Bill Conlin: How much of a wallop will Phils' 1-2 punch pack?

Posted: April 05, 2010

Successful baseball teams are like victorious armies. Both depend on the quality of their arms, and starting pitchers are the shoulder-fired rocket launchers of the major leagues.

One ace is rarely enough. The No. 1 starting pitcher might be the guy most likely to end losing streaks and keep winning streaks alive, but it's the No. 2 who keeps adding on "Ws" or picks up the ace the day after he suffers a 1-0 loss.

Dynasties are defined by durable and dynamic long-haulers.

The Dodgers had Koufax and Drysdale. The Braves had Maddux and Glavine, buttressed by Smoltz. Before Atlanta, Milwaukee and Boston's Braves had Spahn and Sain and prayed for rain. The A's had Hunter and Blue. The Orioles had Palmer and McNally. The Giants had Marichal and Perry ...

>With the Phillies now officially cloaked in the heavy and often fatal mantle of a Sports Illustrated prediction that Charlie Manuel's defending National League champions will storm to a third straight pennant and win the 2010 World Series, will the 1-2 punch of Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels match up with other top-of-the-rotation duos who have pitched the organization into the postseason and beyond?

Or will 2009 rookie of the year candidate J.A. Happ nudge Hamels aside now that Happ is firmly established as the No. 3 starter with no danger of being thrust back into a bullpen role?

In 21 innings of the Clearwater phase of spring training, Hamels looked more like the struggling, uncentered Cole of 2009 than the new, improved curve and cutter-throwing pitcher who came to camp in much better shape. After three solid outings, however, Hamels struggled with his command and made too many mistakes with a fastball that is not a power pitch. It is the pitch he must throw to the corners and edges of the zone to set up his money changeup. But spring training is where pitchers work that stuff out while conditioning their arms for the 7-month marathon that is a major league season.

Maybe his hit-an-inning results in windy and downright cold Florida and the consequent 5.57 ERA were more a result of Hamels' experimentation than a predictor of a scuffling pitcher headed for a second straight subpar year. If so, it is vital for Happ to step up and for the only real Bright House spring training star, Mr. March, Jamie Moyer, to keep preaching the World According to AARP. And for emergency replacement starter Kyle Kendrick to be as sharp as he was during his spring-training duel with Moyer.

Two late Clearwater needles have pricked a hole in a Phillies' optimism balloon that had more helium in it than the Zeppelin named Hindenburg. One jabbed into Brad Lidge's elbow, followed by a paste of cortisone. The guy is at least a month away, no matter how rosy the closer's spin. The second was a needle of pain Blanton felt in his left oblique while throwing a bullpen session Wednesday. If he is back in 3 weeks, the glass-half-full-side of a 3-to-6-week window, check his locker for a boarding pass from Lourdes. Or just ask Clay Condrey how his oblique strain worked out last summer.

Pitch counts, agents, seven- and eight-digit contracts and the six-inning main game followed by a reliever-dominated end game have made the 20-game winner as endangered as polar ice caps. They have melted away to the point that 18 wins is the new 20. You can now win a Cy Young Award with as few as 15 wins, right Tim Lincecum?

But 20 is still a magic number for a pitcher, and if you want to know the biggest difference between the Yankees and Phillies since the dawn of baseball time it is this: Yankees pitchers have won 20 or more games 56 times since 1903. Phillies pitchers have won 20 or more games 28 times since 1901. And 17 of those seasons were achieved by three men, Grover Cleveland Alexander (6), Robin Roberts (6) and Steve Carlton (5).

It is no accident that Alexander pitched the Phillies to their first pennant in 1915, Roberts their second in 1950 and Carlton their third and fourth in 1980 and '83.

Halladay has a puncher's chance to become the first Phillies righthander to win 20 games since Roberts did it 55 years ago in 1955. Some seasons the bulldog-tenacious man who brings both a paint brush and power arm to the mound, had more complete games than entire teams. But that was in a league where managers don't have to hit for pitchers or make myriad double moves.

The Phillies' pennant winners after 1950 have featured some excellent duos, however. Carlton and Dick Ruthven in 1980. The Wheeze Kids of 1983 featured a pair of Cy Young Award winners, John Denny, who won it that year with a 19-6 record, and Carlton, who backed the eccentric righthander with an atypical 15-16. Still, two starters with 15 or more victories at the top of your rotation is a benchmark of sorts.

That didn't happen again until 1993, when righthanders Curt Schilling and Tommy Greene each won 16 games and went a combined 32-11.

The Phillies just missed the elusive 20-20 club in 1977, when Carlton went 23-10 and Larry Christenson backed him with a 19-6. But the team that won 101 regular-season games gagged it in the NLCS to the inferior Dodgers.

In 1966, Chris Short was 20-10, while ace Jim Bunning finished 19-14 for a fourth-place team.

In this era of watered-down and de-emphasized starting pitching, can Halladay and Hamels/Happ produce 30 victories between them? The 10-year moving averages say no.

Then again, the Phillies won a World Series in 2008 with one 16-game winner, Jamie Moyer, and won the pennant last year with nary a 13-game winner.

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|