Tag Archives: Roy Oswalt

Offensive ending to 2019 a harbinger for winning Phillies in 2020?

There is no arguing that the Philadelphia Phillies 2019 season can rightly be considered a failure. The final 81-81 record and fourth place divisional finish was a major disappointment to an organization and fan base that began the season with lofty expectations.

The Phillies entered the season’s final month with a winning record at 69-65. Though they had fallen to third place by that point, the club was still squarely in the postseason hunt at just 3.5 games behind the second NL Wildcard playoff berth.

Over that final month, the Phillies produced just a 12-16 record, collapsing in both the standings and that playoff hunt. In the end, they finished eight games behind the Milwaukee Brewers for that second NL Wildcard spot.

However, despite the losing record during the month of September 2019, there were positive signs which might bode well for the 2020 Phillies campaign to come.

While much was made last season of injuries to the bullpen and inconsistencies across the starting pitching rotation – and those did indeed exist, and were obvious contributing factors to the final record – one fundamental offensive statistic also reveals a big part of the problem.

In 2019, the Phillies offense finished 14th, or middle-of-the-pack among the 30 teams of Major League Baseball, with 774 runs scored. Seems about what you might expect for a .500 ball club, right?

But when you take a glance only a little bit beyond those overall numbers you find more than just a middling group of run producers. The 2019 Phillies hitters cannot even be considered to have been simply inconsistent. This was actually a truly schizophrenic bunch.

The magic number for the 2019 Philadelphia Phillies turned out to be four. Score four or more runs, and you win the vast majority of the time. Don’t reach that mark and you lose.

The Phillies were 72-23 during the 2019 season in those games in which the offense produced at least four runs scored. That figure was fourth-best in the 15-team National League, trailing only the baseball’s top regular season club, the LA Dodgers, as well as the World Series champion Washington Nationals and the NL Central champion Saint Louis Cardinals.

However, when the Phillies offense failed to reach that four-run mark, the club went just 9-58, a .134 winning percentage that was 14th of the 15 National League clubs.

The deficient pitching was a big part of that latter poor record. When the Phillies offense couldn’t score, the pitching wasn’t good enough to win games on their own.

For some perspective, the franchise-record 102-win Phillies team of 2011 failed to score at least four runs in 78 games. Last year’s club was 11 games better in that regard. The 2011 club with Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, and Raul Ibanez leading the way finished just 13th in the NL in runs scored that year.

But that 2011 Phillies ball club also went 30-48 during games in which their offense failed to score at least four runs. It was the outstanding pitching of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Roy Oswalt, Vance Worley, and a solid bullpen led by closer Ryan Madson that made such a record possible.

The Phillies addressed their offensive shortcoming that year, acquiring the dynamic bat of Hunter Pence just prior to the trade deadline. The club produced at least four runs in 27 of the first 36 games with Pence in the lineup and nearly doubled their lead in the NL East over that six week period.

The point of all this being that had the 2019 Phillies been able to score at least four runs more frequently – and they averaged 4.78 per game – they would have been a winning ball club. That’s even with their poor pitching. They may even have been a playoff team. Of the top eight teams in average runs scored per game, seven reached the 2019 postseason.

Despite their poor 12-16 record over the month of September, the offense finally began to produce more consistently. During the season’s final month the Phillies set a new franchise record for home runs in a single month by slugging 46 long balls.

It wasn’t just a power surge. Beginning with games of August 27, the Phillies stole 23 consecutive bases without being caught. This was the first such successful stolen base streak by the club in a decade. Their 81.3% success rate overall in 2019 was the fifth-best by any Phillies team since the statistic was first tracked over a half-century ago.

With the increased power linked up to the effective use of speed over that final month, the Phillies offense produced at least four runs in 16 of 28 games. The hitters averaged 6.78 runs scored per game during the month, two more runs per game than over the full season.

Certainly the Phillies 2020 offense cannot be expected to score four or more runs in 90 games, and the team will not average more than 6.5 runs per game. That would be the pace set by the team in September of last season.

Also, it wasn’t as if much of that increased production came from those expected to be regulars in 2020. Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto, the club’s two most consistently productive hitters over the course of the season, had fairly normal production levels in September.

Meanwhile, a few of the others had a poor month. Rhys Hoskins slashed just .170/.274/350 over 117 plate appearances. Scott Kingery slashed .191/.232/.393 over 96 plate appearances during September. Jean Segura was .238/.253/.333 during the month. Those three, expected to be regulars in 2020, combined for nine homers, 28 RBIs, 34 runs, and nine stolen bases in September.

One of the biggest run producers for the Phillies during September 2019 was Brad Miller. The utility man received 56 plate appearances during a month in which he slashed .327/.339/.800 with eight home runs, 11 RBIs, and 12 runs scored. Miller played in 66 games and made 26 starts for the Phillies last season after joining the club in mid-June. The 30-year-old is currently a free agent.

