Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Executive of the Year

I have alluded to this in previous posts over the past month or two, but if Philadelphia Phillies GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. does not win MLB Executive of the Year this year, then that is a crying shame. Not only did Amaro acquire Roy Halladay in the offseason, but the move to acquire Roy Oswalt from the Houston Astros is the clear move of the year by any executive on any team, as Oswalt has been an absolute gem since arriving in Philadelphia. Not only are Oswalt's numbers with the Phillies since the July 29 trade incredible in their own right (7-1with a 1.66 ERA), but the Phillies have gone 10-2 in his twelve starts since coming to Philly, and Oswalt pitched at least 6 innings in every start for the Phils this season until after the team clinched earlier this week. And moreover, with Cole Hamels having all the pressure taken off of him by dropping to the clear #3 starter on the team behind aces Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt, Hamels's performance also improved dramatically, with Cole dropping a full point from his ERA down to 2.49 in the time since Oswalt was acquired by Amaro, with Hamels failing to last at least 6 innings only once in that time period, after lasting less than 6 innings on six different occasions in the first half of the season.

Not only did Ruben Amaro's acquisition of Roy Oswalt greatly improve Oswalt's performance and that of the other pitchers on the Phillies' staff, but it also really changed the complexion of the team's entire starting rotation. It has changed the way you have to approach playing a series against a team like the Phillies. I mean, who is going to win any series against this team when they are trotting Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels -- hands-down three of the best pitchers in the entire National League if not MLB -- out there in the first three games of every series, and then in the playoffs, in games 5-7 as well if necessary? Basically, if you expect to win a 7-game series against the Phillies, you're suddenly going to have to win at least three games against a combination of Halladay, Oswalt and Hamels, and at this point you're going to have to do that while holding a maximum of only three games in your own home stadium as compared to four in beautiful Citizens Bank Park.

The result of all this? The Phillies, who finally started hitting again a month ago or so after mostly taking the year off offensively, are heading into the last week of the season with absolutely nothing to play for. The team has clinched its fourth consecutive NL East crown -- something only done previously by Bobby Cox's Braves teams in the 1990s who amazingly won 11 straight -- and at the same time earlier this week managed to lock down homefield advantage throughout the entire NL playoffs. And, due to the NL finally breaking the slump and winning the all-star game this year, the Phils will have homefield advantage in the World Series as well, should the team make it back there.

Even with all the greatness this team has achieve over the past few years, including the back-to-back NL pennants for the first time in franchise history, this is the first time the Phillies have been so far ahead of everyone else in the National League. In fact, I would go so far to say that I am not sure I can recall there being a team in my lifetime with higher expectations to return to the World Series than this Phillies team. I mean, I recall the Yankees winning 118 games or whatever it was in the late 90s, but back then the Yanks were always concerned about the Angels, or the Twins, or the Red Sox, or the Indians, and winning the pennant was just not a foregone conclusion like it seems it will be this year with the Phillies. That Seattle team with Ken Griffey, Jr. back in the day also won something like 116 games, but they too were roundly expected to run into trouble from the Yankees among other teams (and I believe they did). With the simple addition of Roy Oswalt in mid-season, this year's Phillies team has transformed from another good team with a decent chance of fighting its way to the postseason and maybe to the World Series for a third straight year but only to fall to a superior AL squad, to instead I think the team to beat in the major leagues this postseason.

Just think about it: Halladay vs. Sabathia, Game 1 in Philly. Oswalt vs Burnett, Game 2 in Philly. Hamels vs. Pettitte, Game 3 in New York. Blanton vs. Hughes, Game 4 in New York. Halladay vs Sabathia, Game 5 in New York. Oswalt vs. Burnett, Game 6 in Philly. And Hamels vs. Pettitte, Game 7 in Philly. You tell me where you're finding four wins for the visiting team on that packed pitching schedule and more than half the games in Philadelphia.

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