Posted by Kevin Durso
Last season, Roy Halladay dazzled with a perfect game, 21 wins, and just an extraordinary season that was capped with a no-hitter in Game 1 of the NLDS. He unanimously was voted the National League’s Cy Young Award winner. This season, three Phillies’ pitchers have put themselves right in the middle of the race. In the first of this two part series, I’m taking a look at reasons why they will and will not win the top prize for pitchers.
Halladay won the award last season with a 21-10 record, a 2.44 ERA, and 219 strikeouts. This season, he appears to be right on ace to match, or even better those totals. After his most recent start, he is 15-4 with a 2.51 ERA and 163 strikeouts. With almost two full months to play, he likely has about seven or eight starts left. Should he get to 20 wins again, it might just seal another win.
There isn’t much Halladay hasn’t done to not deserve a third career Cy Young Award. The numbers are there, and with the exception of two starts all season, he has been nearly perfect. Every pitcher gets a few exceptions in a season of nearly 35 starts. If Halladay can limit himself to two or three rough outings in a minimum of 30 starts that would just boost his chances. Believe it or not, Doc’s best chance at losing is just being beat by someone else. There are really no flaws to his season. He’s got the record, which is a major focus for voters, and he is proving to be the ace of aces. That being said, this may be Doc’s to lose, but stay tuned. There are several other pitchers out there making a strong case to dethrone Doc.
Lee’s season has been a roller coaster ride of ups and downs. His first few starts were excellent. Then, he fell into a rough patch of starts, to the point where his record dipped below .500, at 4-5. He was keeping opponents off the board, but he was losing quite a few ballgames. A sensational June changed a lot of that. He went 5-0 that month with a 0.21 ERA, jumping into the race for the Cy Young Award. After that, he would fall to 9-7 before picking up his tenth win of the season. But, once he did, it’s been smooth sailing ever since. So far in August, Lee has shut out opponents over his 17 innings pitched, making this a similar start to his 5-0 June run, which featured a streak of 34 straight scoreless innings. His record is now at 12-7, and with his ERA total dropping by the start, now at 2.83, and a strikeout total rivaling the league lead, and leading the team, at 177, he is certainly a suitable candidate.
Part of Lee’s problem is his competition on his own team. He doesn’t have the numbers that Halladay has, but he does have far more trouble gaining run support, which leads to more tough luck losses. Still, the fact that Lee has made his record look very average at times, like the 4-5 after May and the 9-7 near the end of July, makes his season more impressive. Nearly half of his wins have been completed on his own as shutouts. Factor in several more scoreless starts, and Lee is approaching the ten-win mark in games where he’s held opponents scoreless. Still, if record is as big a deal as it is, his doesn’t stand up on his own team let alone among the rest of the league. Strikeouts are an important stat, but nobody seems to care if you strike out ten every start anymore. The most important thing is winning ballgames and making quality starts. He fails to stand up to Halladay and Cole Hamels in that regard.
Cole Hamels started the season off with a thud. His first start against the Mets was flat out lousy. Since then, he had his rough outings over the first half of the season, but never anything worse than that first start. His record at the All-Star Break certainly didn’t reflect that first start. Hamels was 11-4 at the break, and quietly putting together one of the better seasons in the league. His numbers so far in the second half are also no reflection on his pitching. The Mets roughed him up in his first game back from the break, but since then, only his last start against the Nationals has been noteworthy as rough. Hamels is sitting on a 13-7 record. His ERA is 2.62. Consider that fact that of the seven losses, Hamels has earned about three of them. Also, figure in some very low run support, something that has started to become less of an issue.
Hamels might just be the Phillies’ top pitcher this season. Sure, his numbers fall far short of Halladay’s, but with so few losses that were mainly his responsibility, you can’t help but figure he deserves a look. And that may be the problem. Hamels is still a young pup compared to the big dogs of the team, in Halladay and Lee. As good as his numbers may be, he’s already nearly doubled his loss totals from the break. Many will regard this as a flash in the pan, nothing more than a hot start that fizzled away. Hamels is one of baseball’s better pitchers, and there’s no doubt about it now. The problem is that the rest of baseball won’t be able to look past the numbers to see an emerging superstar. That will likely cost him any chance at the award for now.