Friday, September 18, 2009

The Dominating Cole Hamels is Back

Cole Hamels pitched 8 dominating innings last night, giving up only four hits, one run, and one walk while striking out 10 and delivering an RBI single. The Phils won, 4-2, improving their record to 85-60. They now have a 7.5 game lead and their magic number is 10. They've won 8 of their last 10 games and seem to be on a roll. They are on a pace to finish with 95 regular season wins, which would exceed last year's World Series championship season mark by 3 (last year's team finished the regular season at 92-70). "That's why people come to see us play. We're an exciting team to watch," observed Jayson Werth of the team's 35th consecutive sellout last night. "We can play different styles at any point."

The starting pitching, in particular, has been absolutely superb for the past several weeks. He's 3-1 with a 1.43 ERA in his last 5 starts. Hamels has reduced his ERA from 4.78 to 4.07 as a result of three straight excellent outings, and appears destined to end the season with an ERA below 4.0 after hovering at or above 5.0 for most of the season. Hamels has gotten hot at just the right moment, as the team makes its stretch run for the playoffs and World Series.

The team seems to understand where things stand. "You have to enjoy it," said Hamels. "It's being out there. Knowing what's at stake. I bear down better." Indeed he has, and at just the right time of the season for it to really count.

Brad Lidge got his 30th save of the season by pitching the 9th inning. Lidge gave up a run after a triple that actually skipped off the glove of a diving Jayson Werth, playing centerfield after Shane Victorino left the game due to gastrointestinal distress. Other than that fluke hit, Lidge had strong stuff and seemed to be in command of it, which is a hopeful sign as the Phils head for the regular season finish line with 17 games left to play. "The last couple of outings have been real constructive," said Lidge. "I can definitely use a few more outings."

We can only hope that Lidge's turn-around is for real. He and Ryan Madson have combined for 16 blown saves this year, and it doesn't appear that Brett Myers is ready to close. "Watching him the three or four times we've run him out there, he's not quite ready," said manager Charlie Manuel of Myers. "He still has some problems at's kind of like he's back in spring training. He's not 100 percent. He has soreness, which is kind of normal because he missed so much time. Right now, he's not ready to be turned loose." Although Manuel wouldn't rule out using Myers as a closer in the postseason, it's clear that he's not counting on him being available or ready. And so the Phillies will either sink or swim with Lidge.

Time will tell. The Phils now have 17 games in 17 days to close the regular season, with a series against the banged-up Atlanta Braves beginning tonight.

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