Ace In The Hole

When a baseball team needs a win they look to their ace to shut opponents down. A playoff-worthy ace usually delivers. No losing streak is safe. The ace may get beat by good hitters but rarely will an ace beat himself. The Phillies are in a hole but where is the ace?

Brett Myers has nasty stuff, but stuff alone is not enough to make an ace. A true ace has charismatic mound presence. He projects an aura of confidence, grit and determination. He commands his pitches, commands the strike zone, commands himself and owns the game - exactly what Brett Myers has not done.

Instead, Brett has demonstrated the same trademark flaws he's always had. His knack for losing focus vexed the Phillies sorely just when they needed him most. Instead of seizing the moment and becoming a true ace, Myers fell apart.

Far from demonstrating command, Myers repeatedly delivered fat pitches with men on base, telegraphed fastballs in fastball counts, walked batters and made ill-conceived two-strike pitches. With his team struggling and badly in need of him, Myers lasted just four and a third innings and three and a third innings in back-to-back starts.

What does this mean for Myers and the Phillies?

Irate fans may want to trade Myers for a truckload of cream-filled Ho-Hos, but neither Myers nor the Phillies should panic. Myers is still a frontline pitcher and a major piece of the Phillies puzzle. He may still settle into a dominating groove and help the Phillies dig out of their deep April hole.

And yet a harsher truth emerges from these early losses. Brett Myers is not the ace the Phillies need to lead them to a World Series Trophy.

Even if Myers does go on to have a tremendous regular season, it is plain to see that maintaining command has never been his strong suit. With the pressure on him to stop the Phillies bleeding, Myers faltered badly.

If the Phillies are going to overcome their pathetic start, their star-crossed destiny, their booing fans, their lack of playoff experience and their bullpen flaws, their ace will need to have ice water in his veins. Myers' blood boils and sometimes he takes himself right out of games.

Winning the division will be difficult enough, but the playoffs are a whole ‘nother ball of wax. If Myers can't manage to regain composure during an April losing streak, how will he react to the playoffs? By now it's clear Myers is simply best suited as a number two, game two starter.

Consider last season's Detroit Tigers, who seemed a mismatch for the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series and yet melted down under pressure. The Cardinals, unlike the Tigers, had that magic elixir known as playoff experience. It proved enough to win the day.

Aware of the problem, GM Pat Gillick alertly signed Freddy Garcia, who may yet emerge as the Phillies ace. But with Garcia's arm troubles, the odds seem against him regaining top form.

If the Phillies hope to contend this year, Cole Hamels will have to emerge as the undisputed ace of the staff. Of all the starting pitchers, Hamels has the best combination of stuff and poise. With Jamie Moyer as a mentor, Hamels stands to grow by leaps and bounds from start to start. Certainly he hasn't hit his ceiling, while one begins to suspect that Myers has.

Brett Myers at times appears to be his own worst enemy while Hamels demonstrates a focus and unflappability beyond his years. Hamels is an ace waiting to happen and the role appears wide open. Myers sure isn't making a case against the idea. Maybe Freddy Garcia will swoop in and seize the initiative. Or maybe Myers will put it all together in his next few starts. Otherwise, expect Hamels to overtake him on the depth chart by this summer.

The 2007 Phillies will not contend until a true ace emerges. Myers exposed himself as not ready for prime time, Garcia remains a huge question mark and Cole Hamels is still so green. One of them has to rise to the challenge, or Pat Gillick should start saving up to out-bid George Steinbrenner and Omar Minaya for Johann Santana.

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