So: how good is the Phillies rotation?


Halladay. Lee. Hamels. Oswalt. And whoever. I’m not going to waste your time with wondering whether that’s the best rotation in the game today, because it clearly is. Any arguable next-best rotation probably has one guy who would crack that top four, and if you think otherwise, you’re dreaming.  No, we need to go with history here.

The most recent comparables are those Braves rotations of the 90s. But on a man-by-man basis, the Phillies are probably better. Maddux was better than Halladay at their best, but all three of the Phillies other big-four are probably better, on average, than Glavine, Smoltz and whoever else trailed them.* And there were many others taking that four-spot. Maddux-Glavine-Smoltz were a constant — at least when Smoltz wasn’t missing a year here or there for surgery — but beyond the top three, there was an often-changing cast of characters. Some Steve Avery here, some Denny Neagle there, and a dash or two of Pete Smith or Kevin Millwood to fill in the cracks.  They got great performances from those number four guys on occasion, but going in, none looked as strong top-to-bottom as the 2011 Phillies will.  At least on paper.

Going back, we reach those early 70s Orioles rotations. In 1971 the Orioles boasted four 20-game winners in Jim Palmer, Dave McNally, Pat Dobson and Mike Cuellar.  And they weren’t merely run-support-powered wins, as they had a 2.89 ERA — about a run better than the rest of the league that year — with Palmer, McNally and Dobson finishing 3-7-8 in ERA.  But we must also remember that (a) wins and ERA are not the most critical metric in judging a staff; and (b) these O’s played in a much more friendly pitchers’ environment than will the 2011 Phillies.  I think they break down similarly to the Phillies as the Braves rotations do — Palmer at his best is probably the best of the eight of them, though it’s way closer — but the 2-4 pitchers are better on Philly. And really, I’d probably take Halladay over Palmer simply because I think he faces better hitters than Palmer did. I bet this is the comparison you see most in 2011, with people wondering the the Phillies can boast four 20-game winners. Why? Because that’s fun.

The mid-60s Dodgers? Koufax and Drysdale weren’t alone. They had Don Sutton and Claude Osteen helping them out. They struck out tons of guys, walked few, and gave up very few hits. In 1965 and 1966 they made the World Series without having a ton of offense either.  But that’ s the thing: no one had a ton of offense in the 60s, and the Dodgers had the added benefit of playing in one of the more pitcher-friendly parks in modern memory, complete with an absurdly high mound.  People will consider it sacrilege to compare the Phillies to the mid-60s Dodgers because they roamed the Earth a much longer time ago and the name Koufax looms so large in history.  But I’m guessing some statheads will be able to make some arguments — that will be howled at by people who don’t understand era and context adjustments — that the Phillies are better.  They may even be right.

Beyond those guys we get into more ancient history and eras that begin to bear little resemblance to our own.  I’m guessing that any argument of the best rotations of all time will list those Braves, Dodgers and Orioles teams in the top five anyway. At least in the post-segregation era.  And the Phillies — barring injury — stand a damn fine chance of joining them.


*When I say, on average, I mean that any given expected season from a non-Maddux 1990s Braves pitcher is not as not as good as we can expect from Hamels, Lee or Oswalt next year.  They had better seasons in practice — Smoltz’s Cy Young year spring to mind — but it wasn’t the kind of thing you could bet on.

Maybe Alcides Escobar shouldn’t bat leadoff

Alcides Escobar
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Alcides Escobar finished with a .292 OBP this year. He came in at .246 in 117 at-bats in August and .257 in 109 at-bats between September and October, so he wasn’t exactly flying high entering the postseason. Still, that didn’t stop Ned Yost from putting him into the leadoff spot for Thursday’s Game 1 against the Astros.

Yost finally did reconsider hitting Escobar first in September. It took Alex Gordon‘s return to health, plus the previous addition of Ben Zobrist to the lineup, in order to make that happen. However, it didn’t stick. Escobar hit ninth in each of his starts from Sept. 7-26, batting .236 with a .276 OBP during that span. With five games left to go, he was suddenly returned to the leadoff spot. The Royals went on to win all five games. Yost saw it as a sign, even though Escobar went 5-for-22 with no walks in those games.

Escobar went 0-for-4 in Thursday’s loss to the Astros. He did not swing at the first pitch of the game, which probably explains the defeat.

It’s been difficult to argue with Yost since last year’s World Series run and this year’s incredible run out of the game. The blind spot with Escobar, though, gets rather infuriating. One can defend hitting him leadoff against the Astros’ lefties. His career OBP against southpaws is .319 (.316 this year). Against righties, he’s the most obvious No. 9 hitter alive, with a career .258/.290/.342 line (.252/.284/.314 this year). He’s not a pace-setter. He’s not a spark plug. He’s a liability.

Astros top Royals in Game 1 of ALDS

Houston Astros' Jose Altuve, left, celebrates with teammate Luis Valbuena after scoring a run during the first inning in Game 1 of baseball's American League Division Series against the Kansas City Royals, Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015, in Kansas City. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

After shutting out the Yankees in the AL Wild Card game on Tuesday, the Astros beat the Royals 5-2 in Game 1 of the ALDS on Thursday at Kauffman Stadium. Road teams are now 4-0 to begin the 2015 postseason.

The Astros grabbed an early 3-0 lead against Yordano Ventura through two innings. Chris Young took over for the Royals after a 47-minute rain delay and was very effective for the most part, allowing just a solo homer to George Springer over four innings while striking out seven batters. Colby Rasmus, who homered in the Wild Card game, took Ryan Madson deep in the eighth inning to give the Astros’ bullpen some extra breathing room.

Collin McHugh stayed in after the rain delay and ended up tossing six innings while allowing just four hits and one walk. Kendrys Morales did all the damage against him with a pair of solo homers. He’s the first Royals player to hit two home runs in a postseason game since George Brett in the 1985 ALCS.

The Royals’ offense showed some signs of life in the bottom of the eighth inning with back-to-back two-out hits against Will Harris, but Oliver Perez got Eric Hosmer to foul out to end the threat. Luke Gregerson tossed a scoreless ninth inning to finish off the victory.

Consistent with their identity during the regular season, the Astros won despite striking out 14 times. The same goes for the Royals, as they struck out just four times. Despite putting the ball into play more often, the Kansas City lineup wasn’t able to muster anything aside from the home runs by Morales.

Game 2 of the ALDS will begin Friday at 3:45 p.m. ET. Scott Kazmir will pitch for the Astros and Johnny Cueto will get the ball for the Royals.

George Springer homers to extend Astros’ lead over Royals

Houston Astros' George Springer (4) celebrates with teammates after scoring a run in the first inning in Game 1 of baseball's American League Division Series against the Kansas City Royals, Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015, in Kansas City. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
AP Photo/Charlie Riedel
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After Kendrys Morales brought the Royals within one run in the bottom of the fourth inning with his second solo home run of the game, George Springer took Chris Young deep in the top of the fifth to extend the Astros’ lead to 4-2 in Game 1 of the ALDS.

According to Statcast, the ball traveled an estimated 422 feet and left Springer’s bat at 109 mph. Royals fans are happy it was just a solo home run. It could have been worse, as Jose Altuve singled to lead off the fifth inning before being thrown out trying to steal second base during Springer’s at-bat.

The Royals will try to answer as we move to the bottom of the fifth inning at Kauffman Stadium.