It confounds the mind and throws caution to reason, logic and general baseball horse sense… but the question must be asked: Who will be the Phillies fourth postseason starter?
Their magic number of 6 to win the NL East and one to clinch a playoff spot means we can agree the Phillies are headed to their fifth straight postseason. Whether this happens with a win in Houston or upon their return home vs St. Louis it will happen en route to 100 wins. Roy Halladay is number one with Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels ranked 1a and 1b. Do you go with the guy you are paying $16M or the guy with 12 wins on the season?
The Four Aces moniker was sent the way of bell-bottom pants and airplane collars once Roy Oswalt began missing time in two separate 2011 DL stints. Oswalt has been sporadic around those DL stints – returning healthy a month ago amassing a record of 7-9, 3.88 ERA in 20 starts. With 78 strikeouts in 188 IP, Oswalt has been respectively effective. Oswalt was the ace on a Houston staff in 2005 that went to the World Series (20-12, 2.94 ERA, 241 IP in 35 regular season starts plus 5-1 in postseason) along with the likes of Andy Pettite and Roger Clemens. “The Wizard of Os” was Philadelphia’s 2010 Trading Deadline booty who went 7-1, 1.74 in 12 starts before heading into the 2010 postseason (1-1 vs. SF in NLCS) in addition to 11 seasons of sterling performance proving his mettle with a 157-92 record. Oswalt managed another mediocre performance last night against Houston allowing 5 runs in 7 IP.
Vance Worley stepped in when Oswalt went down to provide the Phillies with 14 straight victories in his starts plus a 11-2 record (2.92 ERA, 1.179 WHIP in 19 2011 starts with 103 strikeouts in 117 IP) becoming a potential Rookie of the Year candidate as a “replacement starter” for Philadelphia.“Vanimal” has endeared himself to Philadelphia fans and teammates by simply taking the ball every fifth day and acting like a ten year veteran in his first full season.
While it may seem like Kyle Kendrick has been a prospect-in-waiting since long before Veterans Stadium was demolished, he has done little to distinguish himself (aside from the Kobyashi incident) over 5 seasons. This year, Kendrick (7-6, 3.29 ERA, 30 games, 13 starts, 1.273 WHIP) has proven solid as a bullpen swingman/spot starter and even offered to sell pretzels on Broad Street after the game.
Meanwhile, Joe Blanton (1-2, 5.35 ERA in 6 starts plus one relief appearance in 2011), has officially returned from season-long inactivity. Blanton landed on the DL in April with rotator cuff and elbow problems. Why would the Phillies bring Blanton back as an active player in September (on the 40-man roster) if not to consider him for postseason?
Could “Chicken-N-Ribs” Blanton or “Kobyashi” Kendrick really compete with Worley and Oswalt in making a case as the fourth starter? Possibly but not terribly likely. Kendrick and Blanton will prove their value taking spot starts in the upcoming Florida Marlins doubleheader or the final week of the season. This would allow Charlie Manuel to set up the rotation for postseason as early as next week.
What about the bullpen? Ryan Madson is the confirmed closer with Brad Lidge (1.35 ERA in 17 G with his only SV being his 100th in a Phillies uniform) and Michael Stutes (6-1, 3.62 ERA in 51 G) locked in as setup men. Antonio Bastardo (6-1-, 1.99 ERA, 59 games, 8 SV, 0.810 WHIP and 55 IP) had been the lone left-handed hammer with the departure of JC Romero. Recently, Bastardo has slowed down with arm tiredness.
The rest of the bullpen candidates include David Herndon (3.75 ERA, 1.371 WHIP in 39 G) with some combination of whoever is leftover from the starting rotation. Blanton, Worley, Kendrick or Oswalt would be the primary candidates. Three of them have never spent appreciable time working out of the bullpen (aside from Oswalt’s lone NLCS relief effort) while Joe Blanton has been a disaster case as a starter in postseason play since 2009.
If Bastardo doesn’t hold up, manager Charlie Manuel will have zero southpaw options come postseason. This could become important depending on the team matchup with bats like Brian McCann, Prince Fielder or Lyle Overbay looming in postseason. David Ortiz, Adrian Gonzalez, Curtis Granderson and Josh Hamilton could be lefty power problems come the World Series.
Let’s take this one step at a time. Phillies need to decide who their four-man rotation for the postseason will be. First they can clinch this week with a Magic Number of 6 for Philadelphia’s fifth straight NL East flag. Then determining an opponent for NLDS from among Arizona, Milwaukee or St. Louis would come next. The NLDS only requires three starting pitchers for the best-of-five-game series but for NLCS and World Series four starters will be needed.
Roy Oswalt or Vance Worley? Who would you choose – or more importantly – who would Charlie Manuel choose? Conventional wisdom vs. recent experience? Seasoned, proven veteran or upstart very successful rookie?
Conventional wisdom of baseball business dictates that you don’t pay Roy Oswalt $16M unless you plan to have him start as many games as possible. Oswalt didn’t put off potentially career-ending surgery and endure rehabilitation if he didn’t plan to participate in the 2011 postseason, which could be his final run. Vance Worley has many seasons yet to come and should appreciate the ride for 2011.
PHILLIES PHODDER: When the Phillies opened their series against the Houston Astros last night, 46-1/2 games separated the two teams in overall National League standings. The Phillies (94-49) entered the game sporting the best record in baseball. The 2011 Houston Astros (49-97) was ranked dead last among 30 MLB teams (by an 8-game margin) with -159 run deficit after 146 games. Houston won the game proving that they could salvage a 5-1 victory over Philadelphia – a team that has embarrassed them all season.
That was the first time since 1899 that such a large deficit existed between the best and worst teams in baseball. That year the Cleveland Spiders (20-134) trailed Brooklyn Superbas [later renamed Dodgers] who were (101-47) by 84 games (-723 run differential). This affords the Astros hope as they salvaged their 50th victory of the season with only 15 games remaining.
About the Author
Written by Christopher Rowe
Contributing writer Comcast Sports, NY Times contributing stringer 1996-2000, Contributing writer Yahoo Sports (2001 World Series). Contributing writer Newsday Long Island (1992-1994, Jets Training Camp) and Newak Star Ledger. Freelance Copywriter, Editor/Founder Atlantic Times Weekly (1993-2003) fantasy football magazine, produced screenwriter and general humorist. Hofstra University grad, Marist College honorary alum, Salesian; Purveyor of the Value and Valor of Philadelphia Eagles 1960 NFL Championship; Adrent believer that Eagles could have won Super Bowl XV...and Super Bowl XXXIX...plus modern decade of Eagles 5 NFC Championships... Believer in the Broad Street Bullies and the 1983 Sixers... Witness to Philadelphia Phillies World Series championships 1980 & 2008, Suffered Phillies first pro sports team to reach 10,000 losses,witnessed "1980 Cardiac Kids," 1983 "Wheeze Kids," 1993 "Macho Row" and many, many, many not-so-memorable seasons in-between... until the Philadelphia Baseball Renaissance of 21st Century, Five NL East division titles 2007-2011, 3 NLCS appearances 2008-2010, 2 consecutive World Series berths 2008 & 2009. 2008 World Champions of baseball [miss ya Harry and Richie]; "collector" of MLB ballparks (42 stadiums including 15 which are gone); Fantasy Football & Baseball player since 1992. Always a sports fan... Tenui Nec Dimittam Contact me firstname.lastname@example.org