The addition of Zack Wheeler to the starting rotation and expected better seasons from both Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta should combine with better health and consistency from the bullpen in the coming season to give the Phillies better results on the mound.

Given reasonable health in 2020 by the key players in the lineup, the increased offensive production of September 2019 could indeed be a harbinger of better days to come. The performances of Hoskins, Kingery, and Segura this coming season will be pivotal in making that happen.

Combine even a modest turn towards those better offensive numbers with a similarly modest increase in performance from the pitching staff, add them to the presence of new manager Joe Girardi, and it all could well add up to that elusive winning record and playoff berth in 2020 for the Philadelphia Phillies.

 

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NL’s Cy Young Award has gone to a Phillies hurler seven times

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Denny won the 1983 NL Cy Young Award for his performance with the Phillies that season

 

Major League Baseball continues the announcement of its 2019 awards on Wednesday evening. The top pitchers in both the National and American Leagues will be honored as the Cy Young Award winners are publicly revealed in a 6:00 pm EST broadcast on the MLB Network.

Those will be the more formally recognized awards as voted on by the Baseball Writers Association of America. However, a few hours earlier, the IBWAA (Internet Baseball Writers Association of America) will announce the winners of voting from their membership.

The 2019 American League Cy Young Award finalists are teammates Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander of the AL champion Houston Astros and former Phillies pitcher Charlie Morton of the Tampa Bay Rays. Verlander previously won the award back in 2011 and is a three-time runner-up for the honors.

In the National League, the finalists are last year’s winner Jacob deGrom of the New York Mets, Korean southpaw Hyun-Jin Ryu of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and three-time winner Max Scherzer of the world champion Washington Nationals. Both Ryu and Cole are free agents this off-season.

My choices are Cole and deGrom. Those are the two men who received my IBWAA vote.

MLB first began recognizing the best pitcher in baseball with this formal award with the 1956 season. For the first 11 years, just one winner for all of Major League Baseball was honored.

Due to an overwhelming outpouring of fan requests, a winner was honored from both the National and American Leagues beginning with the 1957 season.

In 1969, the American League vote ended in a tie between Denny McLain of the Detroit Tigers and Mike Cuellar of the Baltimore Orioles, and for the only time in the history of the award it was shared. Voting rules were changed as a result, with just one winner honored thereafter.

While the Cy is generally considered to be an honor for the top starting pitcher in the game, that is not a requirement. Mike Marshall of the Los Angeles Dodgers became the first reliever to take the honors in 1974, and eight other relievers have since won the award across the two leagues. The most recent was Eric Gagne of the Dodgers back in 2003.

Roger Clemens holds a record for having won the award seven times. A pair of former Phillies pitchers, Roy Halladay and Pedro Martinez, are among a group of a half-dozen hurlers to be honored with the Cy in both leagues at some point during their careers.

The late Baseball Hall of Famer and Phillies Wall of Famer Halladay is one of just four pitchers to take home a National League Cy Young Award while a member of the Fightin’ Phils pitching staff.

Halladay was the unanimous winner of the award after a historic 2010 season in which he threw a Perfect Game as well as just the second postseason no-hitter in MLB history. He registered an incredible 8.6 WAR value that year, winning 21 games and tossing 250.2 innings with nine complete games.

In 1983, right-hander John Denny captured the honors with the Phillies “Wheeze Kids” team that would go on to win the National League pennant. Denny received 20 of 24 first-place votes to finish as an easy winner.

That Cy followed a 19-win season during which he tossed 242.2 innings over 36 starts. Denny was also the NL’s Comeback Player of the Year in that first full season after coming to the Phillies from the Cleveland Indians in a September 1982 trade.

Four years later, the only Phillies relief pitcher to ever win the Cy took the honors in one of the closest votes ever. Steve Bedrosian saved 40 games for the team that year, exactly half of their total 1987 wins total. He worked 89 innings over 65 games, allowing 79 hits with 74 strikeouts and a 2.83 ERA.

“Bedrock” received just nine of 24 first-place votes, but came out the winner with 57 total voting points. That total edged out the 55 received by Rick Sutcliffe (four first-place) of the Chicago Cubs and 54 for Rick Reuschel (eight first-place), who split the season between the Pittsburgh Pirates and San Francisco Giants.

Halladay, Denny, Bedrosian. Those are three of the seven times that a Phillies pitcher has taken the NL honors. As I said earlier, four pitchers have won the award while with the club. Which means that the fourth hurler would put four Cy Young Awards into his trophy case.

