In a year of almost incomprehensible dominance from the Philadelphia Phillies' starting rotation, each and every starter to toe the rubber has managed to perform at or near ace-like levels.
We're all aware of the performances of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels. But rookie sensation Vance Worley has been equally, if not more dominant, than the rest. Through 71.1 innings pitched, The Vanimal sports a 2.33 ERA with seven wins to just one loss. His 60 strikeouts and 1.10 WHIP is nothing to scoff at, either.
When Roy Oswalt went down in June with a back injury, in stepped Kyle Kendrick. Granted, ace-like level may be a tad less applicable to his performance so far, but a 3.19 ERA is plenty good for a fifth starter. His strikeout and win totals haven't been at the same level of the rest of the rotation, but filling in for Oswalt one could make the argument that he almost out-pitched him.
It is because of Worley and Kendrick's surprising performances that Oswalt has become the just the sixth best starter on the staff so far.The last time he was that low on the totem pole was, well, never. At least definitely not in professional baseball.
So how is it possible that the sixth best starter of any rotation can be a catalyst to a team's World Series hopes? Let's break it down.
Roy Oswalt possesses something Worley and Kendrick lack, and that's the all-important experience factor. Over three playoff seasons Oswalt has collected 66.1 innings pitched. Compare that to Worley, who has none, and Kendrick, who has one, and that says enough as to why come Game 4 of the NLDS, you should expect Oswalt to take the mound as the starter (barring further injuries, of course).
In his only postseason appearance, Kendrick started yet only managed to complete 3.2 innings after giving up five runs and five hits, two of which came via the long ball.
If Worley continues to pitch at the same level he's been on, there is an outside chance he could take the ball to start at some point in October. But if Oswalt is healthy enough, he remains to be the obvious and smarter choice as of now.
In pressure situations, it is the aces that managers of every team turns to. Luckily, Charlie Manuel has four of them to choose from. Oswalt is no different.
His 3.79 ERA and 1.33 WHIP don't jump out at you as ace-quality, but those numbers are also misleading. If we factor out his rough month of June in which he continuously pitched through severe back pain, that ERA jumps way down to an impressive 2.60. Even if you only subtract his last start on June 23 where he went 2.0 innings giving up four earned runs, his ERA would stand at 3.38.
For the first two months of the season, a healthy Oswalt was the Phillies' second best starter, behind only Roy Halladay. It wasn't until his back issues settled in that he saw his production considerably drop. Supposing that he comes back at full strength, as he has shown that he is in his rehab assignments so far, we should expect to see more of that early season success.
If that is not intimidating, then what is?
Kyle Kendrick, while serviceable, doesn't strike fear in a hitter quite like a former NLCS most valuable player does. When the bases are loaded with two outs and KK's on the mound, a batter's confidence is certainly going to be higher than in the same situation against Oswalt. He has that nasty stare to go along with his repertoire of pitches that Kendrick doesn't come close to.
It may seem like I'm starting to beat up on poor Kendrick now, so I will remind you that he has done a more than fine job in Oswalt's absence. Even so, whenever he pitched, that was the chance for opposing teams to get on the board against the Phillies. After Worley's emergence, he became the clear fifth starter and the pitcher that opposing batter's most looked forward to facing. With Oswalt returning, there is no longer that game where teams most feel like they can pull out the win.
Teams will now be forced to face at least two aces in each and every series against Philly. Worley, who as we mentioned has potentially been the best of them all, would be the third starter in that series. That's demoralizing to any team to have to face such talented pitching every given night of a series. It simply never ends with the Phillies.
Like mentioned in the previous slide, Oswalt brings the Phillies' rotation full circle. No longer do teams have a game to look forward to with Kendrick on the mound. Even earlier in the season when Oswalt was healthy and pitching well, Joe Blanton along with Kendrick were the team's fifth starter and weren't doing all that well. Now that Worley has channeled his own inner ace, the fun never ends.
Just as the offense has finally managed to come together, the rotation appears set for the stretch run. Not only that, but come playoff time, Oswalt can offer the Phillies another arm in the bullpen if called upon, like he was in last year's postseason.
His re-addition to the rotation may not seem like the back-breaker for a rotation that has managed to stay atop the majors in ERA even during his absence, and it probably isn't. Yet, he certainly can be a difference maker and his presence will be welcomed back with open arms when he returns on Sunday. Aces like Oswalt are a wonderful tool to have for any rotation, no matter how stacked they are.
The notable question mark remains to be his back issues and whether they will really ever go away. He successfully pitched through the pain before, but when there was a point where it became unbearable that he even reportedly contemplated retirement for a short time. For now, we can only hope those thoughts, along with the pain, are just a thing of the past.