There was a stretch last September where the Phillies went on a run to cripple the rest of the NL East, winning 11 games in a row and 22 of 26 in which the team showed glimpses of something otherworldly. It was thanks to that streak that the Phillies erased a seven-game deficit in the standings and turned it into a seven-game advantage faster than one could say, “The Big Three.”
Led by the starting rotation made up of aces Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt, most of the players in the clubhouse were playing for the best team ever. At least that’s what they said.
“Definitely. We’re better all around – less question marks. Not that question marks ever bothered us because we like to prove skeptics wrong, but coming into this year there were only one or two things people were iffy about,” said Jimmy Rollins, the longest tenured player on the team. “Then we had a great acquisition in little Roy [Oswalt] and that took the pressure off of Cole [Hamels], and then Roy [Halladay] took the pressure off of everybody. He just came in and shut the door. Lights out.”
Still, it’s tough to label the team the best ever if it didn’t win the championship, and despite a postseason where the pitching staff posted a 2.37 ERA, got 80 strikeouts in 79 2/3 innings and had two shutouts, a near shutout, and a no-hitter, the ending was quite disappointing.
So rather than keep Jayson Werth on an offense that was frustratingly maddening during the season and playoffs, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. did the next logical move and backed up a Brinks’ truck on Cliff Lee’s front lawn. Apparently the Phillies plan for 2011 is if they aren’t going to score many runs, then the other team isn’t going to score any...
And that’s just it, isn’t it? The Phillies intend on flirting with history in 2011 and to do so they have replaced Cy Young Award winners Cliff Lee and Pedro Martinez with Oswalt and Lee (again). In fact, the motto for the Phillies hitters in the coming season might be, “One and done.” After all, on most nights they probably can get by with just one run.
But is this the best pitching staff in team history, let alone recent baseball history? Baring an injury there is a chance the quartet could become just the third group in baseball history to have four 20-game winners on the same staff. Only the 1971 Orioles with Dave McNally (21-5), Pat Dobson (20-8), Jim Palmer (20-9) and Mike Cuellar (20-9) as well as the 1920 White Sox with Red Faber (23-13), Lefty Williams (22-14), Dickie Kerr (21-9) and Ed Ciciotte (21-10) have accomplished the feat.
However, neither team won the World Series.
So yes, for history to judge the Phillies most favorably, they have to win.
After all, does anyone remember much about the Oakland teams that went to the postseason in four straight seasons but never made it past the ALDS? How about the Indians of the 1990s that made it the playoffs for five seasons in a row and the World Series twice, but never wore the ring?