Phillies show plenty of spark

It is al­ways good to end things on a pos­it­ive note, and as the Phil­lies headed in­to the all-star break this  week, things could not have ended much bet­ter. 

With their 14-run out­burst against the second-place At­lanta Braves, paired with yet an­oth­er Cole Hamels pitch­ing gem, the Phil­lies made quite a state­ment head­ing in­to the un­of­fi­cial halfway point of the sea­son. 

Here they sit, their sights on yet an­oth­er deep run in­to the post­season, with a 57-34 re­cord  … the best re­cord in all of base­ball. 

Now, it’s hard to say that a team with this kind of re­cord really had only a “good” first half. Gut in­stinct would tell you they had a great first half, but in all hon­esty, the Phil­lies showed some pretty siz­able holes through their first 91 games. 

Every­one knows that their start­ing pitch­ing, while it has en­dured some health woes, has been spec­tac­u­lar all sea­son. That’s why they had three of their start­ing pitch­ers in this week’s all-star game; Hamels, Roy Hal­laday and Cliff Lee have done more than what was ex­pec­ted of them at the start of the sea­son.

But their dom­in­ance has helped neut­ral­ize an of­fens­ive de­fi­ciency that has troubled the team all sea­son.

True, the Phils spent the first few months without field cap­tain Chase Ut­ley, but Shane Vic­torino is the only Phil­lies play­er in the top 50 for bat­ting av­er­age in all of base­ball. 

That’s a prob­lem … a very big prob­lem. 

While Vic­torino boasts a .303 bat­ting av­er­age, the team as a whole is hit­ting just .250. Their “pro­lif­ic of­fense,” which was sup­posed to be a leth­al home-run pro­du­cer, has hit just 78 long balls to this point. That’s good enough to rank 20th out of the 30 ma­jor-league teams. 

Sim­il­arly, the rise of young arms like Ant­o­nio Bas­tardo and Mi­chael Stutes has been ex­cit­ing to watch, but they have helped con­ceal an­oth­er de­fi­ciency. Look bey­ond Bas­tardo and Stutes and the real­ity is that the bull­pen is ba­sic­ally in shambles. 

With guys like Ry­an Mad­son and Jose Contreras on the dis­abled list, coupled with the dis­astrous play of ex-Phils re­liev­er J.C. Romero and the in­vis­ib­il­ity of in­jured closer Brad Lidge, the bull­pen op­tions can be shaky if a starter fails to go sev­en in­nings.

The same can be said for the bench guys they have — aside from Wilson Valdez. More guys have been pressed in­to ser­vice be­cause of in­jur­ies to starters like Vic­torino and Pla­cido Po­lanco, but there really isn’t a pinch-hit­ting home-run threat on the bench as there was when Greg Dobbs and Matt Stairs were at their best. 

But everything is not all doom and gloom, either. There is still plenty to be ex­cited about. 

Be­cause of in­jur­ies, a few guys have had a chance to show their worth to the Phil­lies in the second half of the sea­son. Biggest in my mind is what John May­berry Jr. has done since his latest call-up from the minors on Ju­ly 5. In just 19 at-bats, he has shown an abil­ity to hit ma­jor-league pitch­ing for power, with two home runs, four doubles and sev­en runs bat­ted in. Plus he’s righthan­ded at the plate, which is ex­actly what the Phil­lies are look­ing to add to their lineup. 

An­oth­er po­ten­tial dif­fer­ence-maker could be 32-year-old lefthander Juan Perez. With the team’s re­cent re­lease of Romero, the Phil­lies need a second lefty in the bull­pen to sup­ple­ment Bas­tardo in late-game situ­ations. In just four ap­pear­ances so far, last­ing 3.1 total in­nings, Perez has yet to give up a run — or even a hit. More in­triguingly, in two in­nings of work against the Braves over the week­end, he struck out five of the six bat­ters he faced. 

That’s a pretty good state­ment by Perez. 

It will be in­ter­est­ing to see how the rest of the sea­son plays out. It be­gins this week­end against the New York Mets. ••

Colum­nist Matt God­frey can be reached at mgod­

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