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?

NLCS Game 6: Giants 3, Phillies 2 (Giants win series 4-games-2)
The Giants scratched out enough runs again in a hostile environment to defeat the Phillies 3-2 to eliminate the former back-to-back NL champs and punch their own ticket to the Fall Classic against the Rangers.

Juan Uribe hit a go-ahead solo home run in the top of the eighth inning off Phillies reliever Ryan Madson to give the Giants a 3-2 lead that held up as the winning run. This coming from a guy who was hitting under .100 this postseason and off of a pitcher that has been stellar for Philadelphia up until tonight. This all after the Giants had tied the game in the third inning off of another Phillies either as Aubrey Huff scored when Buster Posey‘s slow roller to third base gave Polanco trouble as he threw wildly to first base, hit the runner and got away from Ryan Howard to allow Huff to score and tie it. The Phillies showed shoddy defense all series.

The other aspect that has to be talked about for the Giants in Game 6 was the fantastic pitching by the bullpen. After Jonathan Sanchez left following 2.0-plus innings of work, the bullpen took over to shut down Philadelphia the rest of the way. Jeremy Affeldt, Madison Bumgarner, Javier Lopez, Tim Lincecum and Brian Wilson worked the rest of the game allowing no runs. Lincecum even picked up a hold! Wilson came on and worked a five-out save and got Ryan Howard to strikeout looking with two runners on in an epic at-bat to end the game and the Phillies season. Lopez picked up the win and Wilson earned his third save of the season. Cody Ross picked up NLCS MVP honors, but no one would have complained had it gone to Wilson and his beard instead.

Phillies starter Roy Oswalt was good, but not terrific as he scattered nine hits over 6.0 innings allowing two runs (one earned) with five strikeouts. Oswalt gave way to Madson, who gave up the home run to Uribe in his second inning of work for the loss. It was the first run allowed all postseason by Madson…and couldn’t have come at a worse time.

The Giants continue to win tight ball games, string together just enough runs and pitch the lights out on the road, at home, anywhere to advance to their first World Series since 2002 in the post-Bonds era. You can’t say enough about how difficult of a performance it was for them to go into a hostile environment like a rockin’ house in Philly, take your starter out in third inning and still rally for the victory. Unbelievable stuff right there.

Cliff Lee versus Tim Lincecum Wednesday night for Game 1. Wow, I can’t wait for this series.

ALCS Game 3: Rangers 8, Yankees 0
Cliff Lee is pitching on a completely different planet right now from the rest of the league. Lee mowed down the Yankees Monday night to lead the Rangers to an 8-0 win at Yankee Stadium to take a two games to one lead in the ALCS. By not acquiring Lee at the trading deadline, the Yankees are up against their worst nightmare of facing Lee giving him the opportunity to knock them out.

Lee fired another brilliant performance, this time against a loaded Yankees lineup. He blanked the Yanks for 8.0 innings of work, allowing just two hits, one walk and a stellar 13 strikeouts for his third win of the 2010 playoffs. Jorge Posada and Brett Gardner recorded the only hits, both singles, off of Lee on the night. The Yankees are lucky that the schedule sets up for them to only face Lee twice this series…and that still may be too much for NY to overcome.

Texas took a lead before Lee even stepped onto the mound as Josh Hamilton delivered a two-run homer to right field off Andy Pettitte in the top of the first inning. The score remained 2-0 until the ninth when the Rangers broke out for six runs against the New York bullpen. Nelson Cruz and Bengie Molina each had RBI singles, Mitch Moreland drove in two runs on his single, Elvis Andrus doubled in a run and Moreland scored on a wild pitch to finish the scoring. Pettitte finished the game with a strong 7.0 innings with two runs allowed on five hits in the losing effort.

There’s not much time for the Yankees to dwell on this one as Game 4 takes place Tuesday night as they turn to AJ Burnett (scheduled starter) to attempt to tie the series.

NLCS Game 2: Phillies 6, Giants 1
The Phillies responded in Game 2 with a 6-1 victory over the Giants to tie the NLCS at one game apiece. Roy Oswalt was brilliant for Philly, limiting the G-men to one run through 8.0 innings of work with nine strikeouts.

With the Phillies leading 2-1, they broke the game wide open in the bottom of the seventh with a four-run inning. Jimmy Rollins led the way with two hits and four RBI, three of which came off a bases-clearing double in the seventh. Placido Polanco drove in two runs as well.

