Playoff Debate No. 1—Why Cole Hamels Is Key for Phillies

October 7, 2009 by  
Filed under Fan News

Hello and welcome to the first of what I hope will turn into a series of postseason debates.

With the Phillies running away from the Rockies in Game One of their divisional series, there will be a lot of talk around baseball about just how good Jimmy Rollins and the Fightin’ Phils are.

I’ve asked four of Bleacher Report’s best baseball writers to share their thoughts on the game, in the hope of getting a debate started into the hottest questions of the day.

I’ve also added my two cents to the argument, but be warned…I’m 70 percent wrong 80 percent of the time.

Today’s scribes are Rockies fan and Colorado native David Martin, Washington Nationals writer Thomas Cogliano, passionate third generation Cubbies fan Tab Bamford, and featured Phillies columnist Shay Roddy.

Be sure to check out their pages and show them some love by clicking on their names above. I couldn’t have done any of this without them.

Everyone has an opinion. We’re just not afraid to shout them out loud.


What was the key play of the game?

Tab: The key to the game was Cliff Lee dominating the Rockies. He threw a complete game and could/should have thrown a shutout. Ubaldo Jimenez wasn’t bad, but the Phillies’ bullpen just got an extra day of rest.

Thomas: The key to Game One (and the rest of the NLDS) was, and is, very simple: Throw strikes!

The excellence of Cliff Lee was on display in Game One. Pitching a complete game where he surrendered no walks and allowed only six hits, Lee was masterful.

Ash: The key play was Carlos Ruiz taking Jimenez’s 3-2 slider into center field to give the Phillies a 2-0 lead in the fifth inning. Had he made the second out, Raul Ibanez would probably have been stranded on base with Cliff Lee up next.

A 1-0 lead against a team with almost 200 homers is definitely not safe.

David: The key play of the game was Raul Ibanez’s double in the fifth inning. It scored the first run and got the Phillies rolling off of Ubaldo Jimenez.

If Jimenez is able to get Ibanez in that situation, the game is completely different.

Shay: I wouldn’t necessarily label one play the key play, but I think when Carlos Gonzalez dropped the ball against the Budweiser sign in left, that was a momentum shifter. The Phillies’ bats had been cold coming in, and that was big for them confidence-wise.

I also think the Jayson Werth triple was key offensively. That broke the game open.


What do the Phillies need to do to be successful in Game Two of the NLDS?

Tab: The Phillies need to hit with men on base (like they did in Game One), and that’s really about it.

Thanks to Lee going all nine on Wednesday, the bullpen could realistically give Cole Hamels three or four innings of relief if needed (though I doubt he’ll need it).

Thomas: The Philadelphia Phillies have one of the best team defenses in the entire National League. They were second in fewest errors in the entire NL.

So, the key for Philadelphia pitchers is very simple: Throw strikes!

Ash: Cole Hamels needs to continue the progression he has made since the summer and continue to pitch well to left-handed hitters.

The Rockies are carrying six lefties on their October roster (Todd Helton, Ian Stewart, Brad Hawpe, Seth Smith, Carlos Gonzalez, and Jason Giambi), and it is likely that Hamels will have to face at least three of them tomorrow.

The key matchup could be against Helton, who will be batting in the heart of the Rox order ahead of Troy Tulowitzki, who has regained his power stroke and returned to 2007 form. Helton is hitting 60 points lower (.243) against southpaws than he is righties.

David: For the Phillies to continue with their success and head to Coors Field with a 2-0 lead, they are going to need Cole Hamels to pitch the way that he is capable of.

If he pitches the way that he did in the ‘08 postseason, the Phillies should be in good shape. If the Rockies get to him early, though, it could be a different story.

Shay: Hamels needs to come out early and set the tone. If Hamels gets an early lead and the crowd behind him, the Rockies could be quick to hang their heads after being dominated Tuesday.


Which 2B will have the bigger series: Chase Utley or Clint Barmes?

Tab: Utley’s bigger in the series. Look at his production over the season. Yes, there are more run producers around him, but he’s one of the keys to that offense moving.

Ash: With no disrespect to Clint, this is all about Chase.

Chase Utley is a perennial All-Star as well as one of the most consistent second basemen in the National League.

Utley hits with power to all fields, and 2009 has seen him record career-high numbers in stolen bases (23) and walks (88). He’s only a .213 postseason hitter in 17 games, so look for him to break out against the Rockies, against whom he has batted .331 lifetime (50-for-151) in 38 games.

By contrast, Barmes has been in a .205 slump since the All-Star break.

David: I think the second baseman that will have the bigger impact is Chase Utley. Clint Barmes is a phenomenal defensive second baseman and hits for power, but he is not a game-changer.

Utley takes a better approach at the plate, and despite not having the year that he expected, he still has a pretty good idea of what to expect at the plate.

