Philadelphia Phillies Preview: Will Roy Oswalt Struggle in 'Lame Duck' Year?

Josh SchochAnalyst IIIFebruary 23, 2011

Philadelphia Phillies Preview: Will Roy Oswalt Struggle in 'Lame Duck' Year?

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    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Philadelphia assembling their four aces over the last seven months they are early favorites to win the World Series this season.  Considering that Oswalt is 33 and turning 34 in August he is getting up there in age for a pitcher, and he might be going on the decline soon.

    The Phillies are due to owe former National League MVP Jimmy Rollins AND former World Series MVP Cole Hamels huge contracts at the end of the season and there might not be enough room to pick up Oswalt’s $16M option for 2012.  If Oswalt's option is not picked up then this could potentially be his last chance at getting a ring.

    If Oswalt does not win with the Phillies this season he will most likely be let go into free agency and be signed by a mediocre team who has a lot of money.  This means that this is most likely Oswalt's best and last shot at winning the World Series and capping off a stellar career.

    When looking at the Phillies' rotation it seems that Halladay and Lee are the front runners and Oswalt and Hamels are the wild cards and the deciding factors.  If Oswalt pitches well he very well may attain h the coveted World Series ring for the first time.

    With all of this pressure on Oswalt's shoulders the question is: will he sink or swim?

    These ten reasons prove why Oswalt will rise to the occasion this season.

1. Worse Competition

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    When it comes down to it pitchers are sent out to the mound to win games.

    For pitchers there are two battles that they have to fight, one against the opposing batters and one against the opposing pitcher.  To win a game you need to hold the opposition to minimal runs, and your offense needs to score runs against the opposing pitcher.  As a pitcher I know that when I am in a matchup against a poor pitcher there is less pressure on me to shut the door, and I know that I don't have to pitch a perfect game to win because I can rely on my offense.

    This season Oswalt will be in a position where he will be pitching against the third pitcher of opposing teams.  This will be the first time that Oswalt is the third pitcher of his team since his rookie season in 2001 when he went 14-3.  Since 2001 Oswalt has become a true All-Star and has been the ace of his team ever since.  Over the past nine seasons Oswalt has gotten better and better, and now that he is pitching as the third pitcher of his team again he can be expected to set a career high in wins and top his 20 win seasons in 2004 and 2005.

    Oswalt also could have a much better ERA because his career-high came in his rookie season when he was pitching in the three spot, and since he has been improving since then he could set another career-high in 2011.

2. More Run Support

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    Jimmy Rollins is coming back healthy for the first time since he missed almost half the season due to injury.Harry How/Getty Images

    Roy Oswalt came to Philadelphia in 2010, a year when just about everyone was on the Disabled List.

    This season everyone is coming back healthy, so the Phillies' offense should rebound nicely.  Sure the Phillies lost Jayson Werth, but since everyone is coming back healthy they should more than make up for losing Werth.

    When you look through their lineup, there are only one or two players who did not have a stint on the DL in 2010.  If everyone on the Phillies stays healthy, the Phillies have a very potent offense.  The Phillies started the year healthy, and they put up 11 runs in the first game, but they suffered injuries very soon after that game.

    When Oswalt came to the team the offense was struggling more than usual, but he still went 7-1 in his 12 starts.  When Oswalt gets the regular Phillies offense behind him he can perform up to par with the greatest pitchers in the league.

3. Comback Of The Catalyst

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    This is so important that it needs to be separated from the rest.

    Jimmy Rollins performed poorly last season, and now a lot of sports writers are projecting Shane Victorino to be the leadoff hitter.  But hold the phone!  There is no reason for the Phillies not to have Rollins as the leadoff hitter, the reason he did so bad is because he was constantly injured, and there is no reason to expect him to return less than healthy at this point.

    Last season the catalyst of the offense, Jimmy Rollins, missed almost half of the season, and without him the Phillies' offense performed very poorly.  Rollins suffered two different injuries, a calf strain and a minor foot ailment.  Rollins could not utilize his speed while hurt, but now that he is coming back healthy he should be a speed-demon again.

    In addition to his speed, Rollins' hitting and fielding should also rebound.  Rollins had a poor average and even worse power last season, but this year he will be healthy and he should return to his old 25 HR .300 BA self.  Rollins also has not won a Gold Glove in a while, but he could make a run at it this season if he gets his range back.

    Considering Rollins barely played half of the season last season, he should have an excellent rebound because everyone is expecting very little from him.  When Rollins does this, he will be able to speed up the offense by getting on base and providing a threat to steal a base.  When this happens the offense starts clicking and providing a lot more run support for the Wizard of Os.

    Look for Rollins and Oswalt to have big years together.

4. The Opportunity To Win a Ring

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    Nick Laham/Getty Images

    The pressure of winning a World Series ring separates the men from the boys, and even though he does not have a ring yet, Oswalt can still be considered a man.

    Oswalt is one of the best pitchers in the game, and he has proven that he can pitch well under pressure in numerous games.  This season could very well be Oswalt's last chance at winning the World Series, so the pressure's on for him to help the Phillies win it all.  With this increased pressure on Oswalt he is most likely going to step up his game to the next level.

