Phillies more than top pitching duo
Lee, Hamels lead staff, but all hurlers will be important
ATLANTA -- It is too simplistic to look at the Phillies and pin their postseason hopes on the left arms of Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels.
But because people love to talk about Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright in St. Louis, Josh Beckett and Jon Lester in Boston and Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain in San Francisco, they want to talk about Lee and Hamels in Philadelphia, and how they could help bring the Phillies their second consecutive World Series championship.
"I don't like to compare those kinds of things," Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "I think we're fortunate to have two very good left-handers. But it's not just about those two guys. It's more about the entire rotation and bullpen. For us to have success, it's going to take the entire pitching staff."
That means closer Brad Lidge needs to straighten out.
That means left-handers J.C. Romero and Scott Eyre need to get healthy.
That means Joe Blanton, Pedro Martinez and J.A. Happ need to stay healthy and continue to pitch well.
It has not been easy lately. Martinez left Saturday's game before the fourth inning with stiffness in the right side of his neck. Happ left Friday's game before the fourth as a precautionary measure after he missed his previous two starts with a strained right intercostal muscle.
But Phillies fans witnessed last October how much one starter can dominate a postseason. Hamels pitched Games 1 of the National League Division Series, NL Championship Series and World Series and won each game to give Philadelphia the early lead and momentum in each series. He also pitched the series-clinching games in the NLDS and NLCS.
He might have won Game 5 of the World Series, too, except for the rain that suspended the game two days.
But if Lee and Hamels can pitch like Hamels pitched last postseason, the Phillies will be tough to beat.
Still, Lee agrees with Amaro. There is more to the defending champs than just two arms.
"Our one to five [starters are] as good as anybody's," Lee said. "I don't think you necessarily have to have a 1-2 punch. I think we've got a 1-2-3-4-5 punch that's never ending."
Lee is 7-2 with a 2.67 ERA in nine starts with the Phillies, who acquired him July 29 in a six-player trade with the Indians. Hamels is 10-9 with a 4.07 ERA, although he is 3-1 with a 1.43 ERA in his past five starts.
"It seems like his demeanor and the way he's working, his command of his changeup, his command of his fastball, has improved," Amaro said of Hamels. "He's making better pitches more consistently. Since Lee has been in the American League, I hadn't seen him pitch as much as now, when we get to see him every fifth day. But the thing that is his trademark is that he gets the ball and throws strikes. He throws a lot of strikes, and I think that bodes well for our club, because we catch the ball pretty well."
But all the strikes in the world won't matter if Philadelphia can't hold a late-inning lead. Twenty-four pitchers have blown two or more saves in a single postseason. Eight of those pitchers -- who include Phillies right-hander Ryan Madson, who blew saves in Games 3 and 5 of the 2008 World Series -- played for teams that won a World Series.
Sixteen of those pitchers played for teams that fell short.
Lidge has blown a Major League-leading 10 saves this year. After the Phillies went 79-0 after leading in the eighth inning last season, they are 73-9 this season. If they won five of those nine games, they would have a 12-game lead in the NL East with 15 games to play.
But Philadelphia did not win five of those games. It lost them, which means the club has a little more work to do.
The Phils should be fine if their 1-2-3-4-5 punch keeps pitching well.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.