Remember the scene in the beginning of Major League II where all the success from the prior season went to the heads of some of the players—Hays was in a movie and trying to hit for power, Vaughn is clean-cut, shows up in a limo and is obsessed with his image. That’s the scene that comes to mind when someone brings up Cole Hamels’ rough 2009 season.

Hamels celebrates Phillies 2008 Championship

Hamels was on cloud nine after his breakout 2008 season that included a dominating postseason performance that culminated into a championship and World Series MVP award. So Hamels did what any young, successful, next-big-thing athlete is expected to do in the following offseason, he signed on for a ton of endorsements, commercials, photo shoots, you name it. He may not spent as much time that he normally would on his offseason workout to get into shape and keep mentally strong and therefore, what followed was a major step back for Hamels in 2009.

He threw about 40 less innings in 2009 and saw his ERA rise from 3.09 in 2008 to 4.32 in 2009. Hits went up, strikeouts decreased and wins fell from1 4 to 10 last season as well. The Phillies still made the playoffs and won the National League, but Hamels was horrendous in the postseason (7.58 ERA). This is exactly why Hamels is the key to the Phillies 2010 season.

Sure the Phillies added Roy Halladay, one of the best pitchers in the majors, this offseason, but Halladay doesn’t necessarily add much that Cliff Lee didn’t give last year. I have no doubts that Halladay will be sterling for the Phillies this year and have a good chance to win the Cy Young in the NL, but nobody could have pitched any better than Lee did down the stretch for Philadelphia. Halladay merely replaces Lee as the rotation ace (I still believe the Phillies could have and should have held onto Lee for this season and dominate their way to another title with Halladay and Lee, but that’s a topic for another day).

Hamels played the role of ace in the Phils 2008 championship run. It’s imperative for the Phils to get Hamels back on track to become the first National League team to appear in three consecutive World Series since the Cardinals in 1942-44.

Joe Blanton is a good number three pitcher and JA Happ had a solid rookie season and can developed in the back end of the rotation, so with Hamels and Halladay pitching like premier aces especially in the playoffs, it makes the Phillies very difficult to beat with their potent offense.

But if Hamels can’t figure it out and pitches like a number 4-5 as he did last year, the Phillies will struggle to not only make a championship run, but to defend their NL and division pennant.