One word: dominance. Dominance sums up Cliff Lee’s performance in a 4-0 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals. This performance was the second consecutive shutout for Lee, and the Phillies’ 10th shutout of the season. For the season, Lee is now 8-5 with a 2.87 ERA. The Phillies now have three starting pitchers with an ERA below 3.00 (Halladay at 2.51, Hamels at 2.51 and Lee at 2.87).
Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard hit home runs tonight; however, Lee’s pitching was the focus of the game. Lee is the Phillies’ hottest pitcher lately, pitching 23 consecutive innings without allowing a run. In the month of June, Lee is currently 4-0 in four starts with a 0.27 ERA and 0.76 WHIP.
Halladay, Lee, Hamels and Roy Oswalt are a combined 30-16 on the season with a 2.76 ERA and 1.08 WHIP. The alarming thing about these terrific numbers is that Oswalt – although pitching well – is not as sharp as he had been last season! If Oswalt returns to his 2010 form with the Phillies, this rotation can put up numbers that are even more mind-numbing.
The Phillies’ offense looks like it is returning to form. Rollins and Howard are hitting the ball well recently and Chase Utley is looking sharper with each game.
The only concern I have about the offense this time is third baseman Placido Polanco. I am beginning to wonder if Polanco’s elbow has been troubling him. Polanco hit .398 in the month of April; however, he hit only .248 in May and is currently hitting .203 in June. I believe manager Charlie Manuel should consider benching Polanco for a few games.
Although the Phillies are reportedly looking for a right-handed bat to play in their outfield (Michael Cuddyer and Josh Willingham come to mind), I believe the Phillies should also consider the possibility of trading for a third baseman who can share playing time with Polanco. If Polanco indeed is troubled by injury, it would be prudent to have some insurance at the third base position. Wilson Valdez plays solid defense; however, he is not a consistent hitter and cannot be counted on to be an everyday player if Polanco suffers an injury.
Nevertheless, the Phillies look like a team to be reckoned with once again. They finally appear to have a healthy starting lineup, a star-studded pitching rotation and a strong bullpen. The offense will likely improve once Howard heats up later this summer (as he does every year) and Utley stays healthy. If the Phillies acquire a right-handed bat without trading any starters or top prospect Domonic Brown, then they may have the strongest lineup they’ve had in years. Regardless of whether or not they acquire a big right-handed bat, their pitching rotation makes them virtually unbeatable in a playoff series if they are on top of their game.