By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus
While the city of Brotherly Love still basks in the glow of a Super Bowl victory and anxious hoop fans await the next step in “the process”, local baseball fans may have reason to feel a bit giddy heading into Opening Day.
With the signing of former Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta becoming official over the weekend – along with the signings of All-Star Carlos Santana and relievers Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter this winter – the Phillies could find themselves making postseason plans as well.
The Arrieta deal (three years, $75M) includes an opt-out clause after two years for the 32-year-old righty. While his 14-10 mark with a 3.53 ERA in 2017 was a bit of a dropoff from his 2016 campaign (18-8, 3.10 ERA), Arrieta’s presence at the top of the rotation is what eventually landed him in Philly.
And when you look back at the Phillies’ history with top-flight starters and the postseason, it bodes well for rookie manager Gabe Kapler. In fact, only 18 starting pitchers in MLB last year pitched at least 168 innings with an ERA of 3.55 or better.
The Phillies now have two of them – Arrieta and Aaron Nola.
Only the Nationals (Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez) and the Red Sox (Chris Sale, Drew Pomeranz) feature more than one starter coming off that kind of season. By the way, both Washington and Boston won their respective divisions as well.
But let’s take a quick peek back at that Philly pitching history.
Flashback to the spring of 1972. The Phillies would trade Rick Wise to the Cardinals and acquire future Hall of Famer Steve Carlton. During his first season with the Phils, Carlton had one of the most dominant seasons in MLB history.
En route to his first Cy Young Award, Carlton led the league in wins (27), complete games (30), strikeouts (310), and ERA (1.97), despite playing for a Phillie team whose final record was 59–97.
Seven years and a pair of Cy Young Awards later, “Lefty” would be the lynchpin of Philly’s rotation en route to the franchise’s World Series championship in 1980. Carlton was the winning pitcher in the Game Six clincher against the Royals.
Fast forward to April of 1992. Curt Schilling is acquired from the Houston Astros for reliever Jason Grimsley. A year later, he goes 16-7 and helps lead Philly to the National League Eastern Division crown.
In the postseason, Schilling is named the MVP of the National League Championship Series (1.69 ERA in two starts) as the Phillies eliminated the Braves in six games. He would eventually go 1-1 in the Fall Classic before Philly fell to Toronto in six games.
While Schilling didn’t take home the crown for Philly, that year was the start of his career-long success (11-2, 2.23 ERA) in the postseason. He’d eventually win World Series titles with the Diamondbacks and the Red Sox.
Fast forward again to November of 2007. Reliever Brad Lidge and infielder Eric Brumlett are traded from the Astros to the Phils for outfielder Michael Bourn, pitcher Geoff Geary, and infielder Mike Constanzo.
Lidge would have a career year in 2008 as he became the first closer in Phillies history to be perfect in regular season saves, converting 41 in as many opportunities. He was the first reliever since L.A.’s Eric Gagne in 2003 to have a perfect conversion rate of 30+ saves.
While helping lead the Phils to another NL East crown, Lidge finished the 2008 season with a 1.95 ERA, and 92 strikeouts in 62 games. Lidge’s perfection would continue to spread into the playoffs.
While lefty Cole Hamels was named the MVP of the NLCS, it was Lidge who continued to carry his dominance in the bullpen during the postseason.
He saved the decisive Game 5 of the World Series on October 29, 2008, against the Rays. With a strikeout of Eric Hinske, Lidge finished 7 for 7 in postseason saves, thus completing his perfect season.
A year later, a major deal at the trade deadline would put Philly in line to defend their world championship. On July 29, the Phillies would acquire former Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee and outfielder Ben Francisco from Cleveland.
Lee would help lead Philly to its third straight NL East title by literally carrying them down the stretch. Through his first five games with the Phillies, Lee compiled a 5–0 record, 39 strikeouts in 40 innings pitched, and a 0.68 ERA.
After opening the postseason with a 2–0 record in the first two rounds, manager Charlie Manuel handed Lee the ball in Game One of the World Series against New York in Yankee Stadium.
Lee pitched a complete game in the 6-1 victory, allowing one unearned run. In his next start – Game 5 – Lee earned another victory, allowing five runs and three walks while striking out three in seven innings. The Phillies won 8–6.
Lee finished that postseason with a 4-0 record (five starts) with 33 strikeouts and allowed seven earned runs in 40 1/3 innings. Despite winning both of his starts, Philly would lose the series in six games.
Despite Lee’s stellar postseason, he would be dealt to the Seattle Mariners for three prospects. The Phils would then trade three other prospects to acquire another former Cy Young award winner – Toronto’s Roy Halladay.
The late Halladay emerged as the ace of the staff from day one in Philly. He finished the 2010 regular season with a 21–10 record and a 2.44 ERA, setting a career high with 219 strikeouts while issuing just 30 walks.
He led the National League in wins, innings pitched, and complete games (9), including 4 shutouts. In May, Halladay also tossed the 20th perfect game in MLB history by blanking the Marlins at Miami.
Similar to his Philly predecessors, Halladay would enjoy postseason success in a Phillies uniform. In Game One of the NLDS against the Cincinnati Reds, he tossed a no-hitter in the first playoff start of his career.
“Doc” allowed only one walk – Jay Bruce in the fifth inning – in the 4–0 victory.
Throwing 104 pitches, Halladay joined Don Larsen as the only two men to throw no-hitters during the postseason. He also became the first pitcher in MLB history to throw a perfect game and another no-hitter in the same season.
The Phillies would sweep Cincinnati in the series. However, they would fall to the eventual World Champion Giants in the NLCS in six games. Halladay, who was matched against Tim Lincecum in both of his starts, lost Game One 4–3 and won Game Five 4–2.
If Arrieta can regain his form, he’ll be able to add his name to this list as well.
Anthony McClean can be reached via email at email@example.com.