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.

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