For San Francisco, Cody Ross was pretty much the entire offense again as he hit his third home run of the series, a solo shot to tie the game at 1-1 in the fifth. Giants starter Jonathan Sanchez was effective, but did not match Oswalt’s performance Sunday night as he went 6.0 innings with three runs allowed (two earned) on three walks and seven strikeouts.

The series shifts out west to the Bay Area this afternoon with Cole Hamels against Matt Cain in Game 3.

Well if you haven’t heard about it by now, the Phillies ended the numerous Roy Oswalt rumors and acquired him from the Astros.

So let’s go back to last December in the offseason and play a little timeline game. The Phillies trade a couple prospects away to get Roy Halladay in a deal on Dec. 16, 2009. Almost immediately following that trade, the Phillies turn around and deal Cliff Lee to Seattle for a couple of prospects. Fast forward to July 29, 2010 when the Phillies trade a couple prospects away and a ML pitcher in J.A. Happ to Houston for Oswalt.

Why didn’t they just keep Lee originally like everyone was wondering last December? A rotation with Halladay and Lee for a full year in light years better than a rotation with Roy and Roy for a half season. Oswalt is a nice pickup, but he’s not Cliff Lee at this time of his career. Oswalt currently has a WAR of 2.7 while Lee’s is significantly higher at 4.9. Lee has been dominant this year and is now helping Texas run away with the AL West.

At any rate, the Phils now have Oswalt to provide a great 1-2 punch in hopes of getting ahead of Atlanta in the last two months of the season. They traded Happ and minor league prospects Anthony Gose and Jonathan Villar. The Astros immediately turned around and dealt Gose to Toronto for key prospect Brett Wallace. Speaking of Wallace, if he’s such a great prospect that everyone raves about his power, why is this the fourth trade he’s been involved in about a year?

Wallace could eventually be the Astros long-term answer to Lance Berkman at first base as they are now discussing deals to send Berkman out of Houston. Anyway, getting back to Happ, who went 12-4 with a 2.93 ERA last year to finish second in the NL Rookie of the Year voting. He only pitched in three games in April for Philadelphia before a forearm injury has sidelined him since then. I’m just confused to what the Phillies were doing last offseason when they could have had Halladay, Lee and Happ all under contract. Instead, Lee and Happ are gone and Oswalt is the pitcher coming in.

Oswalt should be fine for the Phillies, but he won’t do what Lee did for them last year in the playoffs. It also will be interesting to see how Oswalt will react to pitching for a new team that isn’t the Astros for the first time in his career. The Astros probably could have landed better prospects for Oswalt, but with the money involved and Roy’s willingness to have his 2012 option picked up probably derailed better deals. The fact that they were able to get Villar, a young raw shortstop who could have a high ceiling, and a former first round pick with power that is probably ML ready in Wallace is a decent enough return for a pitcher that wanted out and wouldn’t be leading the Astros into the playoffs in the next two years.

Of course if you go over to FanGraphs or some other baseball site, they will probably tell you the Astros totally lost out on the deal. Anytime you’re trading for prospects with some of them in the low-level of the minors, you have to wait and see how these players develop before fully dissecting the trade. If Villar, Wallace and Happ end up having decent major league careers (even only two of them), doesn’t that outweigh a half season of Oswalt’s 32-year-old arm?

As I wrote earlier, instead of going through countless rumors about these three pitchers (speaking of which, see what I mean?), let’s do something a little different. If you were a GM in the majors right now and forget about ballpark and league switches, no-trade clauses or what prospects you would have to give up, which pitcher would you want for the remainder of the season to try to shore up the rotation for a playoff run—Roy Oswalt, Dan Haren or Ted Lilly?

It may not be as clear-cut as you think, but let’s break down the numbers…

Haren (29 yrs old) is having a down year by his standards with a 4.60 ERA in 141 ip, one complete game and 9.0 K/9, 1.9 BB/9 with a 2.6 WAR. His strikeout/walk ratio is still very good, but he’s giving up home runs at a crazy pace already allowing 23 home runs. Haren’s ERA is most likely a bit unlucky though as he BABIP (batting average on balls in play) is high at .350.

Oswalt (32 yrs old) has made 19 starts in 2010, posting a 3.12 ERA in 124 innings with one complete game as well. He has an 8.5 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9 while 11 home runs. Despite a much lower ERA than Haren, Oswalt’s WAR is 2.9, just 0.3 better than Haren, which is an indication that Haren has pitched better than his ERA shows this year.

