The Phillies are currently 26-16 and still sit in first place in the NL East, despite an anemic offense. Heading into this season, the Phillies Phaithful knew that if they were to expect another parade down Broad Street, it would be led by the four aces.
Expectations have never been higher in the entire 121-year history of Philadelphia baseball. Talk radio rang out when Cliff Lee rejoined the Phillies to form: R2C2, The Phab Phour, The Phour Horsemen. Heck, even Fat Joe and the Terror Squad tee's were selling out.
We are a quarter of the way through the season, and here are the five things we have learned about the Phillies Core Four thus far.
Could the Phab Four live up to the expectations put before them? Halladay, Hamels, Oswalt and Lee knew going into the season that the lineup would be missing around 60 home runs and 200 RBIs with no Chase Utley or Jayson Werth.
I'm quite certain that our pitchers wouldn't mind facing the Phillies lineup with Ryan Howard as the only legitimate long-ball threat. In fact, you could argue that any other outfield in the National League would be a better option than Ibanez, Francisco, Victorino and Mayberry.
The hype on our starting pitching was obviously well deserved. The Phour Horsemen boast a resume that includes 10 top-five finishes in Cy Young award voting, three actual Cy Young awards, 13 All-Star selections, six 20-win seasons, three postseason MVP awards and a 20-8 postseason record.
Could they continue garnering all of these accolades behind a team that can't score runs? Question answered.
Halladay, Lee, Oswalt, Hamels, Worley (in front of Fat Joe for a reason) Blanton and Kendrick have combined for 41 starts thus far. They are 18-12 with a 3.19 ERA. They have averaged 6.2 innings per start, pretty impressive stuff.
Phillies starters have combined to give up only 95 earned runs in 274 innings pitched. They have allowed only 17 home runs this season, even despite playing at the "band box" that is Citizens Bank Park. Sorry, but you can't pass up a shot at Jeff Francoeur.
The pressure for a pitcher who has an offense that can not score runs can be a tough pill to swallow. The Phillies core four have proven that they are all consummate professionals who handle their business and do not worry about things they can not control.
A perfect game, the second no-hitter in postseason history, a Cy Young award, and the warrior mentality that Philly hasn't seen since Rocky. Even better, though, this Doc Halladay is the real deal.
Is there anything better than watching the doctor attack the strike zone with surgical precision every fifth day?
How about the fact that the top pitcher in baseball (the world) chose to waive a no-trade clause to pitch in front of you, Philadelphia? That should make you feel pretty good. He has proven a lot of Philly fans right by baffling National League hitters since he arrived last summer.
He has made nine starts this season and has surrendered only 58 hits in 258 at-bats. Opponents are hitting a paltry .225 against him. He has thrown only two gopher balls (HRs) thus far. An interesting statistic with Halladay is that 50 percent of the base-runners who have attempted a steal this season against him have been thrown out.
That surprised me a bit, considering Wheels bashes Halladay's ability to hold a runner every chance he gets.
Halladay's K/9 is a ridiculous 9.48, proving that Halladay has been as dominant as ever and will be right at the top of the list when the Cy Young winner is announced.
Something for the National League to chew on: Of Halladay's 58 hits allowed in 258 at-bats, only seven have been extra-base hits, including five doubles and two home-runs.
If you didn't already know this, Roy Oswalt is one tough guy. We have heard for a week now about how much of a mistake it would be to start Oswalt against the offensively-gifted St. Louis Cardinals.
"His fastball's velocity is way down and so is his arm strength."
Oswalt may have been on a pitch-count of 65-70 pitches, but that didn't stop him from consistently firing 91-to-94 mph fastballs. Oswalt's numbers have been insane since he joined the Phillies at the trade deadline last season.
After being acquired, Oswalt was the Phillies' best pitcher down the stretch. He went 7-1 with a 1.74 ERA in 13 games with the Phillies. Clearly, pitching for a contender and in front of the Philly faithful brought Roy's game to another level.
He has been stellar this season as well, going 3-1 with a 3.09 ERA. He has pitched with a tight back and even cleaned up his tornado-beaten hometown with the aforementioned tractor.
