Phillies are deeper than just their stars
They have four aces, two former MVPs and a roster stacked with guys who've made numerous All-Star teams and earned plenty of awards.
It's no surprise the Philadelphia Phillies are heading toward their fifth straight NL East title and have the best record (83-45) in baseball. But for all the high-profile talent in red pinstripes, the no-name guys have been just as vital to Philadelphia's success.
Rookie starter Vance Worley is 9-1 with a 2.65 ERA. Twenty-five year-old lefty Antonio Bastardo (5-0, 1.45) has eight saves in nine chances. Rookie righty Michael Stutes is 5-1 in 45 relief appearances.
John Mayberry Jr. has been red-hot lately, hitting .312 with nine homers and 29 RBIs in the last 32 games. Infielders Wilson Valdez and Michael Martinez have made significant contributions, too.
''We've had guys that have stepped up, and that's great,'' Mayberry said. ''We definitely love to get the opportunity to go out there and play. We've been doing all right lately.''
Yet the youngsters are doing their part ... and then some.
''I think when players get a chance, they always come around,'' manager Charlie Manuel said. ''I shouldn't say always. There are guys who come around. Vance is definitely one of those guys. Bastardo is one of those guys. Stutes is one of those guys. And definitely Mayberry is one of those guys. Mayberry has been sent out three times, and all of a sudden, he's starting to hit the ball and he's in a good streak. His talent is coming out. That's kind of how I look at Vance as a pitcher.''
Injuries have been a problem. Three of the five members of the projected starting rotation have spent time on the disabled list with Joe Blanton missing most of the season. Six of the eight original regulars have also been on the DL at one point. The bullpen was so decimated that the Phillies were down to their fourth closer (Bastardo) in the first half.
Overall, 15 players have been on the DL for 20 stints. And, the Phillies still keep winning thanks to the fill-ins who've come up from Triple-A Lehigh Valley and the bottom-of-the-roster guys who've stepped up when called upon.
''You don't expect to see so many injuries in a season and see a bunch of guys come up,'' Worley said. ''But that's basically what Triple-A is, it's basically guys that belong in the big leagues, too, and when something like that happens, they're going to be here.''
The Phillies and their fans, who've sold out the last 203 home games, won't be satisfied with anything less than winning the World Series. High expectations certainly don't make it any easier on the rookies and backups.
''No, it ain't easy,'' Worley said. ''It's always tough to come up and fill in shoes, and when the team is expected to win, you're going to feel a little bit of pressure. But once you get those runs on the board, it takes a little stress off your shoulders.''
When the Phillies opened the season, Domonic Brown was the one rookie expected to play a major role. Brown was supposed to replace Jayson Werth as the everyday right fielder. Werth signed as a free agent with Washington. But Brown began the season on the DL and struggled when he was healthy. He was sent back to Triple-A when the Phillies acquired Pence from Houston.
Meanwhile, Mayberry was sent to the minors three times after getting the game-winning hit in the season opener. Now he's found a spot as the fourth outfielder and backup first baseman.
Mayberry has started four games at first base, 11 in left field, 22 in center and six in right. He credits a new, open stance with helping him stay on the ball better.
''He's been huge,'' Howard said. ''He's come up offensively, defensively, whatever he did this offseason hitting-wise, it's definitely worked for him. It's been a dramatic change since last year.''
Mayberry is playing so well he's making it difficult for Manuel to take him out of the lineup when everyone is healthy. He could end up platooning with the left-handed hitting Raul Ibanez in left field. Ibanez, who has been bothered by a sore grain, is batting .236 with 16 homers and 65 RBIs in 436 at-bats. Mayberry has 12 homers and 41 RBIs in only 197 at-bats.
''I look at John and he's kind of like in a Jayson Werth situation,'' Manuel said. ''That's a very good comparison. The more he does, the more he's going to get to play and the more room we'll find for him to play.''
The veteran Valdez and Martinez, a Rule 5 pickup, filled in at second base when Utley missed the first two months. They've had to handle third base when Polanco was on the DL two separate times, and now they're sharing time at shortstop in Rollins' absence.
Valdez even picked up a victory on the mound, tossing a scoreless inning in a 19-inning victory over Cincinnati in May.
''Any time I get a chance to play,'' Valdez said, ''I want to go out there and do my best and enjoy the game and win.''
The Phillies are six games ahead of Atlanta in the East, and have led the division nearly wire-to-wire. They're 19 wins away from setting a single-season franchise record.
But all that matters is winning the World Series.