Destiny denied: The Phillies learn that pitching isn’t enough

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Someone tell me when I can breathe.

I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that the Cardinals’ 1-0 win over the Phillies was the best pitching matchup I’ve witnessed since Morris vs. Smoltz.  Not when you figure in the stakes involved. Not when you appreciate just how brilliant Roy Halladay and Chris Carpenter each were.  This, to put it bluntly, was pitching porn. It was a shame that either of these two aces had to lose. But Roy Halladay losing after such a brilliant performance reminds us that it takes a full team, not just a dream rotation, to win it all.

You’d be excused if you thought that Philly had, in fact, won it all several months ago.  The moment Cliff Lee signed last winter was treated as a coronation by some. How could a team with Halladay, Lee, Hamels and Oswalt not lead the Phillies to a world championship? Over the past five years it’s been understandable to see Phillies fans adjust from rooting for a team that loses a lot to a perennial favorite, but even the world championship in 2008 didn’t change the tone surrounding this team like putting these four aces together did. The mood changed from one of hope and confidence to one of expectation in the winter of 2010-11, and it carried on throughout the year as the Phillies built an insurmountable lead in the NL East.

But those of us who’ve been around the block in the NL East a little bit — specifically, those of us who knew and loved the Braves of the 1990s — know that the regular season is a very different beast than the playoffs.  Those fantastic rotations are great for building a lead over the course of months. They give you an advantage four out of every five nights or so between April and September and they allow you to steadily — almost boringly — put yourself ahead of the competition.  Depth and pitching rule all in the summer.

But in the postseason, with so few games in play, that advantage is greatly reduced. Even against a seemingly overmatched opponent, that advantage only persists in a couple of games. And even in those games, it takes nothing more than a hit or two — like, say, a Rafael Furcal triple and a Skip Schumaker double — to neutralize even that.  Roy Hallday pitched brilliantly after falling into that 1-0 hole. But he needed help to get out of it, and that help never came.

In June, a team’s bats can go to sleep for four or five games and no one thinks anything of it.  I bet there were a number of stretches where Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Shane Victorino, Carlos Ruiz and everyone else in that Phillies lineup slumped around the same time.  It’s survivable then.  It’s a death sentence in the postseason, and that’s what the Phillies received this past week. The game story surely breaks down Howard’s 0-for-15 to end the series and all of the other similar ugly numbers, but you don’t need to know those specifics to know that Halladay was on his own tonight.  For as valiantly as he pitched, he needed someone to come through and they didn’t.

But it’s not just a story of failure. Credit Chris Carpenter for brilliance of his own. A three-hit shutout — indeed, the first 1-0 shutout of his career — tied this one up in a bow.  He had help from some spectacular defense by Rafael Furcal too.  And of course those two hits by Furcal and Schumaker. Neither of which were part of the Cardinals’ plans for dominance of the National League last winter.  Neither of which carried the Cardinals through the regular season. They just … happened.

And the fact that they just happened should be well-remembered by fans of the next team that assembles a seemingly invincible roster.  Fans of the next version of 2011 Phillies who believe that, because of some audacious moves by the front office, the regular season is a formality and that postseason glory is theirs for the taking.

Baseball just doesn’t work like that. It takes more than just a great pitching staff.  It takes more than a great lineup. It takes more than great defense. It takes all of those things playing the ying to the other two things’ yangs for six months. And then it takes them all converging at once for a week or two in October.

Didn’t happen for the Phillies this year. And to expect with any degree of certainty that it was going to way back in the winter was folly. Let it be a lesson we all remember in the future.

Jeffrey Springs, Rays agree to $31 million, 4-year contract

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Left-hander Jeffrey Springs became the first of the 33 players who exchanged proposed arbitration salaries with their teams to reach a deal, agreeing Wednesday to a $31 million, four-year contract with the Tampa Bay Rays that could be worth $65.75 million over five seasons.

The 30-year old was among seven Rays who swapped arbitration figures with the team on Jan. 13. He began last season in the bullpen, transitioned to the starting rotation in May and finished 9-5 with a 2.46 ERA in 33 appearances, including 25 starts. He is 14-6 with a 2.70 ERA in 76 outings – 51 of them in relief – since he was acquired from Boston in February 2021.

Springs gets $4 million this year, $5.25 million in 2024 and $10.5 million in each of the following two seasons. Tampa Bay has a $15 million option for 2027 with a $750,000 buyout.

The 2025 and 2026 salaries can escalate by up to $3.75 million each based on innings in 2023-24 combined: $1.5 million for 300, $1 million for 325, $750,000 for 350 and $500,000 for 375. The `25 and ’26 salaries also can escalate based on finish in Cy Young Award voting in `23 and ’24: $2 million for winning, $1.5 million for finishing second through fifth in the voting and $250,000 for finishing sixth through 10th.

Tampa Bay’s option price could escalate based on Cy Young voting in 2025 and 2026: by $2.5 million for winning, $2 million for finishing second through fifth and $500,000 for sixth through 10th.

Springs would get $45.25 million if the option is exercised, $52.75 million with the option and meeting all innings targets and the maximum if he meetings the innings targets and wins two Cy Youngs.

Springs’ ERA last season was the second lowest in franchise history for a pitcher working a minimum of 100 innings. Former Rays ace Blake Snell compiled 1.89 ERA on the way to winning the 2018 AL Cy Young.

In addition to finishing sixth in the AL in ERA, Springs allowed three runs or fewer in 22 of 25 starts and two runs or fewer 17 times. He joined Tampa Bay’s rotation on May 9, gradually increasing his workload over his next six appearances. Springs was 6-3 with a 2.40 ERA in 14 starts after the All-Star break.

Arbitration hearings start next week and the Rays remain with the most players scheduled to appear before three-person panels.

Springs had asked for a raise from $947,500 to $3.55 million and had been offered $2.7 million. Tampa remains scheduled for hearings with right-handers Jason Adam, Pete Fairbanks and Ryan Thompson, left-hander Colin Poche, third baseman Yandy Diaz and outfielder Harold Ramirez.

Tampa Bay also agreed minor league contacts with catcher Gavin Collins and right-hander Jaime Schultz, who will report to major league spring training.

Infielder Austin Shenton and pitchers Anthony Molina and Joe LaSorsa also were invited to big league spring training.