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Commentary: Starting Pitching Crucial During First Stretch

Last year, I developed a theory that the baseball season, while a marathon, is split into three distinct phases.

Phase one: Opening Day to Mother’s Day. It’s the “feeling out,” “breaking in” stage where teams figure out their prospects for the year ahead. Usually one very good team breaks out strong while a surprise team takes a hot spring into this phase.

Phase two: Mother’s Day to July 31 Trade Deadline. This is where the good teams become the good teams and the bad teams become the bad teams. The mediocre teams are still on the fence.

Phase three: Trade Deadline to Final Day: The final push. It’s when the good teams play great and the bad teams try to spoil the good teams. Sometimes a hot team takes the cake (like Colorado).

In my opinion, starting pitching must take over the first phase, while offense heats up during the second phase and the bullpen and bench carry the third phase.

Look at the 2007 Phillies as an example. Between Mother’s Day and the Trade Deadline, the Phils offense scored close to six runs per game. Six runs (though that didn’t happen Monday) will usually win you the game. And between Mother’s Day and the Trade Deadline, the Phillies went 38-28.

In August and September, the bullpen was at its best:

  • Brett Myers lowered his ERA from 5.40 to 4.33.
  • JC Romero lowered his ERA from 2.51 to 1.92 (it had been declining before Aug. 1.)
  • Geoff Geary was at a 2007-worst 5.53 ERA on Aug. 2. It went down to 4.41 by the close.
  • Tom Gordon and Antonio Alfonseca were exceptions, raising their ERAs during this time. Gordon did, however, lower a 6.49 mark on Sept. 5 to 4.72 by the close.

The bench also stepped up. Contributions by Jayson Werth, Greg Dobbs, Tadahito Iguchi and Russell Branyan, among others, were huge during this time.

But the start of 2007 lacked good starting pitching. There was one good run where the Phils allowed 2, 2, 1, 3, 4, 3, 3 and 4 runs en route to a 6-2 record, but other than that, good starting pitching was hard to come by.

This season it’s important the Phillies get good starting pitching to carry them into Mother’s Day. The game temperatures are colder, the bats are heavier, the uncertainty lingers offensively. Good starters that go six and seven innings and quiet the crowds and disrupt the vibe of the game can take over these first two months. Yesterday I watched Roy Halladay work magic against the Yankees (though the Yankees won late). Jake Peavy did the same against the Astros. Brandon Webb silenced a sold-out Cincinnati crowd. Good performances win games.

Brett Myers failed the first time out, acting like a bull in a china shop and not a smoothed-out dominator. He needs to calm down. Hopefully Cole Hamels will set the tone tonight with a dominating start in the 50-degree cool against a light-hitting Washington team. Jamie Moyer has the chance to baffle hitters tomorrow night en route to a solid six- or seven-inning performance. Even Kyle Kendrick and his “poise” could shut down the Reds Friday night.

It’s essential to get solid starting pitching in April and May. It’s up to Hamels tonight to lay down the law.

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