Last by not least is Cubs starter Ted Lilly. Lilly (34 yrs old) sports a 3.88 ERA through 17 starts in 111.1 IP. He does not own a complete game this year and has a 6.5 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9 while serving up 19 long balls. Lilly’s WAR value is just 1.0, significantly lower than Haren and Oswalt, but Lilly’s last two starts have been stellar with a 2.51 ERA, including 10 strikeouts on July 21 to possible raise his trade value.

Oswalt has had the better overall career to this point, there’s no denying that, but his health history isn’t the greatest and you never know when his back problems will creep up. Moreover, at 29 years of age Haren is younger than both Oswalt and Lilly. Therefore I rank the pitchers I would want in this order: Haren, Oswalt and Lilly. I think Haren has more to offer at this time and when he’s on, he can be one of the top pitchers in the game. His BAPIP indicates that he’s been unlucky, so I think he poised to have a sterling second half and suddenly pitching in a pennant race may just be what he needs to turn it up a notch.

Haren is also slightly cheaper than Roy. Haren is owed $12.75MM in 2011 and 2012 while Oswalt gets $16MM next year with a club option for 2012. Lilly ($13MM this year) would be more of a rent-a-player since he will become a free agent next year. Haren or Oswalt could give you a couple of years of top of the rotation stuff.

Out of the three, who would you want to help pitch your team into the playoffs?

With a little over a week until the July 31st deadline, Astros pitcher Roy Oswalt and D-Backs pitcher Dan Haren are drawing interest from the following teams: Phillies, White Sox, Yankees, Twins, Giants, Dodgers, Cardinals, Packers, Steelers, Maple Leafs, Heat, Lakers, the Buzz, Gas-House Gorillas and the Tune Squad from Space Jam…

Hey, that Tune Squad team led by Bugs Bunny is tough.

All kidding aside, I’m not a fan of trade rumors very much. They reach a point of ridiculousness every year with about a week until the deadline. When you start quoting “sources from outside the organization” that can pretty much be anybody. Hell, I could be considered a reliable source outside the Pirates organization because I’m outside the organization and own a URL domain.

This is why you won’t find me talking about many trade rumors throughout the pages of Caught Looking. I enjoy writing about the trades that actually happen, not the ones where 14 teams have called the Brewers asking about Corey Hart. I’m sure each general manager talks to about 20 GM’s, if not more, in the last week of the deadline just to hear what each team wants for certain players, so they can gauge what interest is out there for those players and their own. Fans, and this is helped big time by the media, seem to believe every single report they hear and then flip out when it does not happen. Blah.

Instead, my next post (later day or tomorrow) will focus on three pitchers and who I would want on my team for the second half of this season—Oswalt, Haren or Ted Lilly.

Have a good day and remember, don’t believe everything you hear.

The Texas Rangers are suddenly serious contenders. The AL West division leader made the first splash in the trade market by acquiring Cliff Lee and reliever Mark Lowe from the Seattle Mariners for Justin Smoak and three minor leaguers.

The rumor for Texas all summer was the possibility of Roy Oswalt, but forget that. They picked up a pitcher a year younger and more consistent at this point in his career than Oswalt. Lee joins a staff that was already fourth in the AL in ERA and instantly becomes the ace this team lacked as I wrote about last month. Lee is 8-3 with a 2.34 ERA in 13 starts and five complete games. Even more impressive is his strikeout/walk ratio of a mindboggling 14.83 (best in the majors). Yes, he’s only walked six batters in 103.2 innings. Whoa.  This will also help shore up a rotation that currently has two starters (Rich Harden and Derek Holland) on the disabled list.

On the other hand, the Mariners pick up some prospects for a half season of Lee (actually less than half considering he started the season on the DL and the suspended list). The M’s picked up Lee in the offseason by dealing three prospects, most notably pitcher Phillippe Aumont, so does this year’s trade bring in better prospects? Well, Smoak is definitely a talent and is already major league ready. In his first season, Smoak has the pop with 10 doubles, eight homers, but a slash line of .209/.316/.353 through 70 games. Only time will tell if these prospects that Lee brought in will be a better return than what they gave up to the Phillies last year. Seattle took a shot this year by trading for Lee and they missed with a 34-51 record.

It’s refreshing to see this trade happen without the Yankees being involved. It’s uncommon to see teams like the Rangers trading for elite starting pitching. Good for them. I’m glad to see it happen to the Rangers and not the usual New York/Boston story.

Texas is already 5.5 games ahead of Anaheim in the division, and this deal should pretty much wrap up that division. It’s now the Rangers division to lose, and I don’t think they will lose it.