That hurler was, of course, lefty Steve Carlton. The greatest pitcher in Phillies franchise history, Carlton won the Cy for his performances on the mound in the 1972, 1977, 1980, and 1982 campaigns.

That first win in 1972 was one of the most impressive pitching performances in Major League Baseball history. In his first season after arriving from the Saint Louis Cardinals in a spring training trade for Rick Wise, Carlton was the unanimous winner of what has been ranked as the ninth-greatest Cy Young season in history.

The man who became alternately known as “Lefty” or “Super Steve” won 27 games with a putrid Phillies team that would win just 59 games. He made 41 starts with 30 complete games, numbers that are unheard of in today’s game. Carlton allowed just 257 hits over 346.1 innings with 310 strikeouts, registering a 1.97 ERA and 0.993 WHIP.

In 1977, Carlton won 23 games while tossing 283 innings over 36 starts. He registered 17 complete games and struck out 198 with a 2.64 ERA and 1.124 WHIP. That performance allowed him to receive 17 of 26 first-place votes and finish comfortably ahead of runner-up Tommy John of the Dodgers.

For his performance during the Phillies first-ever World Series-winning campaign in 1980, Carlton became just the third pitcher to ever win three Cy’s, joining Sandy Koufax and Tom Seaver with that distinction.

That year, the lefty won 24 games, with 38 of his starts resulting in 13 complete games. He struck out 286 batters while allowing just 243 hits across 304 innings pitched. Carlton registered a 2.34 ERA and 1.095 WHIP, and received 23 of the 24 first-place votes as the runaway winner.

Two years later, Carlton became the first pitcher to ever win four career Cy Young Awards, and did so again in runaway fashion, receiving 20 of 24 first-place votes.

That season, Carlton won 23 games while making 38 starts, half of those resulting in complete games. He struck out 286 over 295.2 innings with a 1.147 WHIP for a Phillies team that would battle his old Saint Louis club for the NL East crown down to the last two weeks of the season before falling three games short.

Carlton and Halladay went on to become both Baseball Hall of Famers and Phillies Wall of Famers. Carlton’s 84.1 career WAR mark is the fifth-best in baseball history among left-handed pitchers, while Halladay’s 65.4 mark leaves him among the top 50 hurlers in the history of the game.

Denny had a nice career, winning 123 games over 13 big-league seasons, 37 of those with the Phillies over parts of four years. Bedrosian registered 184 career saves and 76 wins in a 14-year career.

At this time last season, Phillies right-hander Aaron Nola was a finalist for the award after winning 17 games and allowing just 149 hits over 212.1 innings across 33 starts with 224 strikeouts.

Will Nola some day become the fifth Phillies pitcher to capture an NL Cy Young Award? Perhaps Zach Eflin will elevate his game to that level. Or maybe the club will be able to lure Cole or Ryu this winter in free agency and find one of them taking the honors in some future season.

One thing is certain, as the 2011 Phillies who won a franchise record 102 regular season games while featuring a “Four Aces” rotation of Halladay, Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, and Roy Oswalt showed, starting pitching is the name of the game in Major League Baseball.

The Phillies need to upgrade their starting pitching rotation by landing a pair of new, proven arms in the free agent market this winter. If they do, the club should finally once again become a serious challenger for a postseason berth in 2020. And perhaps they’ll also get a Cy Young winner in the bargain.

 

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Jimmy Rollins officially retires as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies

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JRoll officially retires as a member of the Phillies

Prior to Saturday night’s big division rivalry game with the Washington Nationals, the host Philadelphia Phillies will hold a ceremony to honor long time shortstop Jimmy Rollins on the occasion of his official retirement from Major League Baseball.

Rollins, who turned 40 years of age back in November, played with the Phillies for the first 15 of his 17-year career in the big-leagues.
Born in Oakland, California, Rollins was the Phillies 2nd round pick in the 1996 MLB Draft out of Encinal High School in Alameda, California.
After getting his feet wet with the Rookie-level Martinsville club in the Appalachian League during that first pro summer of 1996, Rollins developed into an all-around offensive threat who could field the shortstop position brilliantly.
Over the 1997-99 seasons, he collected 110 extra-base hits and stole 94 bases. Spending most of the 2000 season with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Rollins hit .274 with 51 extra-base hits and 24 steals, earning his first big-league promotion for a 14-game cup of coffee with the Phillies that September.
His first appearance in a Phillies uniform in an official MLB game came on Sunday afternoon September 17, 2000 at Veteran’s Stadium. That day he hit second in manager Terry Francona‘s lineup and provided an immediate spark. Rollins delivered two hits including a triple, drew a walk, stole his first base, and scored twice to contribute towards a 6-5 win.
Rollins started in the leadoff spot for the first time the very next day at The Vet against the Pittsburgh Pirates. he again delivered two hits and also recorded the first RBI of his career with a base hit in the bottom of the 6th inning to score Tom Prince.
He would play in 14 games that first month, 11 of those as the starter at shortstop. Seven times he produced a multi-hit game, setting himself up as the starter at the position to open the 2001 season.
Under new manager Larry Bowa, the Phillies began emerging for the first time in years as a contender, and Rollins was a primary reason. On May 2, 2001 at Veteran’s Stadium, Rollins led off the bottom of the 4th inning against Colorado Rockies starter Brian Bohanon and blasted the first home run of his career.
These were just the first milestone moments of what would become one of the most storied careers in the history of the franchise. By the time it was all over, Rollins had become the franchise all-time Hit King with 2,306 hits for the Phillies.

