Thursday, December 22, 2011

Rollins baited by Phillies

This is a Phillies column that I wrote for the Gettysburg Times, but since the website now has a paywall, I'm posting it here too. Enjoy!

The Phillies did not retain Jimmy Rollins for $33 million; they got him for 34.

The offseason Hot Stove requires strategy one might use in chess and Philadelphia moved a queen over to the bullpen to protect King Rollins. That queen’s name is Dontrelle Willis.

Not many teams took the bait on the 33-year-old Rollins when he tested the free agent waters due to the money and years he was expecting. Such a well-known but weathered veteran - with an on-base percentage that paled in comparison to his peers even at his peak - was only going to get that from the one team for which he played his entire professional career (think Derek Jeter).

However, I think it’s more than just coincidence that after the Phillies break weeks of relative silence on the acquisition front with Willis’ signing for $1 million, they announce the return of his Oakland, Calif. homeboy a few days later.

It makes sense to me why J-Roll might have needed that extra push. His team is now expected to win the World Series every year, but 2008 still stands alone. The start of each season probably isn’t as fun now that the sharp-tongued shortstop has everyone telling him his team is the one to beat, but seeing the familiar face of Willis should be a welcome change.

And Willis should be such for the Phillies as well. In the role of relief pitcher, the “D Train” might finally be allowed to leave the station.

While the former Rookie of the Year has an ERA of 5.65 since 2007, the one thing he still excels at is getting left-handed hitters out (holding them to a .127 batting average last year as a member of the Cincinnati Reds). He only turns 30 next month so he should have plenty of gas left in the tank.

I just hope moving to a contending team won’t be too overwhelming for the head case. He tends to unravel after a couple batters reach base.

Still, the Philadelphia bullpen is far from my most pressing concern for the upcoming season. I’m thrilled Rollins made the move that will likely keep him with the Phillies for the rest of his career. He’s a leader in the clubhouse and still an above-average defender, but a lineup with him, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard just isn’t intimidating to opposing pitchers anymore.

The occasional burst of the old production will be enough to compliment the dominant pitching staff during the regular season, but I don’t see it showing up against the elite arms it will face in the playoffs. The Phillies left that ability in 2009, and Hunter Pence (as much as I love the way he plays the game) is not enough to make up the difference.

Unfortunately, the limited options of reliable free agent, right-handed outfielders have already signed with other teams. The only one left with any clout is San Francisco’s Cody Ross. Fans remember well how he destroyed Philly pitching in the 2010 NLCS, but the Giants are even more starved for offense than the Phillies. Not to mention the nearly $7-8 million Ross will demand. Chances are, he’ll stay right where he is.

But next October is far away, and there’s a whole season to enjoy before then. I’m glad I get to enjoy the next four with Jimmy Rollins.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Ear-Lee Exit

For those hopelessly befuddled by the 2011 Phillies' failure to bring home a second world championship in four years, look no further than the man they brought in to do it.

And let's be honest, people. How often does the best team during the regular season actually win the World Series? The Phillies definitely weren't before they won it in 2008.

How can a team that wins 102 games lose in the first round of the playoffs? The 2001-02 A's know a little bit about that. It took the New York Yankees eight years to win it all again with the highest payroll, and the pitching juggernaut in Atlanta that won 14 straight division titles captured the ultimate trophy just once.

And be glad Ryan Howard's Achillies waited until the last out of the NLDS to give out on him. Sure he only had two hits in 19 at-bats, but he almost single-handedly won Game 1, and his 6 RBI in the Division Series were six more than he had in nine postseason games last year.

Sure, the offense could have been a little more consistent (just six total runs after the second inning of Game 2), but in my humble opinion, if you're going to point the finger at anyone, point it at Cliff Lee.

It's a fact that the Phillies would have won their fifth straight division title without Lee (they did it last year). Philadelphia brought the Anointed One back to shut down the opposition in the playoffs like he did for the team in 2009. Lee was the missing piece of the puzzle, ensuring the world title that everyone predicted would return to the City of Brotherly Love.

In Game 2, the Phillies did their part by handing Lee an early 4-0 lead. Such a lead should be plenty for the guy who went 4-0 in the postseason two years ago. A lot can happen in two years.

Lee didn't look anything like the guy he was in June and August. The streaky ace hit a dip at the absolute worst time, as the Cardinals pounded him for five runs on 12 hits in a come-from-behind win.

