Trivia question: Who was the last team to have four 20-game winners in one year?

Answer: The 1971 Orioles rotation that featured Dave McNally (21-5, 2.89), Mike Cuellar (20-9, 3.08), Pat Dobson (20-8, 2.90) and oh yeah, Hall of Famer Jim Palmer (20-9, 2.68).

No one has been able to match that feat, or really come close for that matter. Keep in mind baseball was a different game in 1971 from today. Starting pitchers went further into games almost every time out and averaged more starts throwing on less rest than today’s pitchers. Though now the big comparison to this rotation is the current one the Phillies are about to start the 2011 season with that includes Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels and Joe Blanton (the fifth guy could be my neighbor, it really doesn’t matter).

Do four pitchers on this staff actually have a shot at 20 wins each? Well three out of four have won 20 games at some point in their career. Halladay has done it three times including last year, Oswalt twice and Lee once. Hamels career high in win was 14 in 2008, but this could be a breakout year for him with less pressure on him as the number four guy. Though Blanton actually has more wins than Hamels in a year with 16 in 2006 with Oakland.

There’s obviously a chance, but I see it as a long shot to accomplish it. The offense is certainly there for the Phillies to produce plenty of runs, but everything would basically need to go right for them to do it.

As I mentioned above, Lee has only won 20 games once in his career as injuries have been a problem for him over the years. Oswalt is also 32 years old and his back is always a question mark. He reached 200 innings last year, but I think it will be difficult for him to continue to go deep into games all year. And Hamels would really need to take a jump in production and dominate to reach the 20-win mark. Halladay appears to be a lock for 20 wins (barring injury) with the way he pitched last year for Philly.

Plus, look at the ’71 Orioles numbers above for each pitcher. McNally reached 21 wins, but the other three just barely reached 20 wins. Obviously they were an incredible staff, but even they received some luck down the stretch for three of them to just get over the mark. You need the offense to score runs, you need your bullpen to hold leads late in the game, you need to stay healthy and avoid a freak injury, need weather to hold up and not wash out a pitcher’s start among other intangibles.

Another interesting fact is while that Orioles staff was unreal with four 20-game winners, they still did not win the World Series. They came close though losing in seven games to, that’s right, the Pittsburgh Pirates. Will the Phillies hold the same fate?


The San Diego Padres aren’t done just yet. The Padres faced a bleak chance in the playoff race heading into this weekend, needing to sweep the Giants on the road to win the NL West. Well, two games down and two victories by the Padres. On Saturday afternoon, San Diego used stellar pitching, go figure, to mow down the Giants in a 4-2 victory behind Tim Stauffer‘s 6.1 innings with one run allowed. That leaves one final game of the regular season, and the Padres will turn to their ace Mat Latos.

But not only is the NL West crown still up for grabs, but the wild card spot is also vacant on the final day of the season. This is where things get complicated thanks to the Braves losing two straight at home to the Phillies. It looked like the Braves were a lock for the postseason a week ago, but heading into tomorrow, there’s a real possibility that Sunday’s game could be Bobby Cox’s last. Let me attempt to easily break down the scenario for Sunday:

— If the Braves and Giants win: Giants are NL West champs, Braves are the wildcard. Padres are stuck wondering “what if” had they not lost 10 straight games last month.

— If the Braves and Padres win: There would be a three-team tiebreaker, the first in MLB history. This is definitely a scenario I’m interested in.

— If the Padres win and the Braves lose: Padres are NL West champs, Giants earn the wildcard and Braves are saying goodbye to Cox.

— If the Giants win and Braves lose: Giants are NL West champs and the Padres travel to Atlanta for a one-game playoff on Monday for the wild card.

What a finish it should be. As I mentioned above, Latos will be on the hill for the Padres. He’s been stellar this year with a 14-9 record and 2.92 ERA. The Giants will counter with Jonathan Sanchez (12-9, 3.15).

Meanwhile in Atlanta, the game will also feature two solid pitchers as Cole Hamels (12-11, 3.09) takes the mound for the Phils against Tim Hudson (16-9, 2.76). Hudson has been the Braves best and most consistent pitcher this season, so it only makes sense for their season to be on his shoulders.

It should make for a dramatic afternoon in the baseball universe during an NFL Sunday. Not only are these two spots on the line, but if the Yankees end up losing Game 2 of their doubleheader against the Red Sox (tied in extras right now), then the AL East division will also come down to the final day. Plus, we still aren’t sure who gets home field advantage in the American League between the Yankees, Rays and Twins.

Enjoy the games tomorrow. Consider me at least one fan who’s rooting for the Padres and Braves, so we can see the first ever three-team tiebreaker!

This is an important point of the season for the Phillies. Prior to the season, I didn’t think there was any chance they wouldn’t be making the postseason for a third straight year. Now, I can see how it may happen. Inconsistent play is one main reason and a problem spot that can hurt any team at any time snuck up to bite the Phillies—injuries.

The Phils DL list already looks like so: Placido Polanco, JA Happ, starting catcher Carlos Ruiz, Ryan Madson and Chad Durbin. But now the main injury concern is all-star Chase Utley, who requires surgery on his thumb, and will be out at least eight weeks. Besides an injury right before the playoffs, I think this is the worst time for news like that. The Phillies are in third place (yes, even behind the Mets) and four games back of the Braves in the NL East. They haven’t looked good in a while and losing a three-game series to the Reds earlier this weekend has everyone believing the Reds are legit.

I wrote in spring training that Cole Hamels was the key to the Phillies this year. Well, he’s been mediocre at best in the first half of the season. Everyone continues to wait to see Hamels put it all together and “re-breakout” again, but so far it’s the same “middle of the road” pitcher that we keep seeing. Roy Halladay has been a Godsend, but we already knew he would. But while Doc is being his usual dominant self, the rest of the rotation seems to have taken a step back. Joe Blanton is struggling, Kyle Kendrick struggles to keep his ERA under 5.00, Happ is on the DL after making just two starts this year. Maybe keeping Cliff Lee around for another year wouldn’t have been such a bad idea?

It will be interesting to see what Philadelphia does at the trade deadline especially with its depleted roster at the moment. Will they add an arm that they desperately need like Dan Haren or Roy Oswalt? Will they acquire infield help in the name of Ty Wigginton, Miguel Tejada or Jose Lopez? I think the starting pitching is more of a need because they need another dominant starter along with Halladay. But something has to be done quickly before this funk they are in ends up dropping them too far behind the Braves/Mets where a late-season comeback will be, well, late.

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.