Phillies are wearing a special patch on their jerseys tonight for Jimmy Rollins’ retirement night:

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Rollins current place on the Phillies all-time leaderboards:
  • Hits: 2,306 (1st)
  • Runs: 1,325 (3rd)
  • Games: 2,090 (2nd)
  • At-bats: 8,628 (1st)
  • Doubles: 479 (1st)
  • Triples: 111 (3rd)
  • Home runs: 216 (9th)
  • RBIs: 887 (8th)
  • Stolen bases: 453 (2nd)
  • Walks: 753 (6th)
  • Total bases: 3,655 (2nd)
  • Extra-base hits: 806 (2nd)
“JRoll” also produced 46.4 WAR with the Phillies. He finished 3rd in the 2001 NL Rookie of the Year voting behind Albert Pujols and Roy Oswalt. Rollins was the 2007 National League Most Valuable Player and received NL MVP votes in four other seasons.
He was a three-time NL All-Star, a four-time NL Gold Glover at shortstop, and was the 2007 NL Silver Slugger Award winner at shortstop for a season in which he became one of just four MLB players in history to record a 20-20-20-20 season: at least 20 homers, doubles, triples, and stolen bases.
Rollins had numerous tremendous, memorable plays during his career, and fans can argue for days about which was the best or most important. For me, two stand out.
Defensively, Rollins diving stop and perfect shuffle to Chase Utley began a double-play that clinched the 2008 National League East Division crown on the final day of the regular season. The Phillies would go on to win the World Series that year.
With the bat, it has to be his clutch two-out, two-strike, walkoff double into the right-center field gap at Citizens Bank Park off Los Angeles Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton to give the Phillies a 6-5 come-from-behind victory and a 3-1 lead in the 2009 NLCS.

There is no doubt that Rollins will be enshrined on the Phillies Wall of Fame sometime early in the 2020’s. He will make for an interesting argument in a few years as a nominee for the Baseball Hall of Fame. But for tonight the Phillies legend will settle for a joyous celebration in front of more than 40,000 adoring fans.

First lineup changes of the season for Phillies as J.T. Realmuto gets a rest

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Andrew Knapp gets his first start of the season behind the plate

It’s one of the most commonly used and recognized phrases in the English language, understandable to anyone who hears it uttered: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Phillies manager Gabe Kapler has lived by that mantra over the first week of the 2019 Major League Baseball season. For the first six games the skipper has run out the exact same starting lineup. The Phillies have responded with a 5-1 record, with an average of 8.2 runs scored per game.
But it was only a matter of time before an injury or the need to give someone a blow would necessitate a change, and that first starting lineup comes today. It’s a fairly subtle change, however, one that should not be unexpected.
Kapler’s lineup for Saturday afternoon’s Interleague game against the visiting Minnesota Twins at Citizens Bank Park will see Andrew Knapp receiving his first start of the year behind the plate. That gives starting catcher J.T. Realmuto a needed break for a day game following a night game.
In order to keep the best all-around catcher in the game today fully healthy over the course of a long six-month season, Kapler is going to need to pick and choose these types of opportunities to give his starting backstop a rest. Fans should expect that Realmuto is going to get a couple of dozen of these breaks over the course of the year, or about once per week.

SATURDAY LINEUPS AND PREVIEW

Kapler is making just a minor change from his first six games. Realmuto gets the break behind the plater with Knapp getting the start and hitting seventh. That bumps both Odubel Herrera and Cesar Hernandez up one slot in the batting order to bat in the 5-6 spots respectively.
Twins skipper Rocco Baldelli is making a number of changes from his Friday night lineup. Exciting center fielder Byron Buxton is back after missing the last two games after bruising his ribs running into a wall this past Tuesday. Buxton has game-changing speed and is a Gold Glove-caliber defender in the middle of the outfield.
Former Phillies prospect Willians Astudillo is behind the plate and batting second. He is off to a hot start for Minnesota with three doubles, three RBI, six hits and five runs scored over his first dozen plate appearances of the 2019 season.
Jorge Polanco, who hit for ‘The Cycle’ last night when he produced a five-hit game, drops to the three-hole in place of Eddie Rosario, who is getting the day off. Ehire Adrianza gets the start at third base with Marwin Gonzalezgetting the day off as well.
Joining Gonzalez and Rosario on the bench is slugger Nelson Cruz. The Twins regular DH has still not played the field at all this season. While the moves take some pop out of the Minnesota starting lineup the late-game bench options are very attractive for Baldelli, if his team can keep the game close enough for that to matter.

