Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Three Aces Are Keys to Phils Series Success


Pedro Martinez. Cliff Lee. Cole Hamels. One righthander and a pair of lefties. Three different levels of experience. All have filled the role of a true 'Ace' for their respective baseball organizations in the past.

And now together, these three aces represent the absolute keys to the Phillies repeating as World Series champions.

There is much being said and written about the two team's offenses in this matchup. The top offense in the National League featuring Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Jayson Werth, Shane Victorino, and Raul Ibanez. The top offense in the American League featuring Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Jorge Posada, and Hideki Matsui.

There is talk about the importance of the bullpens, especially the Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, possibly the best at his craft in baseball history and the Phillies closer Brad Lidge, last year's hero turned this year's goat, but now apparently born again hard. And pitchers such as Phil Hughes and Ryan Madson will certainly play a big role in at least a couple of games.

It says here that no matter who the Yankees run out to their mound, from starters C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Andy Pettitte to Rivera, this Phillies offense will find a way to get to them. The Phils will score enough runs to win four games in this series. The key will be keeping the Yanks' offense from outscoring them. That will fall largely on the shoulders of Martinez, Lee, and Hamels.


When the Fightin' Phils charge out on to the field in the bottom of the first inning at new Yankee Stadium for tomorrow night's Game One of the 2009 World Series against the New York Yankees, it will be Lee who will be taking the hill. As far as age and experience go, Lee is the middle man of the three. But in reality he fills that 'Ace' roll on this current team, and his start will set the tone.

Cliff Lee is 31 years old, and this year he pitched in his 6th full season with the Cleveland Indians, his 8th overall in the big leagues, before coming to the Phillies in a trade deadline deal for a package of prospects. He was not the pitcher that Phillies fans wanted. That object of affection was Toronto's Roy Halladay. But Lee was the pitcher that the Phillies team needed.

Starting for the first time on July 31st, Lee twirled a complete game 4-hitter to beat the San Francisco Giants and their ace Tim Lincecum. It was a statement game for a Phillies team that appeared only to be lacking a true ace to go up against the opposition's top starter. Lee would not only go 7-4 for the club after being acquired, but would star in the NL playoffs, helping the club to the World Series for the 2nd straight season.

Pedro Martinez is one of the greatest pitchers of his era and a likely Hall of Famer. Martinez starred mostly for the Boston Red Sox earlier this decade, helping that club win two World Series titles. Now apparently in the twilight of that great career, Martinez was signed by the Phils when no one else wanted to take a shot on the now 38-year old. All he did was go 5-1 for the Phils after making his debut on August 12th, then spin a tremendous game in a losing cause in the NLSC vs. the Dodgers.

Manager Charlie Manuel has not yet announced what his starting rotation will be in the series beyond Lee's first game start. But if it were me, and Charlie and I have been seeing eye to eye on most things this season, it would be Pedro taking the hill for Game Two. The combination of his career experience and the excellence with which he has been pitching make him my logical choice. And there is no way that the crowd and atmosphere in New York will intimidate him.

Cole Hamels has been as much of an enigma as the older veterans have been a revelation. The 25-year old seemed to blossom into a superstar a year ago, winning both the NLCS MVP and World Series MVP Awards while leading the Phils to their first title in 28 years. But he never seemed to get untracked as this season began, first due to a combination of injuries and bad weather, and later possibly to fatigue. In the playoffs, the tall lefty became a dad for the first time, and has continued his inconsistency on the mound.

Slotting Hamels in to the #3 slot behind Lee and Martinez allows him to take the mound in front of the more friendly crowd at Citizens Bank Park. In my opinion the young once and future Phillies ace is more likely to experience success in that atmosphere in his first start of this year's World Series. He is familiar with the surroundings, and the home crowd is likely to be strongly supportive to Hamels. If he gets it going his track record is that he will feed off their energy.

A key question then becomes whether the Phils should utilize a 4th starter, or opt for a giving three starts to Lee and two apiece to Martinez and Hamels. Personally, I have never been a fan of starting pitchers on short rest. I have seen it fail far more frequently these days than succeed. The Phillies have two good options in Joe Blanton and J.A. Happ to take the ball in a 4th game, depending on their usage out of the bullpen earlier in the series.

I would go with Lee, Martinez, and Hamels in that order, then would likely come back with Blanton in the 4th game, allowing Happ to continue providing a strong lefty relief option for the enirety of the series. I would then like to see the Phils come back with Lee in Game 5, and Martinez in a big Game 6 back at Yankee Stadium. That would leave a deciding Game 7 assignment for Hamels. I see the kid focusing and stepping up in the ultimate game, if necessary.

Together this trio represents the Philadelphia Phillies best chance to repeat as world champions. If the club receives 3-4 strong starts from these three, then it says here that they will beat the Yankees and win the World Series once again. If these three struggle, the Phils will be forced to try to out-slug New York in order to repeat. They have that capability, but strong starting efforts from Cliff, Cole, and Pedro is far more likely to be a recipe for success.

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