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.

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