He pitches like the Phillies needed him to, and they're preparing to play the Brewers in the NLCS right now. That's the ugly nature of the five-game series. Lee himself said that loss was on him alone, and he was right.

In his last three postseason games - dating back to the 2010 Fall Classic - Lee is sporting an ERA of 7.13. He's an elite pitcher with a full arsenal of weapons to get guys out, but when he's not keeping the ball down or working the corners, those pitches are left in the middle of the plate for major league hitters to crush. Here's hoping his stuff is more effective next October.

I personally can't wait for it. The odds are always stacked against the best team in baseball, so I hope the Phillies beat them.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Don't be surprised

Here I come again with my negative anxiety, so let me just be clear that the Phillies, their monster starting rotation and a pocket full of Pence should take care of the Cardinals in the Division Series, in three or four games.

Now that the should is out of the way, I simply want this post to be a reality check for all those fans who saw their team cruise through a 102-win season, and expect to see that parade through Center City. It's now October and a sample size of 42 years (since MLB did away with a single division in each league) tells us that every team that reaches the postseason has an equal chance of winning it all.

For the Phillies, the opening round might present a bigger challenge than any possible matchups further in. The Cardinals are a scary bunch.

Their offense produced better than any in the National League and got the best of Philly pitching more than once. St. Louis' 6-3 advantage in the regular-season series is also a cause for concern.

But what scares me most of all? The Phillies absolutely cannot hit Chris Carpenter and Jaime Garcia, the projected starters for Games 2 and 3.

Since last season, the pair of hurlers have combined for 5-0 record and an unbelievable ERA of 0.88 in eight starts against the Phils. There wasn't a single poor or even mediocre outing in that stretch. I'm sorry to say that's the reason I was kind of hoping the Braves would win on Wednesday. We've proven on more than one occasion that we can beat Atlanta, in both blowouts and squeakers.

Cardinal manager Tony LaRussa must have also seen the numbers, explaining why he set up his rotation the way he did. However, it could work out in Philadelphia's favor.

Carpenter will pitch on Sunday on just three day's rest. I don't have any stats on his effectiveness in that situation because he's never done it before in his major league career. It's quite a gamble, but it's the smart move for the Cardinals. My guess is, an unflappable veteran like Carpenter will still throw his game.

If that's the case, the Phillies absolutely need to win Game 1 tonight. You know Doc will deliver his best, and though Kyle Lohse has enjoyed a solid year, he doesn't silence the Philly bats like Carpenter and Garcia. Losing to one of them won't be so bad if the Phillies are already up a game.

Then again, our guys could sweep, or they could get swept. That's the randomness of the playoffs. As always, I go in cautiously optimistic, and I can't wait for another awesome year of October baseball.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Holy Cow!

The final day of the 2011 regular season was shaping up to be an epic one, but I could not have scripted a better finish if I tried.

Here was the sequence of events:

The Orioles down to their last strike, Nolan Reimold clocks a Jonathan Papelbon heater into right center for a ground-rule RBI double to tie the game. Robert Andino follows with a line shot that falls just under the glove of a diving Carl Crawford, allowing Reimold to score the winning run.

After the celebration in Baltimore between first and second base, I switch over to the Yankees-Rays game in the bottom of the 12th inning. With the count even at 2-2, Evan Longoria shoots a laser that barely clears the left-field wall, punching Tampa Bay's ticket to the postseason.

Need we any greater examples of baseball's magnificence?

In both of the games mentioned above, the victor did not own a lead until the very last pitch, and each one was a strike away from defeat.

In the National League, the Phillies' 4-3, 13-inning win over the Braves knocked them out of the playoffs after the Cardinals' 8-0 win over the Astros earlier in the day.

Baseball is full of historic late-season collapses, but 2011 earned its distinction with a pair of breakdowns in the Wild Card race. Atlanta and Boston each entered the final month of the season with a lead of more than 8 games in the Wild Card standings, but by the 162nd game they fell into ties with St. Louis and Tampa Bay, respectively. Such an occurrence was crazy enough, and it seemed as if at least one of the two races would result in a 163rd contest.

The walk-off gods were having none of that.

