For the better part of a decade, Phillies starter Cliff Lee has been considered the gold standard in pitching consistency.
In 2008, he went 22-3 with a 2.54 ERA en route to earning his first Cy Young.
As a member of the Rangers in 2010, Lee was an integral in taking his team to the World Series, allowing only two earned runs in 24 innings pitched in the first two rounds of the playoffs.
He has already won nearly 120 games during his 11-year stint in the majors, but this season he has yet to make a single notch in the win column.
Things looked hopeful for him on Saturday afternoon in Toronto. Despite allowing 12 hits to the Blue Jays, Lee coasted into the 8th, surrendering only two runs in his first seven frames.
Lee was rolling, no doubt about it. Then, as a matter of cruel fate, it was none other than Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins who made an egregious throwing error in an effort to cut an Edwin Encarnacion double short.
The error would allow two runs to score and the Phillies to lose their cool.
Lee’s swift departure was immediately followed by a J.P. Arencibia double that effectively gave the Phillies starter a no-decision. Philly would go on to lose in the tenth inning.
Cliff Lee wanted this win as bad as the pundits want to make his winless stretch a phenomena.
It’s in his body language; following a double play that bailed him out of a sixth inning jam on Saturday, Lee gave a fist pump and wore a demeanor that said, “Today could be my day.”
Make no mistake: there is nothing wrong with Cliff Lee. All 11 of his starts this season have been at least six innings and he currently boasts a solid 3.24 ERA.
The only reason he hasn’t had more starts this season is because he was placed on the 15-day DL with a strained left oblique following an April 18th start at San Francisco in which he failed to allow an earned run in ten innings of work.
Lee’s problem right now is the Phillies. The 2008 World Champions have been ravaged by the injury bug, with first baseman Ryan Howard just now about to return from an ankle injury he suffered last October, second baseman Chase Utley still nursing chronic knee injuries and rotation ace Roy Halladay out with a strained right shoulder.
A team that many expected to win the NL East coming into the season, the Phillies are currently sitting in last place with a 31-36 record and are nine games out of first.
Cole Hamels, expected to be the rotation’s third man, has become the makeshift ace, earning a 9-3 record thus far and taking what seems to be all of Lee’s luck and run support with him to the mound every fifth day.
Lee’s ERA is .10 better than Hamels’, and he has nine fewer wins to show for it.
Regardless of how horribly these first 67 games have gone for the Fightin’ Phils, it’s only a matter of time before the producers in the Phillies lineup return, Lee finally gets some help from the team’s bats and there is a major shakeup in the NL East standings.