half special, too. The team is 5-2 in Vance Worley's starts and 1-0 whenever utility infielder Wilson Valdez makes a pitching appearance. Worley lowered his ERA to 2.57 by allowing a single run in seven innings against the Red Sox.
With Ryan Madson, Jose Contreras, Antonio Bastardo, and Michael Stutes at the back end of the bullpen, the Phillies are 44-1 when leading after eight innings.
"That's really amazing," Manuel said. "We talk about our starting pitching a lot, and we should. At the same time, I've also been very proud of the back end of our bullpen."
Madson, when healthy, proved he could be a successful closer for the first time in his career, and Bastardo and Stutes have shown no fear pitching in the late innings for the first time in their careers.
"They're definitely not afraid," Madson said.
With Madson on the disabled list, Stutes and Bastardo were thrown into the fire Wednesday against one of the most explosive lineups in baseball. Stutes retired the side in order in the eighth and Bastardo duplicated the feat in the ninth, retiring Kevin Youkilis, David Ortiz, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia for his third save of the season.
Manuel, in his seventh season, has had much better offensive teams, and he would still like to see the Phillies pick up a righthanded bat before the trade deadline. Manuel has a little George Steinbrenner in him in when it comes to being satisfied, and that's a fine quality for a manager who is all in favor of the World Series-or-bust mantra.
"It's good that we've won 50 games and you say that's the best in baseball and I look right behind us and there [are] the Braves with 46," Manuel said before the game. "Yeah, we've done good, but at the same time, we're at the halfway point."
Someone reminded Manuel that the great Satchel Paige once suggested never looking back.
"Yeah, he said somebody will be gaining on you, so that's why I probably shouldn't be looking back," the manager said.
Looking back at the Phillies' first half, however, should be a satisfying exercise for anyone following this team. Manuel's last three Phillies teams were only 43-38 at the halfway point, and they averaged 51 wins in the second half of the season.
If this team can duplicate the second halves it has had in recent years, it is going to break the single-season franchise record of 101 victories set in 1976 and 1977.
Manuel, his players, and the fans will consider that a success only if a World Series title follows.
The Phillies won their 50th game Tuesday night when they beat the Boston Red Sox. In the process, they joined the 1886 club, then known as the Philadelphia Quakers, as the fourth-fastest team in franchise history to reach the 50-win plateau. Only 22 Phillies teams in a history that dates from 1883 have reached 50 victories in fewer than 90 games.
Here's a look at the top five and how they finished.
Year Record After 50 Wins Final Record Finish
1976 50-20 101-61 1st in NL East
1993 50-21 97-65 1st in NL East
1890 50-25 78-53-1 3rd in NL
1886 50-30 71-43-5 4th in NL
2011 50-30 To be determined
- Bob Brookover