Aces High

So here we are again. How did the Phillies find themselves with such an overabundance of pitching and still remain so far from a solution to their troubles?

On August 9th the Phillies & Jamie Moyer suffered a 12-3 loss to the Florida Marlins. In five innings Moyer allowed 11 hits, 3 runs (2 earned), hit one batter, walked one and recorded one strikeout. Rodrigo Lopez and Brad Lidge combined to do the rest of the damage by allowing 6 and 3 runs, respectively. It may not have been so bad if those three runs scored on fewer hits or if Moyer hadn’t thrown 97 pitches in those five innings. After all, Cole Hamels had a 97-pitch complete game on June 4th and J.A. Happ threw a 100-pitch complete game on June 27th. Cliff Lee has thrown two complete games since joining the defending world champions with 106 pitches in each start. It might not have been the straw that broke the camel’s back had it not been the Phillies’ third loss in 4 games with Moyer on the mound. If Moyer had not already had the third highest ERA in all of baseball going into the game the club may not have moved him to the bullpen the day following the loss.

How did Moyer respond to the move? It was reported that he felt “disheartened” and “misled” and had been assured that he would not be bumped from the starting rotation when he was negotiating his 2-year $13 million contract in December. Jamie had said “I feel like I’ve played this game long enough that the respect factor should be there;” but the Philadelphia Phillies organization is about winning ballgames, not sparing feelings. “Right now circumstances have changed and that’s why we’re moving him to the bullpen,” responded Amaro just days after he made public that J.A. Happ’s starting role was secure.

So Moyer took to the pen. Moyer took the pen in grand fashion, even. On August 18th Pedro Martinez was on his way to a start the Phillies knew he was capable of when they added him to the roster. However, the skies opened upon Citizens Bank Park and after a 66-minute rain delay forcing Pedro to sit the rest of the game allowing Moyer to show Philadelphia what kind of stuff he can bring to the table in long relief.

moyer11.jpgAnd boy did he show off. Moyer pitched six innings, allowed just two hits, struck out five, and did not allow a single run as he took over the game with confidence and finesse. This is the Moyer the Phillies had in mind when they signed him to that two-year contract. This is the Moyer that used to be part of a five-man rotation that was also home to the 2008 NLCS & World Series MVP award winner Cole Hamels.

Wait a second… What about Cole Hamels?

Cole Hamels has struggled to remain consistent in 2009. You can see it in his win-loss record. In 2008 Cole went 14-10 with a major league career low 3.09 ERA. He went 4-0 in the post season and was the obvious nominee for MVP. Cole was the Phillies’ ace and no one expected anything less of him in 2009. So far this season Hamels has proven to be very hot and cold – there has been no luke warm.

Let’s look at the numbers:

Cole Hamels’ record is 7-8 with a major league career high 4.78 ERA which is also fifth worst in the National League. The Phillies are 12-12 in games that he has started – they literally have a 50/50 chance of winning a game with their so-called ace on the mound. When you break it down even further you can really see his inconsistency come to light.

In April Hamels went 0-2 but immediately turned it around and won all three of his decisions in May. Things dipped south again in June when he went 1-2 but flip flopped in July going 3-1. To round things out Cole is 0-3 in August. Baseball is a streaky game, and the Phillies have historically been a streaky team, but the way the math works out ends in Cole having a brilliant September and a rocky October which is something I like to imagine would essentially bench even an MVP when the team may have another World Series title on the line.

Let’s discuss October for a bit, shall we? Cliff Lee will undoubtedly be the number one starter in the playoffs. So far with the Phillies he is 4-0 with an astonishing 0.82 ERA (and a team-leading .385 batting average – who knew?!). Behind him we can assume Blanton will make an appearance as he has been just as effective for the Phillies, only he is not usually backed up by enough offense to secure him the W. Regardless he is the reigning AL Cy Young award winner and a seasoned veteran and will surely continue to prove himself to be an asset to the team as they look to defend their title.

After Blanton, however, the future becomes a little blurry. Pedro Martinez has said himself that he expects to be picking up the pace when the rest of the rotation starts to get tired towards the end of the year. With only eight innings under his belt so far he has shown everyone he still has the stuff that made him a great pitcher in the past but it will be up to him to make sure he continues to build his resume so that he can dominate in the fall. J.A. Happ has been remarkable as a starter and is a favorite for the well deserved NL Rookie of the Year award. But does he have what it takes to be just as stellar in a post-season game? More importantly do the Phillies feel comfortable taking a risk in finding out?

hamels_ace.jpgBut where do Hamels & Moyer fit in? The Phillies have been 13-10 when Moyer has started but those wins have not come easy. As we’ve already seen the Phightin’s have a 50% chance of winning with Hamels on the mound. Is it too far of a stretch to think that maybe, just maybe, we will see Moyer & Hamels switch roles in the not so distant future? Is it fair to even consider such things? We saw the Phillies organization put feelings aside when they issued Moyer his billet. Should a team as powerful & dominant as Philadelphia even be expected to have to decide between starting a Rookie of the Year candidate & and World Series MVP candidate? Shouldn’t they reasonably be able to use both of them with the utmost confidence? Only time will tell.


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