HERE'S A PLEASANT little conundrum to ponder while waiting to see whom the Phillies will play in the first round of the playoffs:
Pitching is supposed to be the backbone of a winning team, right? Experts tap a few buttons on their calculators, nod sagely and tell us it's 90 percent of the game. And they may well be right.
So why does all that go out the window when the Most Valuable Player voting comes around? In the last 5 years, no starting pitcher has finished higher than sixth in his league. None has been named on even 30 percent of the ballots.
Which could make for interesting reading when this year's results are revealed by the Baseball Writers Association of America in late November.
The Phillies are almost certain to finish with the NL's best record. Ballots, with 10 blanks to fill in, are due at the end of the regular season. Nothing that happens after that counts. So the Phillies should be well represented.
Except that, upon further review, the usual suspects in candy-red pinstripes have all been hurt or inconsistent this season. Or both.
This isn't even open for discussion. The most valuable player of the 2010 Phillies is Roy Halladay. With all due respect to Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz and Cole Hamels and Placido Polanco, it isn't close.
But that isn't likely to be evident when baseball's biggest shout-out is revealed.
Halladay has a great chance to get some hardware. He has to be considered the Cy Young Award front-runner. And that's part of the problem.
The ballots for MVP voting come with guidelines. The last one reads: "Keep in mind that all players are eligible for MVP, including pitchers and designated hitters."
The reality, though, is that most voters seem to subconsciously rationalize that pitchers are recognized with the Cy Young so the MVP should probably go to a position player. One way to rectify that would be to create another category - The Babe Ruth award, say - which would annually be given to the top hitter in each league. That would open up the MVP for pitchers to get more consideration. A trial balloon to that effect was floated a few years ago, but was quickly shot down.
Jayson Werth made an interesting observation the other night that sort of got lost in the general buzz after a big win over the Braves. He made the comment that the Phillies have made a quiet transition from a team that hammers teams into submission offensively to one that wins on the strength of excellent pitching.
So these facts bear repeating: The Phillies have 19 shutouts this year, tied for the major league lead and the most this franchise has had since 1951. The staff earned run average of 3.71 is almost a half-run lower than it was last season. They've won 23 times when scoring three runs or less, including an astonishing six 1-0 victories.
And the guy at the head of this parade, who raised the bar, who set the standard for everybody else around him, is Halladay.
That doesn't necessarily mean he should automatically start Game 1 of the Division Series. There are a lot of factors that will go into that decision, with a special emphasis on the fact that he's going to end up with his heaviest workload since he pitched 266 innings for Toronto in 2003. He was 7 years younger then and the Blue Jays didn't make the playoffs, giving him an entire offseason to recuperate.
But over the course of this season, the most integral player on the league's best team, was Roy Halladay. Case closed.
AROUND THE BASES
* Grand Central: Mets pitchers have coughed up 12 grand slams this season, most in the majors this year and most since the Orioles also allowed a dozen in 2006. But wait, it gets better. Eight of the slams have come with two outs. And it still gets better. The Mets are the only team in the majors that hasn't hit a grand slam in 2010.
* South Side slide: The White Sox meltdown - 12 losses in the last 15 games that erased any hopes of making the postseason - have convinced many observers that both general manager Kenny Williams and manager Ozzie Guillen won't be back next season. And there continues to be speculation that Guillen is trying to position himself to be the next manager of the Florida Marlins.
* Add Sox: If the White Sox do end up in the market for a new manager this winter, there's already speculation that Tony La Russa could be the No. 1 candidate. La Russa's contract in St. Louis is up. The Cardinals have been a big disappointment this season. The White Sox are the team that gave La Russa his first big-league managerial job in 1979. And owner Jerry Reinsdorf has said that firing him in 1986 is one of the biggest mistakes he ever made.
* The bat shatterer: The jagged shard of a broken bat that impaled Tyler Colvin of the Cubs has reignited calls to outlaw maple bats. Won't happen, said MLB executive vice president Rob Manfred. "We couldn't play if we banned maple bats," he told the Chicago Tribune. "There's not enough ash available. We're dealing with an ash blight in the United States."
* Add bats: Research in the same story offered a novel solution, a product called BatGlove, which advocates say could make baseball a drastically safer game without impacting the performance of the bat. This is a thin, clear plastic wrap that can be applied to the handle of a bat for about $5. "The application does not change the performance of the ball on the bat," said Jason Rosenberg, a New York-based baseball fan who devotes his website - itsaboutthemoney.net - to the issue of shattered bats. Interesting.
* The rest of the story: Here may be two more reasons why Joe Torre stepped down as Dodgers manager. Bench coach Bob Schaeferwas quoted as saying the franchise will have to "pull a rabbit out of a hat" to compete in 2011 while first baseman James Loney questioned the team's heart. "At times, [other] teams played harder than us," he told the Los Angeles Times.
PHAIR AND PHOUL
* Septembers to remember: The Phillies have won 18 games in September. The franchise record is 22, set in 1916 and matched in 1983.
* Everybody not named Jose Bautista: With nine games remaining, the Phillies have hit 154 home runs this season. Even in a season when power numbers are generally down across baseball, that's a steep decline for a team that launched 224 bombs in 2009.
* Little help here: Everybody knows the Phillies just finished sweeping the Braves. But did you realize that they did it by starting a lineup each night that didn't include a single regular batting .300?
* Perspective: When the Phillies make it official, they'll be headed to the postseason for the fourth straight year. Which is just the latest reminder of how remarkable this era of Phillies baseball has been. They've only been to the playoffs three straight times once before, 1976-77-78, and didn't make it to the World Series in any of those seasons. They've already done it twice in this stretch and have a real shot at a third. In 1980-81, they went back-to-back years with one world championship and one first-round elimination. And those are the only occasions they've repeated. So, again: These are the best of times. Take a deep breath. Relax. Enjoy.
* Looking ahead: Here's how the Phillies have done against their potential first-round opponents this season, with their record at Citizens Bank Park in parentheses: Reds 5-2 (4-0), Rockies 6-1 (4-0), Padres 5-2 (2-2) and Giants 3-3 (2-1).
* Take a break: Ryan Madson has appeared in 51 games this season, which isn't excessive. Except that he missed more than 2 months with a broken toe and has pitched in 42 of 69 games since coming back. To put it in perspective, that pace would result in almost 100 games pitched over the course of an entire season. So while most of the attention has been on getting Roy Halladay a little breather in the last week-and-a-half of the season, getting Madson some rest will be important, too.
* Add workhorse: Chad Durbin has been in 25 of the last 52 games. He's pitched in back-to-back games 17 times this year, and with just one day of rest 12 times.