In the season opener Cliff Lee got lit up. In five innings Lee gave up 11 hits and eight earned runs. He was already at 101 pitches even though he only had one strikeout and one walk. Due to an offensive explosion by the Phils Lee was credited with the win. Over the past two years Lee has got very little support when he pitched. In 2012 and 2013 Lee’s combined record was 20-17. His peripherals were much better than his record would indicate however. Lee’s ERA for both seasons was 3.01 and his WHIP was 1.061. Both years he led the NL in SO/BB ratio, with the average of the two years being 7.15 to 1.
There wasn’t much fear from the Philly Phaithful that Lee would bounce back from Monday’s game. Jonathan Papelbon didn’t enjoy the same amount of confidence from the fans. On Monday Paps threw a 1-2-3 9th inning in a non save situation. His performance was largely unnoticed due to the Phils big game at the plate. On Wednesday night Papelbon entered the 9th inning with the Phils holding a 3-1 lead. This would be his first save situation since 2013, when he had a rough season with eight blown saves. It was a bad outing for Paps and the fans. In a third of an inning he got torched for three hits and three earned runs. He also walked two, including a bases loaded walk to give the Rangers a walk off win.
Today the Phils staked Lee to a one-run lead on a Chase Utley 1st inning homer. They tacked on another run in the 4th on an RBI single by Dom Brown. That was all the offense the Phils managed for the day as Samardzija went seven innings, struck out eight and turned in his second winnable game (WG, winnable game is a minimum of seven innings pitched while allowing two or less earned runs). The Cubs bullpen held the Phils scoreless the next two innings setting up a save situation for the Phils manager Ryne Sandberg.
Papelbon has taken a lot of heat from Phils fans after bowing Wednesday night’s game. The press has been all over him too, noting the drop in his velocity every chance they got. Would Ryno go back to his closer or give someone else a chance to finish this one off? While some fans had reservations about putting Papelbon into a two-run game, this question was a no-brainer for the manager. There’s no way Sandberg can show a lack of faith in Papelbon the first week of April because he blew one save. Sandberg rightly went back to Paps and was rewarded with a 1-2-3 9th inning that included a game ending strike out of Emelio Bonafacio.
Lee and Papelbon will both need to have big years if the Phils are going to contend, or even pretend to contend. Lee is clearly a true ace and one of the best starters in all of basbeball. Up until last year Papelbon was considered one of the elite closers in the game. Yes the drop in velocity is alarming, but we can’t write Paps off just yet because of one bad outing and a drop in velocity to around 90 mph. If Papelbon can throw his fastball for strikes on the corners, move the ball around and mix in his split-fingered fastball enough to keep the hitters honest there’s no reason to believe he can’t still be an effective closer. Even with the eight blown saves last year Papelbon pitched well when looking at his peripheral numbers. Not dominant like he was in years past, but good enough to win with if he can adjust to the fact that he just can’t blow the ball by hitters anymore.
I’m going to keep the faith until I see more. We’re five games into the season and the Phils are 3-2. Tomorrow’s match-up of Burnett versus Villanueva certainly favors the Phils. I’m looking forward to breaking out the brooms tomorrow and going to Monday’s game to watch my 4 and 2 Phillies make it 5 and 2 against the Brew Crew.