In the end, the baseball universe righted itself. After all, a team that opens the season 2-10 isn't supposed to make the playoffs (only three teams ever have), and it's no surprise that Crawford, who was very un-Crawford-like during his first season in Beantown, failed to make the play that sealed the Red Sox' fate.

But hand it to the Cardinals and Rays for playing their butts off in September after wallowing in mediocrity for much of the year. These are the kind of late surges that lead to world championships.

Speaking of hot finishes, I need to give props to the O's, who I still consider my second favorite major league team. They closed out the season with 11 wins in their last 17 games, and turned Boston's mighty roar atop the AL East into a whimper in that final series. Say what you want about the 14 consecutive losing seasons, but there's no sweeter ending than a walk-off win over the Red Sox. Hero Andino put it best:

"End the season like this, [to] make Boston go home sad, crying, I'll take it all day."

Take it all winter, guys.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The numbers don't lie

In June and August, Cliff Lee has pitched better than anyone in baseball history.

What about the other three months of the year?

I admit I have seen no one else try to answer that question, because it's not a normal practice to search for flaws with the best team in baseball - particularly after Hunter Pence's arrival put the offense back on track.

However, I feel it's a very important question when it comes to the quest for a World Series title. No one would argue that the rotation of Lee, Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt/Vance Worley is easily the most intimidating of any playoff-bound team in the last dozen years, but if those guys aren't pitching up to their reputations, the road to the top gets murkier.

Here is why I'm concerned about Lee:

June 6-28, Aug. 4-Sept. 6 - 11-0 0.30 ERA, 1 HR

April, May & July - 5-7, 4.22 ERA, 14 HR (the Phillies went 8-9 in those 17 starts by Lee)

I present the above evidence for anyone saying that Lee is deserving of the Cy Young Award. He definitely deserved it in 2008 because he dominated throughout the entire season. I find it much harder to back someone who is only great 40 percent of the time.

While Halladay and Hamels have been consistently effective all season (the run differential between each of their best and worst months is less than two), Lee has been incredibly streaky. This isn't uncommon for him, but the problem is when he's not pitching his best, he's barely an average pitcher, and the rust takes a while to shake off. Don't get me wrong, Lee has carried his weight overall this season, but if he takes another dip in the playoffs and another starter has a bad outing, things could go wrong very quickly.

We all remember how stellar Lee was in the 2009 postseason, when he almost single-handedly pitched us into the World Series. He finished 4-0 in five playoff starts with a 1.56 ERA. He picked up the only two wins in the series against the New York Yankees.

Lee began the 2010 postseason much the same way with the Texas Rangers. He won his first three starts, allowing just two runs and striking out 34 in 24 innings. The wheels came off in the World Series, however. He lost Games 1 & 5 and coughed up 10 runs to a San Francisco Giants team that had averaged just three runs per game over the first two rounds of the playoffs.

That begs the question, which Lee are we going to get in October this season? With a 10.5-game lead over the Atlanta Braves, we can afford a bad Lee over the next few weeks. That way, he can recover in time to pitch like he did two years ago.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Shades of the past

"You want to be in a town where it's exciting and people are paying attention."

~Hunter Pence after being traded to Philadelphia

Anyone paying attention to the Phillies in their three-game sweep over the Pirates this weekend received wonderful reminders of 2009, even though Hunter Pence's arrival was a big call to the future.

In each game, a different member of the formally dangerous offense sparked the victory - Chase Utley on Friday, Ryan Howard on Saturday and Raul Ibanez in Sunday's thrilling 6-5, extra inning triumph.

Though his .247 batting average suggests otherwise, Ibanez has been a presence in the lineup. His two bombs on Sunday gave him 16 on the year, already matching last year's total with two months left to play, and his game-ending, RBI double gives him three of the Phillies' six walk-off hits this year. Take out the two weeks in late April when he failed to get a single hit, and Ibanez' average is .275. Sure, that's not eye-popping, but his production is a welcome surprise given his age of 39.

Ibanez also drove in 25 runs in July, which led the majors. In fact, the hottest month of the year was a good one for the Philly bats in general. They hit .272 and averaged 5.5 runs per game, while their 138 runs, 402 total bases and .789 team OPS (coming into Sunday) all led the National League.

