Analysis

Best of the 1st Half: Rauuuuul, Defense, and the Fans

Philadelphia Phillies' Raul Ibanez, right, watches his three-run home run during the tenth inning of a baseball game against the New York Mets, Thursday, June 11, 2009, at Citi Field in New York. The Phillies won 6-3. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)The Philadelphia Phillies came into this season on their high horse.  And why not, they earned it after blowing through the playoffs last year and easily disposing of the Tampa Bay Rays to win the World Series.

But as soon as the first pitch of the regular season was thrown, the Phillies became the enemy.  From that point forward, all opponents would be bringing their best.  After all, it feels good to beat the champs.

The first half of the 2009 season has come and gone – my how time flies when you’re having fun.  At this point, the Phils are having a blast.  Heading into the All-Star break, they sit four games ahead of the Florida Marlins in the National League East, with a 48-38 record.  It hasn’t always been pretty, but what it has been is entertaining.

Here is the best of the first half for the Phillies in ’09:

“Rauuuuuuuuul”:

Perhaps the best in all of baseball, the offense continues to fire on all cylinders.  You could make a case for the Red Sox or Yankees or Rays, but hey, they’ve got a DH.  From top to bottom, the lineup has been superb.  Yes, Jimmy Rollins has scuffled, but in an attempt to salvage his season, he has flipped the switch as of late.

Aside from the struggles from the leadoff spot, all the talk has been about the new left fielder.  Raul Ibanez was brought in to take the place of the legendary Pat Burrell, and he’s been nothing short of spectacular. Even while missing 20 games, his numbers are otherworldly.  A .309 average, to go with 22 home runs and 60 RBI’s is more than anyone could have imagined.  But that’s what happens when you join such a prolific group of bats.

Ibanez has put together one of the greatest first halves for a Phillie in recent memory.  A healthy Raul for the stretch run is incredibly vital to the success of this offense, and this team as a whole. It can’t be expected that Ibanez will keep up this torrid pace, but it doesn’t matter.  He’s won the hearts of Phillies fans everywhere.

Dazzling Defense:

As fans of the game, we tend to get caught up in the numbers. Home runs, RBI’s and OPS, are the sexy stats.  What about good, old-fashioned defense?  The Phillies play it, and play it well.

Going into the break, the Phils hold the best fielding percentage in the National League at .990.  With just 3- errors in 86 games, it’s nice to have stability all over the field.  Ryan Howard has been the defensive wild card this season.  In 2008, Howard fumbled it all over the place, committing 19 errors; all while looking more and more like a DH.  He brushed up on his glove work in the off-season, and the results have been telling.  After slimming down over the winter to better move around the diamond, Howard has just four errors.  He has finally become a complete player.

Chase Utley leads the team with six, but his .985 fielding percentage is good for fifth best in the NL.  Jayson Werth and Shane Victorino made the All-Star team thanks in part to their D.  Pedro has been Pedro at the hot corner – smooth.  The gloves have simply been golden for the Phillies.

You, the fans!:

You keep going to the games, root, root, rooting for the home team, and supporting a World Champion.  It doesn’t get better than that.

Through 45 home games, the Phillies have the best overall attendance in the major leagues.  Just a shade under two million people have walked through the turnstiles, 37 games have been sellouts, and Citizens Bank Park has averaged over 43,000 fans per ball game.  In the last 33 home dates, 30 of them have been completely full.

That’s a testament to how much the fans appreciate what this organization has done recently.  Keep going through the gates, Phils faithful.

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