Last night Phillies' ace Roy Halladay won his 20th game of the 2010 season as the Phils defeated the Atlanta Braves 5-3. This win gives Philadelphia a superb record of 14 wins and only 3 losses thus far in September. The Phillies' surge since mid-August has been the result of several factors: some injured players have come back and/or started to hit better; Jason Werth has overcome a rather mysterious failure to come through with runners on base (witness his 3-run homer last night); Wilson Valdez has done a fine job filling in for the again-injured Jimmy Rollins; and - most of all - the Phillies have received some outstanding pitching performances.
The top three starters are having great seasons. Check out these ERA stats: Halladay 2.53, Oswalt 2.90, Hamels 2.93. Each of these men are racking up quality starts lately. And I must mention some bullpen improvement - namely, Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge. On August 9th, Madson's ERA was 4.01; as of this morning, it is 2.37. On August 9th, Lidge's ERA was 4.62; today it is down to 3.24. Although Brad Lidge is not the pitcher he was in 2008, he apparently has learned how to spot his 90 mph fastball (down from 95 a few years ago) along with his still-effective slider to fool the hitters and is staying away from the "middle-in" portion of the plate much better than earlier in the season.
I should also mention that I am favorably impressed with young rookie Vance Worley, who is 1-1 with an ERA of 2.57 in his limited appearances. I look for him to compete for a place in next year's starting rotation. Chad Durbin (3.86) and Jose Contreras (3.35) have contributed as relievers along with J. C. Romero (3.74). Romero, however, has a problem with too many walks and Dannys Baez hasn't shown much all year. I don't see him on the 2011 squad at all. Joe Blanton (5.04) and Kyle Kendrick (4.78) have had some good outings this year but have also had some bad ones. I don't look for Charley Manuel to use them much in post-season due to their inconsistency.
The Phillies have been known as an offensive power team in recent years, but this year I think the pitching has been the most important factor. As of today, the Phillies do not have a .300 hitter, although three men are close: Polanco .298, Ruiz .296, and Werth .294. The home run numbers are down as well, but with the better pitching, I look for the Phillies to make it into post-season play. As a long-time fan, I hope they can go to the World Series for the third straight year and make Philadelphia history!