The Phantastic Phour, R2C2, The Four Horsemen, The Foureign Legion...I could go on. The Philladelphia Phillies starting rotation of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels created massive amounts of speculation this winter—could they be the greatest rotation ever assembled?
So, after two turns each, have they lived up to the hype?
Through the first eight games of the year, the foursome has compiled a 6-2 record, pitched to a 3.80 ERA and have struck out more than a batter per inning. These are good numbers, but they are hardly numbers that would place the Phantastic Phour in the company of baseball's historically great rotations.
Roy Halladay has been his typical brilliant self thus far. On opening day he limited the Astros to a single run over six innings, striking out six while allowing only five hits. His second start, against the Mets, was also vintage Halladay domination. Over seven innings, Doc shut out the division rival, striking out seven while allowing six hits. Dubbed "Tunnelman" in a Sports Illustrated profile (for his remarkable focus), Halladay has exhibited just that in two overpowering starts.
Cliff Lee, the man who made Philadelphia proud this offseason by spurning the Yankees for the City of Brotherly Love, has not been so dominant this season. Lee pitched well in his first start, striking out 11 over seven innings, with a Carlos Lee home run as the only blemish on his record.
His second start of the season, however, is cause for concern.
Lee was pulled in the fourth inning after giving up six runs on 10 hits to the Braves. Four of those hits went for extra bases as he was clearly missing his best stuff. This is an issue for Lee. He is usually hit hard when he doesn't have his best stuff. His excellent control can be a detriment here, as his pitches are rarely off the plate.
Phillies fans shouldn't worry too much though. Lee's BABIP this season is .433. Balls will start finding gloves when Lee is pitching.
The third member of the staff, Roy Oswalt, has been the picture of consistency during his tenure with the Phillies. Since arriving last summer, Oswalt has gone 9-1 for the Phillies, including victories in his first two starts this season. Without much fanfare, Oswalt simply does what is expected of him.
Oswalt was largely hidden for the beginning of his career in Houston, and his personality doesn't generate tremendous excitement. But if the Phillies are to attain their lofty goals this season, they will need Oswalt to maintain his steady pace.
The last member of the Phantastic Phour, Cole Hamels, is also the most puzzling. At times he has the most dominant repertoire of the staff; at others, he fights to get batters out. Hamels has struggled at times to overcome the perception that he is too California Cool to consistently dominate Major League hitters.
Hamels' stuff is undeniable, but at times he is prone to giving up the long ball, a major concern at cozy Citizens Bank Park. In his first start of the season, he was shelled by the Mets. He was not hit particularly hard, but gave up seven hits in only 2.2 innings. He does this, not getting hit particularly hard but posting crooked numbers nonetheless.
Working with Halladay, Oswalt and Lee may allow Hamels to bear down more effectively and get key outs. In his second start, his dominant side was on display against the Braves. He shut them out over seven innings, giving up only four hits while striking out eight. For the Phantastic Phour to cement themselves as one of the greatest rotations of all time, Hamels will need to dominate more often than not.
It's a bit early for the coronation, but the Phour's first eight starts show that they are on the right track. If the Phillies offense continues to produce, there is no reason to doubt that another parade down Broad Street is possible—with the Phantastic Phour in the lead firetruck.