Cliff Lee was my preseason pick to win the National League Cy Young award. At the time it was a good pick.
Lee was 17-8 with a 2.40 ERA in his first full season in Philadelphia, and the expectation was for him to put up equal numbers in his second year in the red pinstripes. But in baseball, you must expect the unexpected.
It took Lee until July 4 to win his first ballgame. That was his 14th start of the year. Baltimore Orioles first baseman Chris Davis got a win before Lee.
Lee heads into the All-Star break with a 1-5 record and an un-Lee-like 3.98 ERA.
But, there is hope for Lee in the second half. A lot of hope.
The Phillies offense averaged just over three runs per game in Lee's first 13 starts before his win. This includes a game on April 18 when Lee pitched 10 shutout innings, throwing only 102 pitches, and got a no-decision.
Now, the Phillies lineup is starting to get healthy. Chase Utley made his season debut on June 27 and Ryan Howard just came back on July 6. If everyone can stay healthy, the Phillies have a lineup that will be able to put some runs on the board and allow Lee's win total to increase.
Lee entered June with a 3.00 ERA. He was 0-2, but pitching well. At that point in the season, you could blame the offense for his lack of W's.
The same couldn't be said for what happened next.
Lee's four starts before his win were rough: he allowed 20 earned runs and 35 hits in 24.2 innings pitched. In those four starts, 55 fly balls were hit off of Lee against only 27 ground balls. To compare this to a start where Lee pitched well, on May 15, he allowed seven fly balls and 10 ground balls.
Any pitcher will tell you, if opposing batters are hitting the ball in the air to the outfield, eventually it's going to hurt you.
But, in his win against the Mets, Lee looked like his old self, going eight innings, allowing only two earned runs and striking out nine batters. If this is any indication of what's to come, Lee will have plenty of second-half wins.
In 2011, Lee's second half was brilliant. He was 8-2 with a 1.81 ERA after going 9-6 with a 2.82 ERA in the first half.
If he could match last year's first-half statistics in the second half of this season, Phillies fans will be more than pleased.
Lee is scheduled to pitch against the Rockies (twice), Dodgers, Brewers (twice), Diamondbacks, Cardinals, Reds and division opponents in the second half. These games are slightly less challenging than Boston, Baltimore, Toronto and Tampa Bay, all of whom Lee struggled against in the first half.
Lee is too good to continue pitching like this. If I had to make a prediction, I'd say Lee wins eight games in the second half and finishes with a record of around 9-8 and brings his ERA down to around 3.40.
Looking at these stats alone, they're not very impressive. But, compared to his first half, Phillies fans would take it.
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