SHIBE VINTAGE SPORTS STARTING PITCHING MATCHUP

  • Jake Arrieta (1-0, 1.50 ERA) vs Michael Pineda (0-0, 0.00 ERA)
  • On a bitter cold day during his first start Arrieta walked six Atlanta Braves batters. However, he also surrendered just one earned run and three hits while striking out six. Four of the walks came over the first three innings.
  • Arrieta has made five career appearances against the Twins. The first five of those came during his early career while with the Baltimore Orioles from 2010-13. In a June 21, 2015 outing at Wrigley Field during his Cy Young Award-winning campaign with the Cubs, Arrieta tossed a complete game shutout, allowing just four hits.
  • Pineda suffered a UCL tear in July of 2017 which necessitated Tommy John surgery. He missed the entire 2018 season as a result. In his first start back last week he went four shutout innings with five strikeouts and just one hit and walk allowed against the Cleveland Indians.
  • Pineda has two career starts against the Phillies, both coming at Citizens Bank Park. One came all the way back on June 17, 2011 during his rookie campaign with the Seattle Mariners. He went six innings that night, allowing just two hits in beating Roy Oswalt by 4-2. Then on June 22, 2015 while pitching for the New York Yankees, Pineda was beaten up for eight runs and 11 hits over just 3.1 innings with Maikel Franco homering off him.

PHILLIES NUGGETS PREGAME NOTES

  • Prior to the game the Twins designated first baseman Tyler Austin for assignment and called up right-handed pitcher Chase De Jong to help out a bullpen that went through five relievers on Friday night, three of those for more than an inning. Austin had been acquired from the New York Yankees last season in exchange for starting pitcher Lance Lynn.
  • Franco and Andrew McCutchen have each homered off Pineda during their careers.
  • The Twins have double-digit hit totals in each of their last four games including 11 in Friday night’s opener. Their 49 hits during that span ranks fourth in MLB. Minnesota is just 3-10 over their last 13 Interleague games vs NL opposition.

SATURDAY’S PROGRAMMING INFORMATION

  • First pitch scheduled for 2:05 pm. Weather: partly cloudy, 64 degrees, 0% chance rain, conditions steady.
  • Location: Citizens Bank Park, South Philadelphia.
  • Promotion: All fans receive pair of Johnson Controls Phillies socks. Tickets available.
  • TV: NBC Sports+
  • Radio: SportsRadio WIP 94.1 FM, WTTM 1680 (Spanish)

Cliff Lee: he never wanted to leave Phillies in the first place

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Cliff Lee came and went in 2009 and came back in 2010

During what all fans of the Philadelphia Phillies have been led to believe will be one of the most significant off-season periods ever for the franchise, I’ve been taking a look back at the team’s ‘Hot Stove’ history.

So far we have recalled the signings of Pete Rose (1978), Jose Mesa(2000), and Jim Thome (2002) in free agency. We have also revisited key off-season trades: the 1981 three-way deal that resulted in Lonnie Smith leaving and Bo Diaz arriving, the 1982 trade of future Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg, and the trading away of Thome.
Probably the most recent important Phillies move during a Hot Stove season came in the middle of December back in 2010. It was then that general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. began trying to reverse a huge prior mistake from exactly one year earlier. Both decisions were among the most influential during the 2009-11 period when the club was trying to get back to the World Series.
Those two moves involved a left-handed starting pitcher named Cliff Lee. His pro career had begun after he was drafted three times. Lee finally signed after being selected by the Montreal Expos with their fourth round selection in the 2000 MLB Amateur Draft.
In June 2002, Lee was dealt to the Cleveland Indians as part of a four-prospect package that also included Grady Sizemore and Brandon Phillips in an overall six-player deal that brought starting pitcher Bartolo Colon to Montreal.

