The importance of a bona fide ace is a cliché I once bought hook, line and sinker.
Sure, having Pedro Martinez wouldn’t hurt any team’s chances, but missing a stud starter is hardly the main reason for the Phils inconsistency this season.
No, that would be an offense that automatically shuts down against good pitching like Ben Sheets (Friday), or randomly sputters against journeymen like Tomo Ohka (Sunday).
Only a handful of major league starters never get bombed, but when the Phils throw out a rotation as lackluster as Jon Lieber, Cory Lidle, Brett Myers, Vicente Padilla and Rob Tejeda, one braces for occasional disaster.
Except that hasn’t been necessary most nights.
Phils pitchers posted a very good 3.71 ERA in July, and they're doing it without the benefit of a left-hander or a "lights-out" ace. They're also investing millions of dollars less in starting pitching in hopes the high-priced bats will carry the load. This is a team built for offense, with Jim Thome, Bobby Abreu, Mike Lieberthal and Pat Burrell all earning more than their most expensive starter, Randy Wolf, who's out for the season.
Three of those starters have been steady lately: Myers, Padilla and Tejeda, and the other two, Lieber and Lidle, appear headed that direction.
Here’s a summary of the starting five:
Myers: He’s the best overall starter this season, but hasn’t been as crisp as he was in April. As the summer wears on, he’s battled some long innings and deep counts. As a result, he’s been a six-inning guy for about a month, but hasn’t allowed more than four runs since June 26. Not bad.
Lidle: They say his personal problems are behind him, and it certainly looked that way Friday night (8 innings, 9 strikeouts, 1 run). Besides a tough patch of four starts that skewed his ERA toward 5.00, he’s given the Phils a chance to win nearly every game he’s pitched this season.
Lieber: Rich Dubee should call Larry Andersen with updates whenever Lieber pitches. Andersen has a knack for spotting the moment Lieber dips his arm, and once it happens, he gets bombed like he did July 28 in Colorado. Other than that, he’s worked deep, efficient games lately and appears headed in the right direction.
Padilla: Very good since July 1, showing a nice steady progression since flirting with bullpen duty. Yesterday’s seven-inning gem was squandered once again by the limp noodles on offense. Padilla’s been more focused and is throwing a harder, nastier fastball, in addition to a good change-up. He certainly looks healthy.
Tejeda: Wolf who? In my opinion, Robinson represents the biggest reason why the Phillies are just 2.5 out of the wild card lead. His 2.80 ERA is unbelievable for a guy who went 8-12 with a 5.15 ERA last season in Reading. The Phillies couldn’t buy results that good. Tejeda represents an admirable philosophy of fixing problems with available resources. The only reason he hasn’t gone longer than six innings is Charlie Manuel.
On the subject of pitching and related clichés, for those that missed Friday’s Daily News Live, you missed a stimulating, informative discussion between Marcus Hayes of the Daily News and John Marzano of Phillies Post Game Live.
Marzano, who I’ve admired all season for his stance on player accountability, fell into a trap and blamed inconsistent starting pitching for the Phils failure to get on track.
Hayes, the Phils beat writer for the DN, went the opposite way and blamed the bats and their tentative approach against good pitching.
With the weekend series that followed, Hayes hit the bullseye.
I’ve never been a great fan of Hayes’ print coverage, but on DNL, he commands attention and I’m glued. I’ve become a fan of his ability to block out conventional wisdom, and I’ve never heard him utter a blanket statement like "Consistency starts with starting pitching."
With Eagles’ training camp getting under way, the contract disputes, and key injuries, it was good to see so much attention still given to baseball.
After all, The Phils are within striking distance of the playoffs.