There is a new Ace in townby Joseph Birmingham
After starting last year against the perennial rival Atlanta Braves, the Phillies will have a chance to start off strong an immediately separate from the rest of the National League East. Their first 9 games come against 2 teams that went a combined 133-191 in 2009. With the addition of staff ace Roy Halladay and 5 of their first 8 series coming against sub .500 teams from 2009, the Phillies may have a real shot at the best start in team history. Halladay may have 3 starts against National League bottom feeders before he is put to his first true test.
It is funny though, from all the reports I have read, and out of all the quotes attributed to Halladay, he seems to have a sense of nostalgia regarding his days with Toronto in the American League. Here is one of his quotes: ”I think I’ll miss a little bit of going into Yankee Stadium and Boston, where you’re expected to lose every time you go in there, and being able to walk out with wins.”
This is a man who is not only capable, but confident. He holds the best record for a starting pitcher against the Yankees in the past 55 years among pitchers with 22 or more starts in that span. He won 1 Cy Young and seriously competed for 2 others in the last decade in the American League, and now he gets to face teams who average fewer hits, a lower slugging percentage and less home runs. He will also get to totally confound the oppositions pitchers when their turn at the plate arrives. We haven’t had that kind of swagger here since the days of Mitch Williams, and in my opinion, Halladay has earned the right to swagger more than “The Wild Thing” ever did.
What I am most curious about however, is how will he do at the plate ? He has faced an opposing pitcher at the plate rarely if ever in his career. I mean, we all know he can pitch, but he is arriving in the city of brotherly love as the second highest paid player on the team, behind Ryan Howard, and what the fans really want to know is that they got good value for their money.
I mean, really, when the Phillies traded for Cliff Lee midseason last year, they knew he could pitch too, but who would have guessed he would go 7-33 with 2 doubles ? It wouldn’t have surprised me if he had gone without a hit in his 12 starts as he got used to taking a stance at the plate as opposed to his accustomed place on the mound. And how about his nonchalant fielding prowess on comebackers and infield pop ups late in the season and during the playoffs ? And his exuberant dash to and from the mound every time out ? Are we going to get a show from Halladay or just solid relentless pitching ? His regimen already indicates he has an extremely strong work ethic, showing up at 5:30 each morning to begin his workout, normally ahead of the rest of the staff. But the important question is, will he entertain us as he wins games, or will he just shut ‘em down and send them packing ?
Obviously I want to see some wins, I really feel he has to have at least a 15 win season to validate his salary and contribute to this team making a run at a fourth straight NL East title. But it would also be nice to see a show. Get the crowd into it, in the way Lee did last year, and Hamels did the year before. After all, the Phillies may finally be in a position to get some national respect; after being a laughingstock for a century, they are seriously being considered a strong contender for not only the post season this year, but to return to the World Series.
Seriously, if Halladay bats .050 and goes 15-5 with an ERA under 3.5 or better, it will still be an enormous upgrade for this team. They are finally getting a solid staff in place that will enable them to dominate any team in a 5 or 7 game series, and that is what matters. The only real question mark that remains is closing games. Will we get the Lidge of 2008 who was nearly flawless, or the Lidge of 2009 who posted a 7+ ERA and set the record for blown saves ? That, more than any one factor will most likely contribute to the Phillies successful return to the World Series. I can’t wait for the baseball season to get underway so we can get some answers to these questions and get a chance to check both Halladay and Lidge out.
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