Sunday, August 15, 2010

Phillies Are Now Slump Proof

Throughout the stretch run of the 2010 season and again in at least both the 2011 and 2012 seasons, given reasonable health, the Philadelphia Phillies will remain a contending baseball team.

They will remain so because their trade deadline acquisition of right-handed starting pitcher Roy Oswalt has now made them virtually slump-proof.

Every team will go through slumps during the course of a 6-month long, 162-game season. The slumps will come because the team doesn't hit collectively on a consistent basis.

The slumps come because injuries hit. Sometimes, as with this year's Phillies team, those injuries occur to multiple key players at the same time.

They come at times because there is simply not enough pitching, and bad pitching gets beaten up by good professional hitters.

The one thing that can make a team 'slump-proof', or much more unlikely and infrequently than other teams to a slump or multiple slumps during a long season, is the presence of consistently strong starting pitching.

The Phillies now run three true ace starting pitchers at other teams: Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, and Roy Oswalt. The odds that all three will lose their respective turn through the rotation are long. The odds that will happen twice in a row are even longer.

Most teams want to have what is known as an 'ace', or a 'stopper'. A true 'ace' is a top-of-the-line starting pitcher, one of the perhaps twenty best starters in the entire game.
The nickname of 'stopper' comes from the fact that when a team does enter into a slump and loses 2-3-4 games in a row, the 'stopper' will usually take the hill. He tosses a gem, shuts the opposition down, and stops the losing skid before it gets too long.

Keeping slumps from getting lengthy increases the odds over time that your club will stay in contention. What the Phillies now have with their 'Big Three' are three aces, three stoppers. This not only decreases the odds of a slump, it also increases the odds of the Phillies win more often than not.

If the 'Big Three' win most of their starts, that means the Fightin' Phils are going to win at least three of every five games most turns through their rotation.

Winning three out of five means that you go 3-2. Do that over 150 games and your record is 90-60 with a dozen left to play. That is going to be enough to get you into the playoffs the vast majority of seasons.

The Phillies situation becomes even stronger when you consider that the fourth and fifth starters would be Joe Blanton and Kyle Kendrick. While not aces, these two pitchers certainly are going to win a few themselves.

Last night, Halladay took the hill in New York against the Mets. The Phillies by any measure have slumped in the Big Apple this season. They had not yet scored there this season, and had wasted a gem by Hamels the night before in a 1-0 loss.

They needed Halladay to be an ace, a stopper. Halladay shutout the Mets over eight strong innings, followed by a Ryan Madson tight-rope walk in the 9th for a 4-0 win.

Combined with a loss by Atlanta, the Phillies have now moved back within two games of the Braves in the National League East standings.

So far in the 2010 season Halladay has fashioned a 15-8 record with a 2.24 ERA, a 1.01 WHIP, and 175 strikeouts in 193 innings pitched.

Oswalt and Hamels records are not as good. However, Oswalt mostly with Houston and Hamels here in Philly have been two of the least-supported pitchers in the game. Oswalt has a 3.34 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP with 134 strikeouts in 148 innings. Hamels has a 3.33 ERA with a 1.23 WHIP, and 157 batters over 154 innings.

Of Halladay's 25 starts, 19 have been what are known as 'Quality' starts, meaning he has pitched at least six innings and allowed three or fewer earned runs. It is the ultimate sign of at least keeping your team competitive in the game.

Hamels figure is 14 of 24 starts, Oswalt is at 17 of 23 starts. Between the three of them, that means 50 of their 72 starts have been quality enough to give their team a better than average chance of winning. In many cases, those starts have actually been better than the minimum six innings and three earned runs allowed.

This is what Atlanta will be up against as they try to hold off the Phils for the rest of August and through September into early October. The Phils will keep the pressure on as they run out quality starters for most every game the rest of the way.

Atlanta has a good staff with Tim Hudson, Derek Lowe, Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson. But Jurrjens and Hanson don't have the pennant race pedigree of the Phils' three aces.

While the Phillies are about to get their two most important veteran bats back into their lineup in Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, the Braves have lost their lineup's biggest veteran leader in Chipper Jones for the rest of the season.

Barring injuries to any of the 'Big Three', and with reasonable results from Blanton and Kendrick, the Phillies are now slump-proof. With control of their contracts for at least the next couple seasons, the Phillies should remain contenders for the foreseeable future as well.

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