World-class rotation wasn't enough for Phillies
Starting five helped set franchise win record before upset in NLDS
PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies unofficially started their 2011 season in February, when they had Roy Halladay, Joe Blanton, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels sit on a dais for an introductory news conference at Bright House Field.
The rotation had arrived.
The season officially ended about seven months later, with Halladay sitting in front of his locker, crushed his team fell short of a World Series championship following a 1-0 loss to St. Louis in Game 5 of the National League Division Series. The Phils finished the regular season with the best record in baseball, setting a franchise record with 102 victories. But in the end, they didn't get what they wanted most.
They didn't get a ring.
It will be interesting to see how history views the 2011 Phillies. Based on their record, they are the greatest team in franchise history, but immortality typically is reserved for World Series champions, like the 1980 and 2008 Phils.
Here are the top five storylines from the 2011 season:
5. Manuel passes Mauch
Former general manager Pat Gillick seriously considered firing Charlie Manuel following the 2006 season, but something told him to stick with the skipper. Five seasons later, Manuel passed Gene Mauch for the most managerial wins in franchise history, when he won his 646th regular-season game on the final day of the season. Since Manuel replaced Larry Bowa following the 2004 season, Philadelphia has the best record in the NL. The club has also won five consecutive division championships, two NL pennants and one World Series. And in each of the past two seasons, the Phillies have had the best regular-season record in baseball. Manuel will go down as the greatest manager in franchise history, and passing Mauch helped cinch it.
4. The walking wounded
Manuel loves continuity in his lineup, showing up at the ballpark every day and knowing what the order will be. That hardly happened in 2011. Chase Utley started the season on the disabled list with a bad knee. Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Placido Polanco and Carlos Ruiz also spent time on the DL, and Ryan Howard missed time late in the season because of a bad ankle. Manuel used his everyday lineup just seven times after Hunter Pence joined the team in July.
3. A franchise-record 102 wins
The Phillies clinched their fifth consecutive NL East championship on Sept. 17, then proceeded to lose eight consecutive games. But they still set a franchise record by winning their 102nd game of the regular season on the final day of the season, Sept. 28. Only the strong survive a grueling six-month schedule, and the Phils dominated baseball from April through September. There is no arguing they were the best team in baseball in 2011. But they won't live in immortality nationally, because of a five-game series in October.
2. October disappointment
General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. did not acquire Halladay, Lee, Oswalt, Pence and others to just have a crack at the postseason. Those days are over. No, he assembled that impressive collection of talent because he wanted to win the World Series, along with everybody in the organization. But the Phillies fell short, losing in five games to the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLDS, staining an otherwise brilliant season. From Opening Day through the end of the regular season, almost everything had gone according to Philadelphia's plan. Everybody expected the Phils to be the dominant force in baseball, and they were. But anything can happen in a five-game series, and it happened to the Phillies. They lost.
1. The rotation
Everybody was excited about the 2011 season because of the rotation. It lived up to the hype. Halladay (19-6, 2.35 ERA), Lee (17-8, 2.40 ERA) and Hamels (14-9, 2.79 ERA) finished in the top five in NL Cy Young Award voting. Oswalt (9-10, 3.69 ERA) was the only starter who didn't meet expectations, but his relative struggles were due to a back problem that plagued him most of the season. But the rotation proved to be one of the greatest in baseball history. The rotation -- including starts by NL Rookie of the Year Award candidate Vance Worley, Kyle Kendrick and Blanton -- had baseball's best ERA (2.86) since 1985. It had the most strikeouts (932) since 2003. Its 7.88 strikeout-to-walk ratio ranked 13th since 1903. Its 1.11 WHIP was the best since 1975. The Phils had the best rotation of the year, and it wasn't even close.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.