LEE DEVELOPS INTO AN ACE

In Cleveland’s minor league system, Lee showed enough with Buffalo of the Triple-A International League that he was given a two-start cup of coffee with the Indians in September 2002. He went 10.1 innings allowing just six hits over those two outings.
Lee won the 2008 AL Cy Young Award with Cleveland
After beginning the 2003 season back at Triple-A, Lee received a spot start with Cleveland in late June. Then in mid-August he was called to the big-leagues for good. Lee would enter the Tribe’s starting rotation and remain there for the next six years.
Lee would develop into one of the top starting pitchers in the game, culminating in a memorable 2008 season. While the Phillies were driving towards their first World Series crown in nearly three decades, Lee was putting together a Cy Young Award-winning season in Cleveland.
In that 2008 campaign, Lee went 22-3 with a 2.54 ERA and 1.110 WHIP. He also had a fabulous 170/34 K:BB ratio over 223.1 innings across 31 starts. In addition to the Cy Young honors, he was an AL All-Star for the first time, and even received AL MVP votes.
Lee was scheduled to become a free agent after the 2010 season, and it became obvious that the Indians would not be able to get him to sign a contract extension. Looking at a rebuilding situation, Cleveland GM Mark Shapiro decided to find a deal for him a year early.

LEE ACQUIRED BY CHAMPS IN-SEASON

As defending World Series champions, the Phillies were struggling to open up a lead in a tight NL East race in July 2009. A big reason was that the team’s starting pitching was looking a bit fragile.
Cole Hamels, the hero of the prior season, appeared to be going through a World Series hangover campaign. Brett Myers struggled the entire year with injuries. At age 46, Jamie Moyer was getting hit hard. Joe Blanton and rookie J.A. Happ were giving the club innings, but were not the kind of arms that a team looking to repeat as world champions wanted at the front of a rotation.
On July 15, the Phillies signed 37-year-old veteran Pedro Martinez, who had been sitting out the season to that point. It was going to take Martinez a few weeks to get into pitching shape, and in fact he would not join the team’s starting rotation until August 12.
Amaro was still rumored to be hot after both Lee and Toronto Blue Jays right-hander Roy Halladay. Finally, just before the non-waiver trade deadline, Amaro and Shapiro reached a deal. The Phillies would acquire Lee in exchange for a four-prospect package led by pitcher Carlos Carrasco.
Cito Gaston was manager of the Blue Jays at the time. Once the Phillies had traded for Lee, it meant that Gaston was likely to keep his ace in Halladay. Jayson Stark at ESPN quoted Gaston after the Lee deal was announced: “Who knows? They may come back and get [Halladay], too. That’d be a pretty good staff there, wouldn’t it?” How prescient that comment would eventually prove.
The 30-year-old Lee was everything that the Phillies hoped, and more. Over a dozen starts he went 7-4 with a 74/10 K:BB ratio. Martinez went 5-1 over nine starts with a 37/8 K:BB ratio. The two veterans gave the rotation just the shot in the arm that it needed to push the club to its third straight NL East title.
In the 2009 postseason, Lee upped his game. He made two strong starts in a tough NLDS victory over the Colorado Rockies, then a brilliant start against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game Three of the NLCS.
When Lee shut down the New York Yankees in Game One of the World Series, the Phillies appeared on their way to back-to-back championships. Alas, it was not to be. The team did win his next start in Game Five, but that only kept them alive. The Yanks would take the Fall Classic two nights later.

THE LEE HOT STOVE TRADE

After the season, Amaro resumed his pursuit of Halladay, who was scheduled to become a free agent following the 2010 season. On December 16, 2009 the Phillies acquired Halladay from Toronto in exchange for a three-prospect package.
Amaro had negotiated a four-year contract extension with the 32-year-old Halladay, who thought that he was joining Lee in the Phillies rotation. Instead, Amaro shocked everyone in the Phillies community by dealing away Lee just hours later.
The justification given by Amaro at the time was shaky from the start. He felt that Lee’s contract demands were unreasonable, and also claimed that the Phillies needed to re-stock their farm system after it had been depleted by that summer’s Lee trade and the Halladay aquistion.
However, the package that Amaro obtained from the Seattle Mariners that day of prospect pitchers Phillippe Aumontand J.C. Ramirez and young outfielder Tyson Gillies failed to convince anyone that it improved the organization to the same level as having Lee remain on the big-league pitching staff.
It would prove to be one of the worst trades in Phillies history. Our own Tim Kelly here at PN wrote in August 2018 about comments made by former outfielder Jayson Werth to a local radio station. Included among those revealing remarks were this quote:
…they [the Phillies] offered Cliff a contract at a marginal number, we’ll say. And then he counters at a reasonable counter, far less for what he ends up signing back for. Within that day, a day or two, Ruben freaks out, he can’t believe that they would ask for that type of money – which was under-market for Cliff – and trades him to Seattle. So he was traded to Seattle for a bag of balls and a couple Fungos.”

