Sunday, September 26, 2010
Part 1 of 7
With the Philadelphia Phillies standing on the precipice of a fourth consecutive postseason berth, the focus of the team and fan base is two-fold.
First, take care of business and nail down a fourth straight NL East crown.
Second, take a look towards the end of year championship tourney to see how the Phillies stack up and are positioned for success.
Should they do the expected and wind the magic number to zero, the Phillies appear better positioned for postseason success than anytime in their 127-year history.
This assessment traces to seven key advantages that at this point appear to make them the favorites to be the last team standing— each of which will be detailed leading into the playoffs.
Advantage 1: "The Big Three" Starting Pitchers
The most obvious and likely largest advantage is the Phillies top three starting pitchers. "The Big Three" or "H2O" as they have been billed present a formidable challenge for any opponent.
In 2008 on the way to a World Championship, the Phillies rode ace starter Cole Hamels through their postseason run. That season, the lanky left-hander registered NLCS and World Series MVP trophies as evidence of his dominance.
Last year, with Hamels seemingly suffering from a season-long championship hangover, a mid-season trade brought a new ace in the form of Cliff Lee. The former Cy Young winner quickly won the hearts and minds of fans and teammates alike with a spectacular three month stint.
Lee demonstrated pitching mastery as well as role model leadership qualities. Tremendous intensity, laser-like focus, and a fearless demeanor accompanied him to the mound every time he appeared on the lineup card.
Fast forward to 2010. A much debated tandem of trades sent Lee to Seattle while netting a new ace in Roy Halladay in the offseason.
Then, somewhat surprisingly, GM Ruben Amaro swung a huge deal prior to the mid-year trade deadline that brought Houston Astros stopper Roy Oswalt to Philadelphia. Despite a misleading 6-12 record at the time, scouts still believed the newest Roy still possessed dominating stuff.
Meanwhile, after a slow start that resembled 2009, Hamels found his fastball, command, and Mojo. He also added a cutter to his repertoire that started to pay dividends.
Although his sparse run support prevented his won-loss record from fully reflecting his mastery, Hamels has been one of baseball's best pitchers in the second half. Before today's mediocre effort, "Hollywood" enjoyed a 6-3 stretch with a 1.74 ERA over 98.1 innings.
Not surprisingly, the heat of the pennant chase motivated Oswalt to offer up his best work of the season. His pre-trade losing record now stands at 13-13 after going 7-1 with a 1.76 ERA in a Phillies uniform.
From day one, Halladay has pitched as advertised, racking up a 20-10 record with a 2.53 ERA. For good measure, Halladay threw in Major League Baseball's 20th perfect game.
Perhaps even more importantly, he has exhibited the same leadership qualities embodied by Lee that has a way of motivating an entire staff.
And, clearly, each of "The Big Three" invokes a subtle challenge to one another through their own work.
The five and seven-game formats of the postseason allow teams to go with a four or even three-man rotation. Obviously, this only serves to enhance the advantage of possessing three top tier starters.
Another benefit is that as good as each pitcher is individually, they are arguably better together. Rather than bearing the weight of "ace" status, the pressure is disbursed amongst the trio.
In the postseason, that could bring a psychological lift to both pitcher and teammates by eliminating the "must win" pressure. The three should be "locked, loaded, and relaxed" knowing another ace is waiting in the wings.
This season's National League contenders will surely bring some good pitching, whether it's the San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants, Atlanta Braves, Cincinnati Reds, or Colorado Rockies. Matt Latos, Jon Garland, Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Barry Zito, Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson, Derek Lowe, Johnny Cueto, Bronson Arroyo, Ubaldo Jiminez— all can be good to great.
That being said, no trio tops that of the 2010 Phillies. Exactly what Ruben Amaro had in mind.