Should Cliff Lee Start Game One?
Charlie Manuel pulled a fast one on us. When most major websites — including Phillies.com — listed Cole Hamels as the Game One starter, Charlie finally made it official. Indeed, Cliff Lee will be starting Game One. Wait, what?
I had thought the logic behind using Hamels to start the series was simply that Hamels doesn’t pitch well on extended rest. While his start on the 8th of October, Game Two of the NLDS, would be five days separated from his last start on October 3, it will have been ten days since he really had a workload: he threw 103 pitches in a loss to the Houston Astors on September 28 but only 47 against the Florida Marlins.
Over the span of his career, Hamels has a 5.07 ERA when resting for more than the standard 4-5 days.
Meanwhile, we learned yesterday that the Rockies are the second-best team in the Majors at hitting the cutter, which is Lee’s second-best pitch. Compound that with Lee’s recent struggles — a 6.13 ERA in his last seven starts — and we aren’t inspired with confidence. Of course, Hamels has struggled all season, so Manuel is really stuck between a rock and a hard place.
It’s not like Manuel can turn to Joe Blanton for a start in the opener either, as Joe finished the regular season on an off-key note like everyone else. After allowing a rate of 2.33 walks per nine innings through his first 26 starts, he finished up with a rate of nearly five per nine innings. In his last six starts, Blanton sandwiched two shut-out appearances of 6 and 7 innings with two starts before in which he allowed 11 runs in as many innings, and 10 runs in 12 innings afterwards.
The good news for Lee is that none of the Rockies he has faced before have hit him hard. Rockies hitters are a combined 10-for-48 (.233) with two doubles, a home run, and six RBI, but it’s really been Jason Giambi who has done most of that damage. Giambi is 3-for-12 with a double, home run, and five RBI against Lee.
Excluding his 2007 start against the Rockies in the NLDS, Rockies hitters are 14-for-37 (.424) against Cole Hamels with six extra-base hits and nine RBI, and an overall OPS of 1.169. As expected, the Rockies’ right-handers hit Hamels the hardest: Garrett Atkins (2-for-3, HR, 2 RBI), Ryan Spilborghs (2-for-3, 2 2B, RBI), and Clint Barmes (2-for-2, 2B).
There is really nothing that should make one confident in either pitcher judging by recent history. Manuel is taking a gamble that Cliff Lee’s struggles won’t linger and that Hamels won’t mind the extra rest. Flip a coin, roll a die, do Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe. It all needs to come up cherries for the Phillies’ starters.