Some questioned whether or not Oswalt is a "Philly guy" and if he could handle the fans and media scrutiny that come along with being a Philadelphia Phillie. Oswalt has proven (at least to me) that he stays cool when situations get tough.
Check this out: While his regular-season record is an insane 152-83 (3.17 ERA), he is 5-1 in seven postseason starts.
He has been everything the Phillies had hoped he would be and more when they stole (received a gift) from Ed Wade and the Astros. Thanks for the extra $11 million Ed...
It seems Oswalt can do no wrong with the Phillies. The right-hander waived a no-trade clause to be a part of a winner and he is now a part of one of the most recognizable rotations in MLB history. He is another player that Philly got and always wished they had. The fans love his work ethic, his ability to pitch through pain and, of course, his ability to dominate other teams.
Something else for the National League to chew on: Oswalt owns a .645 career winning percentage, which ranks fifth among active pitchers in MLB.
The Phillies might want to save that money they were thinking about giving Jimmy Rollins and save up for King Cole. The Phillies "fourth" starter is in line for a nice payday, somewhere in the range of five-to-seven years and $100-to-120 million.
The guy is a legitimate ace who is in the best shape of his life. He no longer lets umpires strike zones affect the way he attacks hitters. He has some of the best "stuff" in the league with a mid-90s fastball, low-90s cutter and, of course, his all-world change-up.
Philly fans have seen Hamels grow right before their eyes. Obviously, the likes of a Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt have rubbed-off well with Hamels. He has been able to follow their legendary work ethics and keep his body in top shape to start the grueling 162-game season.
Hamels' K/9 is Halladay-esque at 9.34. He has only allowed 49 hits in over 61 innings. His ERA is 2.92 after last night's dominating performance.
He is a true stopper in the rotation, just like Halladay, Lee and Oswalt. Don't expect the Phillies to go on many more three-to-four game losing streaks. At least one of the four aces will go out and completely shut down an opposing offense during each rotation, just like Hamels did last night.
We know Hamels has the ability to pitch great in the postseason. After all, he is the World Series MVP. Philadelphia should not be worried about their "fourth" starter. Cole Hamels is one of the best pitchers in Major League Baseball, period.
Something else for the National League to chew on: Opponents are hitting just .222 off of Cole Hamels this season, which is better than Halladay, Lee or Oswalt.
Before the pundits point at Lee's 2-4 record and 3.84 ERA, let me ease the minds of Philadelphia fans with one statistic.
Cliff Lee leads Major League Baseball with a 10.43 K/9 innings. He has 68 Ks in just 58 innings. He has been victimized by the long ball in the early going, but there is no denying that Lee's "stuff" is as good as ever.
One-third of the hitters that Lee has faced this season have struck out. We all know Lee is a top-10 pitcher in the game, and when the postseason comes around, there is no one better. Has he been as strong as the other aces on this team? Probably not, but the Phillies have provided him with such little offense that memories of Cole Hamels' 2010 run support are entering my mind.
We have learned that the national media is trying its hardest to convince Philly Nation that it was a mistake signing Cliff Lee and not bringing back Jayson Werth. While I have been disgusted with the Phillies offense this season (past 20 games in particular), we need to remember that the Phillies are still in first place. They are still the class of the NL East.
Chase Utley will be back, and even if he is not an "everyday player" like Ruben Amaro said, his presence in the lineup will undoubtedly make a big difference. A lineup with Rollins, Polanco, Utley, Howard, Ibanez, Victorino and possibly Dom Brown seems much more potent than one without Utley. We will once again have speed at the bottom of our lineup with Victorino, and don't be surprised if John Mayberry seriously challenges Raul for platoon duty in left field.
We now have four pitchers who all have postseason experience. They have had dominating postseason performances. Each one of the four aces has the potential to shut out an opposing offense at any moment.
Cliff Lee is as good as it gets when it comes to hurling postseason masterpieces.
Lee is 7-2 with a 2.13 ERA in the playoffs. He has a 10.0 K/9 ratio in those games with a .82 WHIP. Bringing back Lee was the right move. Having a top-10 pitcher in the game locked up for the next five years was the right move.
Final thing for the National League to chew on: We have Cliff Lee and you don't.