Today’s series finale with the Dodgers isn’t a must-win in the truest sense of the phrase. The Phillies have won four in a row and have already guaranteed themselves a series win against a decent opponent on the road, so I get that. But in my world, the Phillies have to have this game today. Why? Because of Cliff Lee, that’s why.
The Phillies will face a tall in order this afternoon when they square off against Clayton Kershaw, who has been excellent coming off of his 2011 Cy Young Award-winning season. He’s posted a 2.84 ERA in 19 starts, averaging nearly a strikeout per inning. He hasn’t been quite as sharp in July, and he’s 0-4 lifetime against the Phillies. Regardless, he remains a difficult matchup for any team.
But this game isn’t really about Clayton Kershaw. It’s about Cliff Lee. We know the deal with Lee at this point. He’s a great pitcher having a down year with an ERA that’s a bit higher than his secondary numbers would suggest. A perfect storm of bad luck, bad timing, injuries, a lack of run support, and his own propensity to crumble in crucial situations have each combined to ramrod him in the ass for most of 2012, thus resulting in one win for his $21.5 million salary.
If the Phillies are to make good on the 0.4% chance Baseball Prospectus currently gives them to reach the postseason, Lee is going to have to start winning games. And soon. As in today. It’s no longer acceptable to use the excuses of poor run support, bad luck, and peripheral stats not matching expected results. That’s all bullshit now. If The Phillies get him two runs today—that needs to be enough. If he’s in a tight spot late in the game, he can’t surrender the lead, as he’s often done this season . Conversely, if the Phillies score nine runs, he needs to hold the Dodgers to eight. I don’t care about his ERA, K/9, BABIP, WAR, xFIP, or any of that other shit anymore. For months, observers have said that a win is the worst statistic to evaluate a pitcher’s performance. That very well may be true. But for Lee and the Phillies, it’s now the only statistic that matters.