    Oswalt has the fire of the competitor that every player needs to be successful, and using that he could have the best season of his career.  Oswalt has been a fierce competitor his entire career, but he always stepped up his game when the Astros were good enough to make the playoffs and compete for a World Series title.  Since this could be his last chance and he knows it, he could put the Phillies on his back and carry them to a World Series title.

5. Previous Success In Philly

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    Pool/Getty Images

    Last season when Oswalt came over to Philadelphia in the second half of the season he was magnificent.

    Oswalt's numbers were astounding, 7-1 record, 1.74 ERA, 0.895 WHIP, about three and a half strikeouts per walk and under one home run per nine innings.  Oswalt proved that he can pitch well in Philadelphia, where he went 5-0 with a 1.76 ERA in six starts.  Considering he should pitch about half of his games at home this season he could rack up a good amount of wins there.

    Oswalt also proved that he can win with the Phillies' run support as previously mentioned.  Considering that the Phillies' offense could become even better now that they are healthy Oswalt could become a true force in Philadelphia.

6. He Needs To Pitch Well For Another Year in Philly

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    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    With both Jimmy Rollins and Cole Hamels due for big bucks next season, will there be room for Oswalt's hefty 2012 option?  A lot of analysts believe that Oswalt has absolutely no shot at coming back next season, but there is a chance that he can.

    The Phillies are going to make some salary cap room at the end of this season with Raul Ibanez and Brad Lidge coming off of the payroll.  Ibanez and Lidge are not performing up to their pay checks which were overwhelming even when they were performing at All-Star level.  If the Phillies let these two guys go then they could have enough room to reward Hamels and Rollins and still have enough left over to sign Oswalt and keep him around.  The question is, will they do it?

    Roy Oswalt is going to have to come up big this season if he wants to be rewarded with another year contending for a World Series ring.  Oswalt has the heart of a champion and he has proven this every season of his career in his games, being the go-to-guy for the Astros and coming up clutch for the Phillies.  Now that Oswalt has the pressure to succeed or be let go, he will come up clutch one more time and lead the Phillies to victory and convince them to sign him and release Ibanez and Lidge.

7. Competition Between R2C2

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    R2C2 will be looking for intergalactic supremacy this season, but the question is, who will emerge as the best pitcher of them?

    Every single one of these guys is a true competitor, and they won't settle for being number two.  Obviously they won't cause problems or drama in the clubhouse, but they will come out and share their secrets and try to top the others.

    Each of them knows that he can be the best, and they all work for it.  With four stars on the same team they will all be competing against each other, and they will all become better by it.  Oswalt has the most to prove dropping from an ace role to the third starter as Lee only drops one spot and Hamels hasn't been the ace since 2008.  Look for Oswalt to benefit the most from this competition between teammates.

8. More Time To Adjust To Working With Carlos Ruiz

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    In his first start with the Phillies in 2010 Oswalt was hammered, giving up five runs on seven hits, and receiving his only loss with Philadelphia.  This single game was supposed to be the adjustment period for Ruiz and Oswalt, and in his following ten starts Oswalt went 7-0 with a 1.40 ERA.  The Phillies went 10-0 in those ten games.  But that one game was not enough.

    Everyone thinks that Oswalt and Ruiz have a supernatural ability to adjust to working with each other, but one game is not enough to make that change, and neither is eleven.  Over Spring Training the two will truly become accustomed to working with each other, and that will make all the difference.  When a pitcher and catcher trust each other and know each other well, they become better and better.

    Take Ruiz and Halladay for example.  In Halladay's perfect game and postseason no-hitter he threw a total of 219 pitches, and the only time he shook off Ruiz in the final at-bat in the postseason game against Cincinnati.

    If Oswalt and Ruiz can work this trust out between them like Ruiz and Halladay did over Spring Training, they can be a force.  Look for Oswalt and Ruiz to become dominant because they can both analyze the game as it happens.

9. Fans Fuel The Flame Within

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    Nick Laham/Getty Images

    OK, the title of this slide might be a little bit cheesy, but it's true.

    Roy Oswalt is a big time pitcher who consistently proves that he is not a "has-been."  Every single time Oswalt takes the mound he comes out and tries to get the batter out.  Sure he doesn't think about a perfect game, but does try to get every hitter out.

    Oswalt is a true champion, and being a champion he knows how to gain motivation.  When he pitches at home he takes the fans' energy and channels it into his pitches.  When he pitches on the road he takes the hatred of the fans (because he is so good) and he uses each pitch to silence the crowd.  This is a quality that cannot be taught, it is one that you either have or you don't.

    No matter where he pitches Oswalt uses the fans as motivation and this means that he can never really pitch a game in which he does not feel comfortable.

10. New Training

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    This season Roy Oswalt will be undergoing an intense training regimen with none other than teammate and fellow All-Star Roy Halladay.

    Halladay is one of if not the hardest working pitcher in the MLB, and coupling his work ethic with Oswalt's talent cannot yield poor results.  Halladay has worked his way up the ladder in the MLB and has become revered as the best pitcher in the game, but this was not pure talent, it was through hard work and dedication.  Now that Oswalt is going to be working with Halladay, his numbers should all rise, and he could become the best pitcher in the MLB (hopefully).

    Now to make a claim like this would be unreasonable, however, it is not at all absurd to say that the already good Oswalt will become magnificent.  Look for Oswalt to have a breakout year, and not just roll over because it is a "lame duck" year.