As the Phillies are likely to clinch a playoff birth this weekend, it's time to start talking about their probable rotation for the playoffs.
Before we go in-depth, here is one sticking point: with staff ace Cole Hamels pegged to start Sunday's regular season finale against Washington, the Phillies can clinch a playoff spot in either of the two games before and save Hamels for game one of the NLDS. If they do need Hamels on the final day of the season, the ball for game one will likely go to Brett Myers. If the Phils need a one-game playoff to get into the postseason, my head will explode. For simplicity's sake, let's just say the Phils clinch on Saturday and rest Hamels on Sunday. Here's what their rotation will shape up like for the NLDS.
#1 Cole Hamels
Vital Stats: 14-10, 3.09 ERA, 145 ERA+, 196/53 K/BB, 227.3 IP (33 starts)
An unquestioned ace, Cole features a solid fastball, solid curve, and devastating change up that he can locate consistently. In his only postseason appearance last season, he pitched 6 and 2/3 solid innings against Colorado. Cole's glaring weakness at the moment is the fact that his NL-leading innings total is a career high by over 30 innings. Hamels has had a history of injury problems, and is not afraid to admit that he dislikes the idea of pitching on short rest. When he's on, he's as dominant as any LHP in the game, but beware of him wearing down in the postseason.
#2 Brett Myers
Vital Stats: 10-13, 4.55 ERA, 98 ERA+, 163/65 K/BB, 190 IP (30 starts)
If there ever was a case of Dr Jekyll/Mr Hyde in the big leagues this season, it was Myers. Through his first 17 starts, his 5.84 ERA was bad enough to earn him a month-long demotion to the minors. Upon returning, he became the NL's most dominant starter not named CC Sabathia, going 7-2 with a 1.80 ERA in his next 11 starts. However, his past two starts have to be alarming, as they look like they came straight out of the first half of his season. When Myers is on, he's locating his fastball well enough to set up his killer curve and dominate. When his fastball is up, he abandons it completely, leaving no mystery to his pitch selection. Batting practice routinely commences when that happens.
#3 Jamie Moyer
Vital Stats: 15-7, 3.78 ERA, 118 ERA+, 122/61 K/BB, 190.3 IP (32 starts)
By now, you know Jamie Moyer's story. At age 45, he is still an effective pitcher. He never lights up the radar gun, but preys on the immaturity of hitters with an arsenal of off-speed pitches and pinpoint control. Expect him to continue his success in the postseason. He may be the safest bet of Philly's top three, thanks to the workload of Hamels and the volatility of Myers. However, he can tax a bullpen as he rarely pitches more than 6 innings a start.
#4 Joe Blanton
Vital Stats: 8-12, 4.79 ERA, 87 ERA+, 109/65 K/BB, 191.7 IP (32 starts)
Acquired in July from the A's, Blanton has proved to be a steady addition to the back of the Phils' rotation, going 3-0 with a 4.45 ERA in 12 starts. Despite having a reputation as an innings eater, he has had problems going deep into games lately, so that is something to keep an eye on. Blanton thrives on painting the corners, as many of his strikeouts are on pitches where batters are called looking. He is usually good for 6 IP and 3 ER allowed. With the Phillies offense (and the fact that he will likely go up against other teams' #4 starters), he should keep his team in games.
Backup plans: Rookie lefty JA Happ has impressed of late with two quality starts against the Braves, as well as a gritty performance against the Mets earlier in the year. Despite being eligible for the postseason roster, he still only has 34 big-league innings under his belt, so the Phils would like to avoid having to use him in the postseason. Righties Kyle Kendrick and Adam Eaton have struggled mightily this season and will only see postseason action if more than 2 of the Phils' projected starters go down with injuries.
The Final Verdict:
While the Phils rotation has the potential to dominate (and indeed has for stretches this season), it can also implode at any time thanks to Hamels' injury history/workload, Myers' unpredictablility, and Moyer and Blanton's inability to pitch deep into games. But if I had to bet on it, I'd say the Phils rotation is good enough to win a few games on its own this postseason, as well as keep the team in the others so the high-powered offense can do their work.