September 17 Philadelphia Daily News columnist Paul Hagen:
“If Charlie Manuel is reading this, he might want to stop right now. After all, the Phillies‘ manager rightly doesn’t like to look ahead, preferring to simply focus on the game at hand. But what the hell? We’re going to look all the way ahead to setting up his rotation for the first round of the playoffs.
Insert standard boilerplate here: No, the Phillies haven’t clinched anything yet. Yes, the lessons of 1964 are still painfully remembered. No, they can’t take anything for granted. Yes, they still have to go out and win the games they’re supposed to.
But . . .
The last 2 days the Phillies were in Florida changed the entire calculus of the remainder of the season. Not only did they increase their lead from one to three games that quickly, but the second-place Braves begin a nine-game road trip tonight. And while Atlanta has the best home record in baseball, it is just 31-41 away from Turner Field. The Phillies are right where they want to be with Atlanta coming to town for a three-game series beginning Monday.
So for amusement purposes only, we’re going to make two proposals. The first is that the Phillies will make the playoffs. The second is that they should NOT start Roy Halladay in Game 1 of the NLDS if there’s a way to avoid it.
That takes nothing away from the season Doc is having. He might well be the front-runner to win the Cy Young Award. He’s got a great chance to become the Phillies‘ first 20-game winner since Steve Carlton in 1982, and first Phillies righthander since Robin Roberts in 1955.
At the same time, when it comes to hitters, Manuel is inclined to go with the hot hand. Applying the same logic to starting pitchers, the reality is that both Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt have pitched better recently. Since the July 31 trading deadline:
Halladay is 7-2, 3.25. He has allowed 67 hits in 63 2/3 innings and opponents are hitting .270 against him.
Hamels is 4-3, 2.01. He has allowed 45 hits in 62 2/3 innings and opponents are batting .197.
Oswalt is 6-0, 1.56. He has allowed 35 hits in 57 2/3 innings and opponents are batting .177.
Both Hamels and Oswalt have postseason experience, but that really isn’t relevant here. Cliff Lee had never pitched in the playoffs before last season and he did just fine. And Halladay may never have a more emotional start than he did June 25 against his former team, the Blue Jays. He pitched seven shutout innings that night.
The tipping point, at least from this vantage point, is that Halladay leads the majors in innings pitched. It’s logical to suggest, then, that he would most benefit from a little extra rest.
The ticklish part is that by the unwritten rules of baseball, Halladay deserves the start. He has the most service time. He has the biggest contract. He has the only Cy Young in the group. He has done nothing to pitch himself out of that honor. And all that counts for something, too.”
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