Shay: That’s a no-brainer—Utley. Though Utley’s bat has been cold lately, he’s one of baseball’s greats, and October is the time when great players shine.

The one thing that concerns me about Utley, though, is that he went hard into second base today and looked like he came up and limped a little.

He stayed in the game and seemed fine, but as former Phillie Geoff Jenkins said after the game, you can never tell when Utley’s hurting, he hides it so well. It seemed pretty clear he did something to his ankle, so watch him closely the next few days.

As far as Clint Barmes goes, he’s a mediocre hitter. He fills the eight hole well but will never live up to Utley’s caliber.



Who was the unsung hero from Game One?

Tab: Jimmy Rollins made a few nice plays, one in the late innings on a wind-blown pop-up from Todd Helton. He was my unsung hero.

Thomas: Offensively, the key to the game was Jayson Werth’s RBI triple in the bottom of the sixth inning. That blast pushed across a fourth run for the Phillies and rendered any chance of a comeback by the Rockies nearly obsolete!

Also critical to the Philadelphia victory was the clutch hitting by Raul Ibanez, who drove in two runs in two separate at-bats.

Ash: Cliff Lee will rightly receive a whole host of plaudits, but Jayson Werth was fantastic for the Phillies.

Right fielder Werth went 2-for-3 with a walk, an RBI triple, and a pair of runs to lead the Phillies’ offense to a 1-0 series lead. He worked the count and got Jimenez’s pitch count up there.

David: The unsung hero for game one is Jayson Werth. His walk in the fifth inning was the first given up by Jimenez and ended up being the first run scored.

If he is not on first base, Jimenez does not have to give in to Ibanez, and the game isn’t the same. His triple in the sixth inning also pretty much put the game away.

Shay: Though Yorvit Torrealba and Carlos Gonzalez both looked bad at times in the field, they both had nice days at the plate.

Pretty much all the Phillies hit, but I’d call Carlos Ruiz the unsung hero. He went 1-for-3 with an RBI and really helped Cliff Lee out behind the plate.

Beside one Panamanian (Chooch’s homeland) reporter’s question in the news conference, I haven’t heard much said about him.


What is the key stat from the game?

Tab: The key statistic of the game was 9.0 IP from Cliff Lee. He was dominant.

Ash: Ubaldo Jimenez threw just 14 pitches out of the zone in the first four innings, but 17 balls alone in the fifth.

When Jimenez got wild, the Phillies tagged him for two runs. Jimenez then threw five of his next 11 pitches for balls in giving up three more runs in the sixth inning before getting yanked with one man out.

While he only walked one batter, he got into trouble when he had to throw his fastball and slider to batters in hitters’ counts.

David: Key statistic for the game: Cliff Lee—nine innings pitched, one earned run on six hits. Six strikeouts and no walks.

Shay: Cliff Lee: 9 IP 1 ER. ‘Nough said.


What was more impressive: Cliff Lee singling on a 98-MPH fastball, stealing his first ever career base without a throw, and dropping down his first sacrifice bunt in a Phillies’ uniform, or Cliff Lee pitching one-run ball in his postseason debut?

Tab: The one-run ball and a complete game in his first postseason start was most impressive. Greg Maddux used to sneak a steal every one in a while just because he was smart and knew how to read a pitcher not holding him on.

Dominating a hot Colorado offense was most impressive.

Thomas: The most impressive feat of Game One was beyond any and all doubt the masterful pitching performance of Cliff Lee.

Lee dominated the action and recorded the first complete game in a postseason debut since Bobby Jones of the 2000 New York Mets. This performance outdoes the masterful outing of Philadelphia’s Cole Hamels from last season’s NLDS versus the Milwaukee Brewers.

In that game last year, Hamels lasted eight innings, not nine!

Ash: As funny as it was to see Lee have a running lead before Jimenez even went in to his wind-up, he never came around to score or even reached third base.

The big story was obviously Lee retiring 15 in a row and keeping the Rox off the basepaths. He has been superb at home since coming from the Indians (2.52 ERA compared to 4.09 ERA on the road), and he lived up to his “ace” tag in every sense of the word.

Nobody will care that he didn’t get the shutout. He saved the bullpen and did everything he needed to help his team win at a canter.

David: Cliff Lee’s pitching was by far the most impressive stat of the day. In his postseason debut the lefty dominated the Rockies, not showing an ounce of intimidation as he pitched.

Shay: They’re all impressive, but I was shocked when it was announced that that was his first Phillies sacrifice. That would be the only one that doesn’t impress me.

I guess you have to go with stealing the base though. Only four pitchers have done that in MLB postseason history. He credits that all to first base coach Davey Lopes. Lopes said he saw something and advised Lee of it.

Lee picked it up and decided to run. The rest is history.


Remember, be sure to check out the writers’ pages. There’s a lot of good stuff happening in there.

For a full recap of this opening game in the series, visit David’s match report here.

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Article Source: Bleacher Report - Philadelphia Phillies

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