Charlie Manuel is notorious for his placating remarks about how good the Phillies lineup will get "when the weather warms up," and they're proving him right. On the eve of a 10-game road trip, the hot-hitting Phillies go in with extra confidence. Pence now mans right field and the No. 5 hole, and Placido Polanco just returned. Don't be surprised if the flashbacks to the recent past continue.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Winning the hunt

Man, this is going to suck three years down the road.

But who has the luxury of thinking about the future? The Phillies certainly won't have to deal with paying for any luxury, that's for sure, but with no World Series trophy at the end of this season, they'll pay with the thunderous boos emanating from Citizens Bank Park.

Enter: Hunter Pence.

The Phillies gave away their final bargaining chips in the farm system - Jarred Cosart, Jonathan Singleton, Josh Zeid and a player to be named later - going all in for what could be their last shot for ultimate glory. The recipient for the second straight July was their old friend, Ed Wade, who sent that key righty bat from the Houston Astros packing.

To be sure, Pence is no Jayson Werth. He's not going to put together any 20-20 seasons or walk once or twice every game. His career OPS of .818 is also a bit underwhelming.

It also would not have been that great of a risk for the Phillies to make no moves before the Trade Deadline and try to win it all with what they had. To this point, their group of players gave them the best record in baseball, and with Chase Utley back and healthy, the offense was showing shades of its former robust self (evidence once again in Friday's 10-3 win over the Pirates).

However, this move means that Shane Victorino will no longer be burdened with occupying the No. 5 hole - a place no one should have expected his presence at any future time when he first came to Philadelphia. A guy with a little pop in his bat (Pence has hit 25 homers in each of the last three seasons) will provide adequate protection for Ryan Howard, and Victorino will no longer have to be the only member of the .300 club.

The big right field issue has also been solved by this trade, as the Phillies are getting an upgrade at the plate and in the field. The Ben Francisco Experiment was DOA, and now the team doesn't need to wait for Domonic Brown's bat to come around. He can return to the bench or build his confidence back up in Triple A. He'll get his chance again next year when Raul Ibanez leaves. I'm relieved the Phillies didn't deal Brown to make this trade work. While some may view the present one as shortsighted, shipping off Brown would have made no sense.

Pence is one of the more amiable fellows playing the game, which will make him popular in Philadelphia. He'll stay long enough to make a good impression, too, because he's not eligible for free agency until after the 2013 season.

It remains to be seen if Pence's bat and glove make the difference in October, but it'll be nice to see a new face in that lineup, and Pence's presence only adds assurance to a fifth straight NL East title. Plus, the guy's name is Hunter. How can you go wrong?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

They can't lose!

This past weekend my friend, Bill, and I were enjoying a wonderfully scorching day in the upper deck of Citizens Bank Park. Halfway through the Phillies' 5-3 win over the Padres, a thunderstorm that I had been tracking on my phone narrowly missed Philadelphia. We saw the dark clouds just east of us, and Bill said it looked like it was about to rain. I mentioned to him that the storm was going to hit New Jersey instead. His instinctive response to that was, "Yeah, Jersey needs a bath." Oh, we inhabitants of the states surrounding the aforementioned location never miss an opportunity to make fun of it - a practice passed down through the generations. This may seem like a mean thing to post, but I have just one Facebook friend from New Jersey, and she's not into baseball. Just in case, a thousand apologies, Jen. ;-)

Say Chase, how is your right leg feeling? Apparently, awesome.

Most guys are lucky to get one inside-the-park home run in their careers. With Utley's race around the sacks in Tuesday's 7-2 win over the Giants, he now has three. The victory was quite a statement to make against the team that denied the Phillies their third consecutive trip to the World Series last year.

And give it up again for that four-eyed, baby-faced, Mohawked rookie. The kid threw his first major league complete game, holding the Giants to just three hits. He's quickly moving himself into Rookie of Year discussions. Since he rejoined the Philly rotation last month, he's 5-0 with a 1.14 ERA. Whatever weaknesses his stuff may have, opposing hitters haven't been able to exploit them yet. Let's hope that lasts the rest of the season.

That's my two cents about the latest in a long row of triumphs. I'd like to try something new and share a link to a Phillies-based column I wrote for the Gettysburg Times:

The column was written in jest about my recent change in luck when attending Phillies games. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Doc's Red Fever

Anyone doubting Roy Halladay's allegiance to his team needn't worry on Monday night. Doc wore the bright, Philly red all over his face.