Halladay would enjoy a memorable 2010 season in which he would capture the National League Cy Young Award while tossing a Perfect Game and a playoff no-hitter. Hamels rebounded with a solid campaign. The rest of the rotation struggled, but Amaro swung a trade to bring in three-time NL All-Star and perennial Cy Young candidate Roy Oswalt from Houston.
The Phillies struggled much of that summer. But then from late August through late September the team went on an incredible run, winning 23 of 27 games to pull away to a fourth straight NL East title.
As for Lee, he would make just 13 starts for the Mariners. With the club struggling and with Lee still scheduled to become a free agent in the coming off-season he was shipped off to the Texas Rangers following a final start for Seattle on July 4.
At the time of that deal, Lee was 8-3 with a 2.34 ERA and had been selected to the AL All-Star team. He would attend the game not as a member of the Mariners, but instead wearing a Rangers cap.
Over the rest of the season in Texas, Lee would go just 4-6 with a 3.98 ERA. He did produce solid numbers otherwise, allowing 103 hits over 108.2 innings with a 96/12 K:BB ratio in 15 starts.
The Rangers won the AL West crown and the American League pennant, reaching the World Series. However, the Phillies were not there to great their former pitcher. Halladay, Werth, and the two-time defending NL champion Phillies had been beaten in six games in the 2010 NLCS by the San Francisco Giants.
San Francisco would then take out the Rangers in five games to capture the first World Series crown for the Giants franchise in 56 years. Lee was rocked in the opener of that Fall Classic in San Francisco. He then would also lose a pitcher’s duel to Tim Lincecum in the Game Five clincher at Texas.

