The 2011 year was full of ups and downs for Philadelphia sports’ fans. On one hand, the Philadelphia Phillies set a franchise record with 102 wins and on the other, the team was eliminated from the playoffs in the divisional round. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Eagles signed multiple big-name free agents, but couldn’t put it all together on the field. The Philadelphia 76ers found new life with head coach Doug Collins and challenged the Miami Heat before being eliminated in the playoffs. Finally, the Philadelphia Flyers had an impressive regular season, but were eliminated from the playoffs in the second round and reconstructed the whole team in the off-season. In 2011, Philadelphia sports fans have continued to cheer for familiar faces while welcoming new ones to the city. Among the many athletes that have played in Philadelphia over the past year, there are a few that stood out to me, so with the calendar year drawing to a close, let’s take a look at the top performers of 2011:
1. Roy Halladay – I know it may be a common answer, but it is hard to argue with Roy Halladay’s consistency in 2011. Roy Halladay fell just short of a 20-win season, posting a record of 19-6. He was among the league leaders in several categories including ERA (2.35) and strikeouts (220), and was a finalist for the Cy Young. While Cliff Lee was more impressive during certain stretches of the 2011 season, Roy Halladay delivered in almost every start including the playoffs. Even in Game 5 of the NLDS, Roy Halladay pitched outstanding and was outperformed by a phenomenal Chris Carpenter. Furthermore, all the pressure was on Roy Halladay as he had to pitch at the top of the rotation and often went head to head with the opponent’s top pitcher. The ability of Roy Halladay to deliver on a nightly basis largely contributed to the record-setting win total for the Phillies and the team’s fifth consecutive National League East Title.
2. LeSean McCoy – The third-year running back out of the University of Pittsburgh has been the best player for the Eagles in what has been a very disappointing season. Without including the stats he may accumulate in the last game of the season (which is January 1st of 2012), LeSean McCoy has been a top-five running back in NFL. Playing for a coach that neglects to incorporate any type of running game in the offense, McCoy has still rushed for 1,309 yards, which is second in the league behind only Maurice-Jones Drew, who has 45 more carries than McCoy. His side-to-side movement and ability to cut back without losing speed makes it very difficult for defenders to bring him down. McCoy broke the Eagles’ 66-year-old franchise record for rushing touchdowns and total touchdowns in a season that was held by Hall of Famer Steve Van Buren. To this point, McCoy has rushed for 17 touchdowns and scored a total of 20 and he could add to the record this weekend. Although many people can be blamed for the inability of the Eagles to make the playoffs, I would have a hard time placing any blame on LeSean McCoy.
3. Cliff Lee – After a somewhat shaky start to the season, Cliff Lee was able to compile 17 wins to go along with only 8 losses. By the end of the season, he had an ERA of 2.40 and was third in Major League Baseball in strikeouts with 238. During the month of June, Lee went 5-0 while allowing only one run in 42 innings and went on to set the Phillies’ record for consecutive shutout innings with 34. Near the end of the season, Lee went on a similar stretch, pitching just over 30 shutout innings, making him the first pitcher with two scoreless innings streaks of over 29.2+ innings since Don Sutton in 1972. Lee also became the first National League left-handed pitcher since Steve Carlton to throw at least 6 shutouts and over 200 strikeouts in a season. The only problem was that Lee was not at his best in the postseason and a rough outing in Game 2 of the NLDS contributed to an early exit in the playoffs for the Philadelphia Phillies.
4. Claude Giroux – Since the second half of last season, the young Flyers’ center has emerged as a top forward in the league and is developing into the star that many had hoped he would become. As teams across the NHL approach the mid-way point of the season, Giroux is the league leader in points with 45 (17 goals and 28 assists) and has been talked about as a possible Hart Trophy winner. The ability of Giroux to handle the puck and see the ice allows him to create scoring opportunities for his teammates and score highlight-reel goals of his own. The only thing that has slowed Giroux down in 2011 was a concussion that cost him four games. However, on the night of his return, it appeared that Giroux had not lost a step as he contributed four points in a Flyers’ win over the Dallas Stars. If Giroux can avoid further injury (and Flyers fan certainly hope he can), he will continue to be a dangerous two-way player in the NHL.
5. Jrue Holiday – I decided I had to include a member of the Philadelphia 76ers. The Sixers’ point guard is at the head of a young, upcoming team that is looking to improve from its first-round playoff elimination at the end of last season. In the second half of last season, Jrue Holiday showed signs of a bright future with his play at the point guard position. Most importantly, Holiday utilized his vision and quickness to distribute the ball to his teammates. In the last two months of the season, Holiday averaged over 6 assists per game and was still able to average double digit scoring. Had he be able to play the first part of the NBA season this year, I think we would have seen an even more prepared Jrue Holiday. Though his still needs to take strides at the next level, Holiday remains one of the best players for the Sixers and will be at the heart of any success the team has this season.