It doesn't matter how much baseball you watch, you always see something new, and I can't recall a time that a pitcher had to leave the game due to heat exhaustion. Major League Baseball players are used to the elements of every blazing hot summer, but for whatever the reason, Halladay's body bowed down to the boiling, mid-July atmosphere at Wrigley Field. It showed in his delivery, his performance and the fiery complexion which awkwardly contorted with every wince of strain on Halladay's face.

After a successful showing in the All-Star Game, this was not how the second half was supposed to begin. A 6-1 loss to the aimless Chicago Cubs with the best pitcher in baseball on the mound?

It occurs to me that Halladay's struggles pointed to a troubling reality. Perhaps he simply felt the heat of the quickly-advancing Atlanta Braves.

Atlanta has been the hottest team in the NL over the past month, and Philadelphia's comfortable cushion in the East has shrunk to just 2.5 games. Right now, there's just that sense (call it that same old Phillies fan pessimism if you wish) that the Braves are going to be in first place sometime in the near future.

I'm not saying the Phillies won't wrap up yet another division title, but given the way both teams are presently playing, I don't see them maintaining their lead. Consider that last year, Atlanta was in first place for more than half the season, and it has an even stronger team this year.

Both squads have similar make-ups, with strong pitching and sketchy hitting, but the Braves have a better bullpen and they aren't as likely to endure long stretches when their offense is literally incapable of scoring runs.

The Phillies knew this wasn't going to be a walk in the park, and their biggest test may come sooner than they thought. The rest of the team needs to heed Halladay's warning and put that fire out as soon as possible.

Friday, July 15, 2011

It's a wonderful Worley world

All the focus has been on John Mayberry, Jr. driving in nine runs over his past two games, but was anyone happy to see the whole Philly offense sticking it to R.A. Dickey?

Coming into Friday's game, Dickey had a career ERA of 2.25 against the Phillies, his best ERA against any NL team with at least 20 innings pitched. He and his fancy knuckleball shut out Philly twice last year.

It was good to see the Phillies get to him early and go on to beat the Mets convincingly. The Braves are going to keep the pressure on through the entire second half, so every win is huge. Winning this series over New York would also be an important statement to make, as the coaching staff is saving Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee for the Cubs.

And how about that Vance Worley? (I suddenly realized I just uttered a phrase abused far too much by Phillies broadcaster Tom McCarthy, so I vow never to use it again)

I'm still not sure if Worley's stuff really is that exceptional, or if he simply hasn't yet caught up to the law of averages (Randy Wolf's 1999 season, anyone?). The four walks he allowed in 5 1/3 innings on Friday tell me it's the latter, but reliever Chris Perez came in and shut the door, and Ryan Madson - fresh off the DL - aided the bullpen train that followed in a non-closing role to help tie down another win for Worley. He's now 5-1 this season with an ERA of 2.15.

Worley's high susceptibility to the free pass (3.98 walks per 9 innings) will eventually get him into trouble, but he's done exactly the job the Phillies needed him to do in the absence of Roy Oswalt.

Now if Shane Victorino and Placido Polanco can recover quickly from their ailments, the offense should do its part over the next two-and-a-half months. We can't rely on Mayberry every night.

note: Since 2005, the Phillies have posted a winning percentage of .589 or better in the second half. Last year, they went 50-25 (.667) after the All-Star Break.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Now I've Seen Everything

note: Not only have Netflix' raised rates not inspired me to rebel, but in the best tradition of my mindlessly-follow-the-masses mentality, as well as my shameless loyalty as a Capitalist consumer, I have increased my Netflix viewing. All is not corrupted, however, as my main object of entertainment has been Ken Burns Baseball. You're welcome, Netflix...

My initial overwhelming joy to see the National League pull off back-to-back All-Star victories has been muted somewhat with the realization that a Washington Nationals reliever got the win in each case. It's more that those relievers were the lucky benefactors of an NL offensive surge in an adjacent frame. Still, when the Senior Circuit makes it three in a row next year, I hope the winning pitcher is from a more deserving team.

