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Wednesday, May 9, 2012
Will the return of Cliff Lee help Phils?

ESPN.com

The Phillies are in last place in the National League East. Will the return of Cliff Lee get them straightened out? Ervin Santana is still searching for his first win as he's set to make his seventh start of the season. Is he snakebit? Plus, we examine if the Brewers were crazy for having just given contract extensions to manager Ron Roenicke and general manager Doug Melvin, all in today's Triple Play.

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1. Cliff Lee is set to return Wednesday. Are the Phillies about to take off?


Christina Kahrl (@ChristinaKahrl), SweetSpot
They'll do better … incrementally. Lee helps one day every five, but the bigger turnarounds they need involve getting the hitters who are healthy to start cranking, and to do a better job of managing their bullpen resources. The rash of injuries in the 'pen seems to have encouraged Charlie Manuel to reserve Jonathan Papelbon for emergencies that never make it to his one inning. If Manuel doesn't adapt to what he has, the Phillies won't take off.

Bill Baer (@CrashburnAlley), Crashburn Alley
Nope. The Phillies' starting pitching has been just fine without him. For some perspective, Roy Halladay has the highest ERA in the rotation (non-Kyle Kendrick division) at 3.28. If the Phillies are going to take off, they'll need to start hitting with regularity. They have scored three or fewer runs in five of their last 11 games -- all losses.

Josh Worn (@WalkoffWoodward), Walkoff Woodward
Starting pitching can take a team only so far if the bullpen is misused and the offense is stagnant. Of course, if Lee/Halladay/Cole Hamels all throw two-hit shutouts for the rest of the season, then, sure.


2. If Ervin Santana (0-6) can't beat the lowly Twins on Wednesday, is it a sign that the baseball gods are out to get him?


Kahrl: It's rough, but his last two starts were excellent. Maybe he should take encouragement from Steve Trachsel, one of his generation's great Alibi Ikes: He's making his pitches and throwing well. Because it is true. If the Angels make an improbable mistake and don't pick up his option and pay him $13 million next year, he should be able to cry about that all the way to the bank as a well-compensated free agent.

Ervin Santana
Ervin Santana has suffered a loss in each of his six starts so far this season.

Baer: Baseball is indeed a fickle deity. However, it's not like Santana has been a Cy Young-caliber pitcher this year otherwise: he still has a 4.05 xFIP (Fielding Independent Pitching). Yeah, it stinks that the Angels haven't scored for him (three runs in six starts), but overall he has pitched well enough to merit only two or three wins. Why are we looking at a pitcher's W-L in 2012, anyway?

Worn: No, it probably means that he's still a mediocre pitcher who occasionally fluffs his stuff up enough to fool us (like when he threw that no-hitter). Santana is the West Coast version of Edwin Jackson, you know, the one who hasn't moved from team to team like a baseball nomad.


3. The Brewers are struggling, have a mediocre farm system and don't seem like contenders, yet they just extended their manager and GM. What's up with that?


Kahrl: Well, they did just win the NL Central handily, Ron Roenicke is a hell of a tactician, and losing Jack Zduriencik to Seattle has probably crimped their style on player development. They may not cash in on Zack Greinke's last year before free agency, and offering Francisco Rodriguez arbitration was spectacularly dumb, but big-picture, they have reason to like what they've done on Doug Melvin's watch.

Baer: Good question. Unfortunately, people in general tend to prefer the status quo and the Brewers have been just good enough recently where they would rather not rock the boat with a massive upheaval. They did win 96 games last year and they have Ryan Braun locked up through at least 2020.

Worn: The baseball season isn't even a quarter of the way through. It's silly to judge a season based on four weeks of action. Farm systems are also hard to maintain when a team is contending and trading away upper-level prospects. It's also a good PR move, made to give the players (and fan base) some hope, especially if the team planned to do it anyway.