It has been no secret that for much of the season to date, the Phillies have ridden the arms of their talented pitching staff to the best record in baseball.
Their ace-laden starting rotation, bolstered by a bullpen with the potential all-star right arm of Ryan Madson as well as a pair of young, exciting arms in Michael Stutes and Antonio Bastardo, has done a solid job of compensating for a frustrating, under-producing offense.
The most exciting part about this pitching staff, though, is that there is still room for improvement.
If the past weekend’s games were any indication, those arms very well could be getting even more overpowering for opposing lineups.
For the most part this season, Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels have been just unhittable. If you had to assign an order to this rotation, then Halladay would be your “1” and Hamels would be your “2”, even though Hamels has done just as much to warrant a No. 1 ranking.
Halladay, the reigning Cy Young Award winner, has surrendered only 29 runs in his 14 starts to date. That’s good enough for a 2.39 earned-run average.
Hamels, who some predicted before the season would be this year’s Cy Young winner, has given up just 26 runs over his 13 starts to date. That’s good enough for a 2.58 ERA.
That ranks them with the second- and fourth-best ERAs, respectively, among National League starters.
The other pair in the so-called “Fantastic Four,” or whatever they were being called before the season started, might just be rounding into shape to warrant all that “best rotation ever assembled” chatter once more.
Because of some health and personal issues, Roy Oswalt had a couple of up and down weeks to start the season. But since his return in mid-May, he has looked sharp.
Over his last six starts, he has thrown five or more innings each time, giving up three or more runs just twice.
Last Sunday’s game against the Chicago Cubs might have been his most impressive. Oswalt gave up three runs in the first inning but then shut out the Cubs for six more innings en route to the win.
If this trend continues, Oswalt, probably the team’s “4”, could return to that incredible level of pitching that he displayed when he arrived late last season.
Then comes the team’s number “3” starter: Cliff Lee.
Oswalt’s start on Sunday came on the heels of Lee’s eight innings of one-run baseball the night before against the Cubs.
For Lee, that was his second consecutive solid outing following a pair of shaky games to close the month of May.
Five days earlier, he shut out the Los Angeles Dodgers for seven innings before giving way to the bullpen.
Lee, who has been knocked around a few times this year, led all major league pitchers in strikeouts through last Sunday.
Not surprisingly, Lee passed Halladay for that strikeout lead on Saturday, 107-106. Oh, and Hamels is eighth with 91 strikeouts on the year.
That’s a whole lot of swinging-and-missing going on at Citizens Bank Park this year.
Not bad for your supposedly third-best starter, right?
With less than a month until the all-star break, the unofficial halfway point of the season, there is no better time for this rotation to start firing on all cylinders.
Likewise for the offense. Even though the hitters are still trying to find their consistency, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard have been doing the job at the plate. ••
Columnist Matt Godfrey can be reached at email@example.com