Thursday, September 15, 2011

On Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Pitching Greatness

Yesterday, the Phillies clinched a franchise-record fifth straight trip to the playoffs, something that five years ago would have been inconceivable given the fact that the team had only made the postseason once in my entire life prior to 2007. They accomplished this feat behind a 1-0 complete-game shutout victory by Roy Halladay, one of the many dominant pitching performances from this team this year.

To be perfectly honest, the notion of the Phillies clinching yet another playoff berth wasn't all that exciting. I guess that's what happens when expectations grow and your team is atop the standings from essentially day one on. But what has been remarkable this year — and was on full display yesterday afternoon — is the sheer dominance of this pitching staff, and it's something no Phillies fan in his or her right mind takes for granted, especially those from my generation.

I was born in 1984, too young to recall the greatness of Steve Carlton or the incredible Cy Young seasons of John Denny in 1983 and Steve Bedrosian in 1987. In fact, the only truly excellent pitcher I really had the pleasure of watching take the mound for the Phillies was Curt Schilling in his workhorse days in Philadelphia.

Sure, there were the occasional good seasons from starting pitchers like Terry Mulholland, Danny Jackson, Paul Byrd, Vicente Padilla and Randy Wolf. And youngsters like Tyler Green, Mike Grace and Brett Myers gave us hope. But none of them panned out to perennial all-stars or Cy Young candidates, though we all know how vital Myers was to this current string of success. In reality, prior to this new winning era of Phillies baseball, good pitching was an anomaly, not the norm. It was hard to watch, to be honest, especially as the Braves were winning pennant after pennant behind three of the best pitchers this game has ever seen — Greg Maddux, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine.

So to see the arsenal of starting pitchers this team has assembled and watch how incredibly dominant these guys have been this year is a complete and utter joy. For two decades, the Phillies were among the worst pitching staffs in baseball. In 2011, behind the quintet of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Roy Oswalt and Vance Worley, the Phillies lead all of baseball in ERA (3.03), starters innings pitched, WHIP (1.17), complete games (18) and shutouts (21). They also have surrendered the fewest runs in baseball, walked the fewest batters, thrown the fewest wild pitches and have the best numbers against opponents in on-base percentage and slugging. Only the Giants' pitching staff has surrendered fewer home runs, and only the Giants and Rays have yielded fewer hits. Oh yeah, they're also fourth in baseball in strikeouts and fourth in opponents' batting average.

Basically, these guys are perhaps even more dominant than people expected. I mean, they have three pitchers who were all-stars and have been or are in the Cy Young conversation, a rookie who has pitched as well as any rookie in baseball since being inserted into the rotation, not to mention Roy Oswalt, who has battled injuries but is now back as the postseason approaches.

All Roy Halladay has done this year in following up his NL Cy Young in his inaugural season on the senior circuit is go 18-5 with a 2.34 ERA and 1.04 WHIP, while leading the National League in complete games with 8, trailing only James Shields' 11 in the majors. He also has 211 strikeouts to just 30 walks in 219.2 innings. Most years, he'd be squarely in the Cy Young discussions, but right now, he may not even be the front-runner on his own team.

That's because Cliff Lee leads everyone with six shutouts this season and had two of greatest pitching months in MLB history, going 5-0 in June with a 0.21 ERA and 5-0 in August with a 0.45 ERA en route to being named NL Pitcher of the Month each time. Overall, Cliff is 16-7 with a 2.44 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 211 strikeouts and just 42 walks in 210.2 innings. That's just not fair.

Lost in the shuffle is Cole Hamels, who prior to the all-star break was arguably having a better season than either Halladay or Lee. To date, Hamels is 14-8 with a 2.71 ERA, a ridiculous NL-leading 0.98 WHIP (tied with LA's Clayton Kershaw), to go along with 177 strikeouts to just 41 walks in 199 innings. Then there is rookie surprise Vance Worley, who filled in for the injured Joe Blanton and overtook Kyle Kendrick while going 11-2 with a 2.92 ERA. And that doesn't even include Roy Oswalt, who has been up and down this season, and his credentials.

To a lifelong Phillies fan, it has truly been something to behold. Honestly, it has been one of the biggest privileges of my life, watching these guys go out there and master their craft.

Every day, we get treated to the brilliance and work ethic of Roy Halladay, the effortless, nonchalant dominance of Cliff Lee, the once-young prospect Cole Hamels maturing into an ace before our very eyes, the fire and professionalism of Roy Oswalt, and the surprising rise of Vance Worley.

As the Phillies wind down the regular season with yet another hopeful October looming, we should all recognize just how special it is to watch these guys day in and day out. It's something we've never seen before, and perhaps something we'll never see again.

1 comment:

  1. The Phillies should be able to roll in the playoffs because as San Francisco proved last year, your are as strong as your pitching staff is in october. And Philly's offense looks like the 1928 Yankees offense compared to the Giants putrid offense.