Well, Phillies, you now have your homefield advantage in the World Series. All you have to do is fend off the Braves in the second half and remember how to hit in the postseason, and another title is as good as yours.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Fight Like a Brave

Note: This story is obviously old given the Phillies' awesome walk-off, 3-2 victory over the Braves on Friday night, but it didn't go up on Sports Haze and I'd like to give it some light. The whole Sports Haze experiment, 11 months in the making, has come to an end as I've decided to cut ties with the website. My posts on this blog will start up once again, though probably not nearly as often as last summer. I feel my best work about the Phillies was on here, so when I do post, I hope I live up to those standards. Enjoy!

Just think of this as a warm-up to a title fight.

Back when boxing was mainstream, two top-ranked mashers with similar strength and talent would meet multiple times to decide ultimate dominance, and fans across the country would debate about who was the true champ.

The Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves have proven themselves as the elite teams in the National League this season, and their three-game series to close out the first half will give a glimpse as to which team is the best. It’s far from the last meeting between the two clubs, who could clash again in the postseason.

On paper, this series favors the Braves because they’re the hotter team and they’ve won four of their last six games against the Phillies. Atlanta is 14-3 since June 19, shrinking Philly’s lead in the division from 6 games to 2.5. With a sweep, the Braves could be in first place for the first time since Opening Day, and that momentum could keep them there.

Pitching has been the hallmark of both of these squads all season. The ace trios of Roy Halladay/Cliff Lee/Cole Hamels and Tim Hudson/Jair Jurrjens/Tommy Hanson each boast a record of 30-13, while the ERAs only slightly favor the Phillies (2.59 to 2.67).

The offense for both teams is about the same, as each has gone through its fair share of struggles this season.

What the Phillies need to worry about are the stellar relief arms of the Braves. Atlanta’s bullpen ERA of 2.64 is by far the best in baseball, and if the Braves get a one- or two-run lead late, their win probability shoots through the roof.

The Phillies aren’t taking any chances, throwing their big guns in each of the three games. They have the edge in Game 1 tonight, with Halladay going up against the young Brandon Beachy, who has yet to beat Philly in four starts. In fact, all three of his career losses have come against the Phightins’.

The Phillies need to win at least two out of three to maintain their cushion going into the break. This is the first of many challenges to prove that they’re still the best in the land.

Let's get ready to rumble.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Lee makes it three

There’s been a lot of World Series talk over the last few days, and Cliff Lee’s presence on the Phillies has been a big reason for those conversations.

Lee entered Tuesday’s series opener against the Boston Red Sox riding back-to-back shutouts and a 23-inning scoreless streak. He proved just how in the zone he is right now, as the most dangerous offense in baseball couldn’t break through.

Lee didn’t allow a hit through the first five innings, and he threw his third consecutive shutout – something a Phillies pitcher hasn’t done in 61 years. He also continued his impressive showing at the plate, driving in one of Philadelphia’s runs in its 5-0 victory.

It’s hard to imagine any pitcher enjoying a better month. Lee went 5-0 in June, allowing just one run in 42 innings. Like Charlie Manuel always boasts about the Phillies’ offense, Lee seems to be catching fire with the warmer weather. July is an ever hotter month, so Lee could carry on this brilliant run for a while.

If the left-hander records another four outs without allowing a run in his next start, he’ll move into second place on the Phillies’ all-time scoreless innings list behind Grover Cleveland Alexander, who set the bar quite high at 41 2/3 innings 100 years ago.

It’s incredible to think of just how remarkable this run for Lee is. All it takes is a single with a runner at second or a solo home run to break the streak, and he hasn’t allowed hitters to get that far. The best pitchers in the game will often allow a solo shot in an otherwise stellar outing, but over Lee’s last three outings, not a single batter has made solid enough contact.

At this point, it’s perfectly fine if the scoreless streak ends during his next start, which he’ll likely make on Sunday against the Blue Jays. It’s possible Jose Bautista could yank a mistake into the seats (hopefully with no one on base) like he has all season long. It still would not take away from what Lee has done over the past month. He’s a big part of the Phillies’ winning machine that continues to run smoothly, despite a shaky offense and depleted bullpen.

For the second time this season, Roy Halladay and Lee have tossed back-to-back complete games, and they (as well as an off-day) could not have come at a better time. Ryan Madson was just placed on the DL, the third Phillies closer to be shut down this year. The aces in the starting rotation keep on showing why such a hit won’t affect Philadelphia as much as other teams.

And with the Phillies reaching 50 wins before anyone else and before the halfway point of the season, the starters may even help them get to 100 – the World Series included in that figure, of course.