Philadelphia Phillies: As the Weather Heats Up, so Does Cliff Lee

Josh SadlockCorrespondent IIIJune 23, 2011

Cliff Lee and catcher Carlos Ruiz celebrate the pitcher's latest complete game shutout.
Cliff Lee and catcher Carlos Ruiz celebrate the pitcher's latest complete game shutout.Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Rapper DJ Khaled recently released a single sure to be a summer hit called "I'm on One."  While the Philadelphia Phillies and their fans would certainly not approve of Cliff Lee being on one of whatever the rapper proclaims himself to be on, the pitcher is "on one," and has been for the past month.

Over his last four starts, Lee has been the definition of "on."  In his four starts, the lefty has allowed only one run in 33 innings.  This stretch of hot pitching came on the heels of a slow start that had some wondering if Lee had lost the form that made him a postseason hero for the Phillies and Rangers the last two years.

When Lee started his run of unhittable pitching, his record stood at 4-5, with an ERA of 3.94.  He was by far weakest link of R2C2.  Lee had suffered from an uncharacteristic lack of control, walking more batters than he had the entire previous season—although to be fair to Lee, no one expected him to replicate his historic performance of 2010. A season during which he walked only 18 batters.

As Lee struggled through an uncharacteristically-wild month of May, where he walked 15 batters and allowed hitters to bat .281 against him, many wondered when Lee would return to his dominant self.

The month of June seemed to flip a switch in Cliff Lee.  On June 6, Lee pitched seven shutout innings against the Dodgers and struck out 10.  He followed that win with three more, including two complete-game shutouts.  The low point of his impressive run would seem to be the single run he allowed to the Cubs.  His ERA during June has been a minuscule .27.

Not 1.27, .27.

Lee was especially dominant in his start against the Marlins on June 16, in which he allowed only two hits.  Coincidentally, Lee matched the entire Florida roster on the offensive side, with two hits of his own, and drove in the only run he would need.  This start was vintage Cliff Lee.  Lee is a simple man, and in this start, he made pitching as simple as it could be.  He pitched to contact with confidence, and simply overmatched the helpless Marlins.

Cliff Lee will be hard pressed to sustain this level of pitching excellence, but Phillies fans should not expect a huge drop off, or a return to the struggles of May for Lee.  In May, Lee was simply running into some bad luck when balls found holes in the defense.  He has not been shelled in any one start, rather, he suffered from an unusually high average on balls in play.  In baseball, stretches like that will occur based on bad luck alone. When a pitcher executes his pitches the way Lee has been the last month, no amount of luck can help the hitters who face him.

DJ Khaled hopes to ride his hit "I'm on One" to the top of the charts.  As long as Cliff Lee stays "on one" for the rest of the season, the Phillies will hope to raise the World Series trophy for the second time in four years.