THE LEE HOT STOVE FREE AGENT SIGNING

The off-season got underway following that 2010 campaign with Lee entering free agency for the first time in his career. A return to the Rangers was possible, but the New York Yankees were seen by most as the early and overwhelming favorites to land his services.
The Yankees had finished in second place in the AL East in 2010, a game behind the Tampa Bay Rays but had comfortably won what was the lone Wildcard berth available at that time. The Yanks then swept the Minnesota Twins 3-0 in the ALDS, but were beaten by Texas in six games in the ALCS. Adding Lee, and subtracting him from the Rangers, would likely push them to the top of the American League favorites list.
The Phillies were not seen to be a contender for Lee at first. They already had a rotation that would include Halladay, Hamels, and Oswalt coming back in 2011. It was projected at that point that Blanton and Kyle Kendrick would make up the back of their rotation.
A formal contract offer was extended to Lee by the Yankees, one that would turn out to be the highest offer that he would receive. It wouldn’t be enough.
Shock waves rolled across the game on December 15, 2010 when, seemingly out of nowhere, it was announced that the Phillies and Lee had agreed to a five-year, $120 million contract. Lee would join Halladay, Hamels, and Oswalt in what the baseball world would call the “Four Aces” rotation, one of the best in the history of the game.
In Philadelphia it became known as “Merry Cliffmas”, and Phillies fans were euphoric. They would have a dominating pitching rotation that would give their still-potent offensive attack a chance to win every single day.
Not only was Lee’s signing a surprise gift to Phillies fans, but he also won their hearts forever with what he said upon agreeing to the deal: “I never wanted to leave in the first place.” It turned out that Lee and his wife Kristen had enjoyed their brief 2009 time in Philly so much that returning was a relatively easy decision.
The Phillies of 2011 would not win every day, but it seemed like it at times. That club would set a franchise record with 102 regular season wins, leading the NL East from wire-to-wire and ultimately taking the division crown by 13 games.
Lee went 17-8 with a 2.40 ERA and was named as NL All-Star, finishing third in the NL Cy Young Award voting. Halladay went 19-6 with a 2.35 ERA and finished as the Cy Young runner-up. Hamels was 14-9 with a 2.79 ERA, finishing fifth in that Cy Young Award voting.
Oswalt won just nine games and struggled some with a 3.69 ERA. In fact, he wasn’t even one of the four most effective members of the rotation that year. Neither were Blanton or Kendrick. That status was provided by 23-year-old rookie Vance Worley, who surprised everyone with an 11-3 mark and 3.01 ERA over 25 games, 21 as a starter. Worley would finish third in the NL Rookie of the Year voting.
When the 2011 postseason opened, the Phillies were clear favorites to capture their second World Series title in four years. But in one of the most disheartening endings in franchise history, they were edged out in five games by the Saint Louis Cardinals in the NLDS.
Lee played a part in that loss. After the offense bailed out Halladay to take Game One, those same bats then provided Lee with an early 4-0 lead in Game Two. But the Cardinals then chipped away, scoring three runs in the top of the 4th inning and one each in the 6th and 7th, rallying for a 5-4 win to tie the series.
The Phillies took a 2-1 series lead behind a strong outing from Hamels in Game Three, but Saint Louis beat Oswalt in Game Four to once again tie the series.
In a decisive Game Five at Citizens Bank Park, a pitching battle for the ages took place. Halladay allowed just one run on six hits. It would be enough to win almost any game. But Saint Louis received an absolute gem from their starter, Chris Carpenter. He would shut the Phillies out on three hits in a complete game.
With two outs in the bottom of the 9th inning and the Cardinals clinging to a 1-0 lead, Saint Louis native Ryan Howard stepped in for the Phillies. On a 2-2 pitch, Carpenter’s 110th of the game, Howard topped a slow grounder to second base. As the final out was being recorded, the big slugger crumpled to the ground, having blown out his Achilles tendon.
It wasn’t obvious yet at that point, but history would show that the Phillies era of contention at the top of Major League Baseball would end with that play.
The 2012 Phillies struggled from the beginning but were still three games above the .500 mark and within 2.5 games of first place as June began. But the team would collapse under the weight of injuries.
Howard wouldn’t return until July and was never the same dominating slugger. Chase Utley wouldn’t begin his season until late June, and at age 33 was beginning his own slow decline. Both Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence, the latter obtained just a year earlier to bolster that 2011 team, were traded away at the non-waiver deadline as Amaro threw in the towel.
Lee would pitch well in both 2012 and 2013 as the Phillies tried unsuccessfully to quickly rebuild. He went 14-8 with a 2.87 ERA, made the NL All-Star team, and finished sixth in National League Cy Young voting in the 2013 season. Incredibly, less than a year later his career would be over.
The 2014 season opened with Lee as the Phillies primary trade candidate. At 35-years-old he still had that season and then 2015 to go on his contract, with a $25 million salary owed both years. There was a $27.5 million club option or $12.5 million buyout for the 2016 season as well.
He began the year as the Opening Day starter. Over his first 10 starts through mid-May he went 4-4 with a 3.18 ERA and a 61/9 K:BB ratio in what seemed a typical Lee season. But following a May 18 win over the Cincinnati Reds he was placed on the disabled list with discomfort in his left pitching elbow.
The Phillies tried to bring him back as the non-waiver trade deadline approached, hoping to find a deal, but he was hit hard in two late July starts. Then on July 31, the exact date of the deadline, he was given a final chance to show that he was healthy and could help someone.
It appeared to observers that things had started out well that night at Nationals Park. Through 2.2 innings, Lee had allowed just one hit and walked no one, striking out four Washington Nationals batters. And then it ended, just that suddenly.
With two outs in the third inning, Lee delivered his first pitch to Denard Span and walked off the mound, tapping his left arm. It turned out that he had been experiencing discomfort while warming up before the game, and then when warming up before each inning. This time it wouldn’t go away.
‘It was there every throw and I just felt like if I kept throwing something was going to snap and I just wanted to make sure that didn’t happen,” Lee said per Sports Illustrated via the AP following that game.
He tried to come back for the 2015 season but was able to throw just two innings at spring training in Clearwater. Lee would spend that entire season on the disabled list after suffering a left common flexor tear. After the season ended the Phillies declined his option for 2016, and his career was over.
In February 2016, when it was becoming obvious that Lee would never pitch again, Grant Brisbee at SB Nation wrote a fantastic piece on the pitcher who he correctly called “one of the best pitchers of his generation.” In that piece, Brisbee described what it was like for a batter facing Lee:
Watching a pitcher move inside and out, up and down, is absolutely symphonic. But it’s even more entertaining to watch the hitters panic, knowing that the baseball can dart a foot away from the plate if it doesn’t bore right in on their damned thumbs. The hitter is acutely aware that the pitcher on the mound can do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, and there’s a split second to determine if the ball is going to hurt him, be hittable or be so unhittable that it will make him look like an idiot if he swings.
Over parts of five seasons with the Phillies, Lee recorded a 48-34 record with a 2.94 ERA, 1.089 WHIP, and 2.85 FIP. He yielded just 777 hits over 827.1 innings across 118 starts, surrendering just 80 home runs while registering a 21.6 WAR mark.
He also produced an other-worldly 813/124 K:BB ratio, made a pair of NL All-Star teams, and finished among the leaders in Cy Young voting twice. In his time with the Phillies, Lee led the National League in shutouts in 2011, and twice led the league in both the K/BB and BB/9 categories.
Cliff Lee was one of the most popular players on a team populated with those types of individuals, the greatest Phillies team to never win a world championship. That popularity has never waned.
His being traded away in December 2009 may have kept the 2010 Phillies from winning another World Series crown. But neither was his return as a free agent in December 2010 enough to make that happen for a record-setting Phillies team in 2011.
It remains possible that one day we’ll be watching Lee enjoy an induction ceremony to the Phillies Wall of Fame. For the millions of fans who packed Citizens Bank Park during the final years of that heyday, it would be a well-deserved honor.