Phillies World Series Pitching Breakdown

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Notice that the headline is not "Phillies Pitching Breaking Down".

When it comes to playoff baseball, pitching wins. If that is the case then we are in for a good World Series when the Phillies take on the Rays starting Wednesday. The Phillies will send their ace, Cole Hamels, to the mound in game one Wednesday night to counter Scott Kazmir. Let us take a look at the Phillies' starting pitching for the World Series, how they have gotten here and what we can expect to see once the umpire yells "Play ball!"

Cole Hamels
Hamels has been having a terrific year in 2008. Pitching a career high in innings pitched he also struck out 196 while only walking 53 batters. The lefty's dominance reached a new level once the post season began. Proving himself to be the ace of the staff Hamels got the Phillies' World Series run off on the right foot in game one in the NLDS against the Brewers.

Hamels pitched eight shut out and shut down innings for the Phillies, allowing only two hits, one walk and striking out nine. Handing off a 3-0 lead to Brad Lidge without breaking a sweat, Hamels would not pitch until game one of the NLCS against the Dodgers. In two appearances against Los Angeles Hamels went fourteen innings. In those fourteen innings Hamels was dominant yet again, striking out fourteen, walking five, and yielding three runs. Hamels earned two victories in the NLCS and was awarded the NLCS MVP for his efforts.

Hamels features one of the best changeups in the game. What makes it so dangerous to opposing batters is his arm speed. When Hamels is throwing the ball towards home plate a batter can not tell the difference in arm speed between his fastball and his changeup. The ability to hide his pitch will pay dividends against a young team like Tampa if they fail to show patience. Even if they do show patience Hamels can be difficult to combat because his location is excellent. If the umpires are calling the corners with a healthy strike zone then Hamels will feast on the swing happy Rays.

Hamels will face Kazmir in game one Wednesday night.

Brett Myers
I like to refer to the right handed Myers as the "wild card" of the starting rotation. Phillies fans know of the struggles of Myers and his wild ride in 2008, but for the benefit of everybody let us review it.

Myers ended the 2007 seaosn as the Phillies' closer but the addition of Lidge meant a move of Myers back to the starting rotation. Adament about coming in from the bullpen still, maybe as if he was going to win the closing role from Lidge, the Phillies named him the opening day starter, a move controversial at the time because we all knew Hamels was the true ace of the team. It was a move to silence Myers' desires to come in from the bullpen and at first it did not seem to work. Myers struggled early, starting out 3-9. He was sent to triple A ball in Lehigh to get himself straightened out. Was it mental? Was there something wrong physically? Who knows. He had no fastball, throwing at a velocity even Jamie Moyer might challenge at times, and Myers was throwing balls right down the middle. Meatball after meatball.

Since coming back from triple A Myers has been good more often than not. In fact he may have been the best pitcher the Phillies had coming down the stretch. When he didn't end the season well, getting shelled by Atlanta and Florida in his last two starts, the questions about Myers grew entering the NLDS. Myers has had a memorable post season so far, but the stats don't show it. While Myers has been doing more damage as a batter (4-for-5, three runs scored, three RBI, and one walk), Myers is 2-0 as a pitcher. In twelve innings pitched Myers has allowed seven runs, wlaked seven, struck out ten and allowed eight hits. The ERA stands at 5.25.

Personally I feel it would be a mistake to start Myers in game two on the road. Myers is the type of pitcher that feeds off of the home crowd in Citizens Bank Park. He plays to the crowd and lives off of the fans. It seems that Moyer would be the better fit for game two (more on him in a moment) and Myers for game three, but then again why should Phillies manager Charlie Manuel switch things up now? His team is 7-2 in the playoffs with this pitching rotation. He has gotten out of some key jams in the playoffs so far and will have to remain cool when Tampa puts the pressure on. How he reacts will be something to watch.

Myers will oppose James Shields in game two.

Jamie Moyer
The crafty lefty is sure to break out of his slump sooner or later, right? Moyer may have been the most reliable pitcher for the Phillies in the regular season, winning sixteen games and striking out 123 while walking only 62, but he is sure having a postseason to forget so far. The only games that the Phillies have lost have come when Moyer got the start.

It is tough to hand all of the blame to Moyer though as he has been in the toughest situations for the Phillies so far this post season. With his team up 2-0 in the NLDS and NLCS Moyer was given the responsibility of taking the mound for the first road games in each series. He struggled early against the Brewers who were amped to play their first home playoff game since 1982. Showing uncharacteristic patience at the plate the Brewers took advantage of Moyer's style. Moyer will start games by working the corners, testing the umpire's judgment of the strike zone as well as the batter's ambitions at the plate. The Brewers took pitches that they normally would not and Moyer struggled to ever find the strike zone. While Moyer was able to keep the Phillies close the offense failed to bail him out of the game, handing him a tough loss.

Game three of the NLCS was much of the same. While Moyer was making better pitches it was the Dodgers who possessed the unbelievable bats and found a way to hit everything, scoring five runs in the first inning. It was once again a bad situation for Moyer, who once again took the mound for the first road game against a potent offense looking to make a statement in the their first home game.

Ugly numbers alert! Moyer has pitched 5.1 innings, allowing ten hits, eight runs, one home run, and three walks. Moyer does have five strike outs but his 2008 post season ERA stands at 13.50.

What makes Moyer a good pitcher is his baseball IQ. HE won't throw above 85mph and he has no problem stalling the game to throw to first or second to keep runners close. His stance is unique in that he doesn't have to decide whether to throw a pitch or try to keep the runner close (or if lucky pick a runner off stealing) until very late in his windup. The Rays are a run happy team and have yet to be caught stealing in he playoffs. If they get on base prepare yourself for a long, drawn out inning. If you have watched a game between the Phillies and Mets or Marlins this year you know what to expect from Moyer. Just ask Jo Reyes.

As mentioned though Moyer is about location. If Moyer struggles early but hangs in there he will make the necessary adjustments when it comes to plate approach. Perhaps getting a home start will be good for Moyer as well.

Moyer will oppose ALCS MVP Matt Garza in game three.

Joe Blanton
Blanton, a mid season acquisition, is scheduled to start game four for the Phillies, but if things look desperate it would be interesting to see if Hamels gets his second start a little early. I wouldn't count on it though knowing Manuel's managerial style. Blanton has turned out to be a very good pick up by general manager Pat Gillick. Since coming to Philadelphia Blanton has not recorded a loss. While some of his games have not gone smoothly the offense seemed to bail him out.

Blanton is 2-0 in the playoffs, pitching eleven innings. In his post season work this year Blanton has allowed four runs, struck out eleven, and walked four. Following up Moyer's game three losses Blanton has helped the Phillies respond with two game four victories, the first an NLDS clincher in Milwaukee.

There is nothing too special about Blanton. Throwing with a fastball in the low 90's, a slider and changeup, his best pitch is his changeup. It is similar to the changeup of Barry Zito, which makes sense because they used to be teammates. Blanton's success comes form his ability to not get rattled. He he lets base runners on he is not likely to worry too much, although he will hurry things up a bit with his approach.

Blanton is slated to face Andy Sonnanstine in game four in Philadelphia.

So there you have it. The Phillies appear to have some strong pitching if they each pitch to their best abilities and could do well in the World Series. Questions remain to be answered though. Here are my one sentence thoughts on each pitcher, to sum up the above..

Cole Hamels: He's an ace.
Brett Myers: He's a nutcase.
Jamie Moyer: If anybody can put two bad starts behind him, it is this guy
Joe Blanton: If he gets the Phillies to the sixth they're fine, and even better if he gets to the seventh.

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