From the Abyss to First Place - How the Phillies Got Here

At the end of play on July 21, the Phillies were 48-46.  They had just lost their fourth game in a row, and their second in a row to the Cardinals in which the Phils scored only 1 run.  They were in third place -- 7 games out of first place and half a game behind the MetsChase Utley was on the DL, Ryan Madson and Joe Blanton had ERAs over 6.00, Jamie Moyer had been injured the day before, Jimmy Rollins' OPS had plummeted in a month from over 1.000 to .700 (and was about to go under it), and Roy Oswalt was pitching for the Astros.

Things looked bleak.

But turnarounds happen without identifying themselves first.  And with July 21 the Phils' 2010 nadir, no one really noticed that July 22 was the start of an amazing comeback.

Since that loss to the Cardinals on July 21, the Phillies have played .696 ball, going 32-14 over the last month and a half.  They've been excellent at home, with a 19-10 record (.655 win percentage).  They've been other-worldly on the road, with a 13-4 record (.765).

Given the team's almost season-long offensive struggles, it should come as no surprise the Phillies have won with pitching and not with their hitting.  During this 46 game stretch, the Phillies actually have scored less per game than they did in their first 94 games -- 4.63 runs per game in the first 94 games compared to 4.57 runs per game in the last 46.

However, they've held other teams to almost 1 run less per game.  In the first 94 games, they gave up 4.46 runs per game.  In the last 46, they've given up only 3.54 runs.

It's simply impossible to overstate how incredible the three-headed monster of Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, and Roy Oswalt has been.  Since July 21 (and excluding Oswalt's start for the Astros on July 24), the three of them have combined for this incredible line:  26 games started, 183.67 innings, 2.30 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 4.95 K/BB, and 0.93 HR/9.  The Phillies are 19-7 in games they've started (meaning the team is 13-7 over this stretch in games not started by one of the three).

Incredibly, the back-end of the Phillies' bullpen has been almost better.  Brad Lidge and Ryan Madson have been on fire since July 22.  Combined, they've made 50 appearances, pitched 49 innings to the tune of a 1.65 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 4.85 K/BB, and 0.37 HR/9.

The story of how the Phillies got to first place reflects the new normal for the Phillies, and one Phillies fans need to get used to.  The days of scoring 5 to 5.5 runs per game are apparently over.  Injuries and age seem to have taken their toll on the aging lineup.

Instead, dominant pitching is the new normal.  With a starting rotation featuring three guys who go deep into games and collectively pitch like Bob Gibson at his best, the decrease in runs scored isn't the liability it would have been in years past.  And with Madson and Lidge shortening games once again, the opposing offenses have very little chance when one of the three-headed monster is pitching.

Dominant starting pitching, shut-down back-end relievers, and adequate offensive production -- that's a formula for a first-place team.  It's a different formula than we're used to, but it works nonetheless.

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