Will The Phillies Ever Find A "Big Three"?

To compete for a World Series title, you have to build a Big Three in your starting rotation. For the 2007 pennant chase, the Phillies have Cole and a hole. What looked like a strength at the start of the season has become a fatal flaw. Can they make the fixes in time to save the season?

Let's look at the rotation, 1-5.

1. Cole Hamels

Cole Hamels is the once and future ace of the Fightins. Say what you want about Phillies brass, they made the right choice in drafting Hamels. Among the league leaders at just 23 years of age, Hamels is an ace you can build around. He gives his team a good chance to win every time out, often dominating opponents with his smooth, deceptive stuff. He represents the Phillies best hope for winning a championship, now and into the teens.

Behind Cole, nobody qualifies as another third of a Big Three. There are several fives and perhaps a four, but there's no one of Big Three caliber in sight.

What happened to the other two-thirds of the Phillies Big Three?

Gavin Floyd notched six shutout innings for a win with the White Sox, his first effective major league start in years. His ERA dropped to just over 7. Floyd was supposed to be the answer to the Phillies Big Three problems by now. Instead, Gavin struggled and was traded to the White with pitcher Gio Gonzalez in exchange for pitcher Freddy Garcia.

While the Phillies don't much miss the enigmatic Floyd, Gio Gonzalez is another story. A standout 21 year old in AA Birmingham, Gonzalez has compiled a 7-5 record with a 1.14 WHIP in 122 innings. He has 148 strikeouts against 44 walks. Gio is on a collision course with the Major Leagues and may haunt the Phillies for years to come.

Freddy Garcia was supposed to be a sure thing but he turned out to have a clipped wing. Interestingly, the Phillies did not examine Garcia, though they did examine reliever Joe Borowski after coming to terms and then canceled the deal due to medical concerns. Rejected by the Phillies, Borowski saved 30 of 33 games for the Indians instead.

Brett Myers was ace of the staff on opening day, but Brett never felt comfortable in the aces shoes. Myers struggled all spring. Converting him to closer was an emergency move when the Phillies discovered that Myers was no more of an ace than Tom Gordon was a closer.

Meanwhile, back from injury, Myers seems to relish the closer role and has the stuff to get the job done. In the second half, the Phillies have to consider Myers carefully, realizing that assembling a Big Three takes priority over the bullpen. A starter logs nearly three times as many innings as a closer. Unless Brett dominates as a closer and rejects starting again, he should return to the rotation as the number three starter for 2008. How this plays out will make a major difference in the Phillies title hopes, this year and next. Either way, Brett has to perform at a high level if the Phillies hope to contend.

Without Myers or Garcia, where does that leave our Big Three? Don't mention Jon Lieber, who's career with the Phillies appears to be over - he was a fourth starter at best in any case.

2. Jamie Moyer.

Jamie Moyer is a great Philadelphian, an old-school gamer, a field general, and an inspiration. But to ask him at this stage of his career to be part of a Big Three is unrealistic and frankly unfair. Moyer still competes and gives you a good chance to win, but at the tender - make that tenderized - age of 44, he is not a legitimate part of a contending Big Three.

If GM Pat Gillick can assemble four starters ahead of Moyer on the depth chart, Moyer would make a world-class fifth starter. Expecting Moyer to be part of a Big Three is an exercise in rash exuberance, especially looking ahead to 2008.

3. Kyle Kendrick

Number three in the current rotation is rookie Kyle Kendrick, the surprise call-up from AA Reading with a nasty sinker and a good idea how to get batters out. Most remarkable has been Kyle's consistency, which makes him suddenly a big part of the Phillies plans.

Ideally, an unseasoned pitcher like Kendrick would not be expected to be a piece of a Big Three. Yet Kyle has been the Phillies most consistent starter behind Hamels, if also the least experienced. Looking ahead, Kendrick should open the 2008 season as a fourth starter with a chance to climb into a Big Three role. Amazing, all things considered.

4. Kyle Lohse

Adam Eaton has had a terrible season so far, not even good enough as a fifth starter. It remains to be seen whether or not the Phillies keep handing him the ball. There are a few starters who may be fifth starters, but none who looks like a fourth. The Phillies miss Lieber here.

Most of the pitching talent in the Phillies system is too young to help this year. Gillick did what he could to bolster the staff by acquiring Kyle Lohse, who will be a free agent at the end of the season. Of course, Lohse is just another contender for the fifth starter slot, along with Adam Eaton, J.D. Durbin, J.A. Happ, Fabio Castro, Gary Knotts, Zack Segovia, Matt Childers, Chris Rojas and short list of mostly middling minor leaguers.

5. ???????

As the Phillies gear up for the stretch run, their fourth and fifth starters are a mish-mash of possibilities. Since Eaton can't make decent starts, perhaps the Phillies should spot start Durbin again or audition another contender. Eaton might be better off in mop-up duty and long relief. The Phillies need to mix and match and hope to find a good combination. They can't afford to let a pitcher reel off a string of poor starts.

Any one of several contenders might step up as J.D. Durbin did with his shutout. But inconsistency is an issue with all of these pitchers. Realistically, none are appealing options in the heat of the playoffs. These names are best left for development and spot starts. This isn't a situation conducive to winning titles.

Who will stop the bleeding? Lohse and Castro are the early favorites, followed by Durbin, Eaton, Happ, and Knotts. Two guys will have to step up. Otherwise, it's all about 2008.

Looking ahead to 2008, Pat Gillick must sign or trade for a front-line pitcher to replace Freddy Garcia. Can he reel in Carlos Zambrano, Curt Schilling or John Smoltz? Or will he simply re-sign Lohse?

And who will emerge from within the minor league system by this time next year? A rehabbed Scott Mathieson? Carlos Carrasco, Josh Outman, Happ, or Durbin? Will Joe Savery do what Cole Hamels did, making a mockery of his competition and rising like cream to the top of the Phillies depth charts? Or will he take a few years to put it all together as most rookies do?

Here's a quick projection of the Phillies rotations of the future.

2007
Hamels
Moyer
Kendrick
Lohse
Durbin

Backups - Eaton, Castro, Knotts, Happ,

2008
Hamels
(Curt Schilling?)
Myers
Kendrick
Moyer

Backups - Mathieson, Happ, Durbin, Castro, Eaton, Outman, Carrasco, Savery

2009
Hamels
(Johan Santana?)
Myers
Kendrick
Savery

Backups - Mathieson, Carrasco, Happ, Durbin, Outman, Joe Bisenius, Andrew Carpenter, Patrick Overholt, Antonio Bastardo, Andrew Cruse, Dan Brauer, Chance Chapman, Edgar Garcia, Kyle Drabek


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