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Five things we learned from watching the Phillies this weekend

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 1. Cliff Lee has only thrown one game for the Phillies, but there may be a new ace in town-  I know people are going to rag on me for Cliff Lee-photo by Andrea Kohalmisaying this, but oh well. It's not that I didn't want the Phillies to acquire Cliff Lee because I thought he wasn't a solid pitcher. Come on, EVERYONE in this town wanted Roy Halladay. Lee is no Roy Halladay, but the man does know how to pitch. Moreover, if the Phillies do advance in the playoffs (more on that later) and had to face Lee if he were a member of the Dodgers, chances are he could give our lefthanded trio of Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Raul Ibanez major problems. Take note that I still am not sold on this deal, and I may not be until the fightins go down Broad Street this November holding the trophy again. However, since Halladay remained in Toronto and what the team had to give up for Lee was minimal compared to the asking price in the Halladay fiasco, the Phils made out alright. Although the Giants lineup won't remind anyone of the '27 Yankees, Lee's poise and demeanor on the mound Friday night hasn't been seen from a Phillies pitcher since Cole Hamels dominated the postseason last fall. Which brings me to my next question.

2. What if Cole Hamels CAN'T get it together this season?-   Five awesome starts followed by one bad start. That seems to be the pattern with Hamels this entire year. This includes getting schallacked by the Pirates, who are nothing more than a revolving door of a baseball team and are thisclose to letting their top selling hot dog vendor play first base for them. Only a miracle comeback by the Phils in the ninth inning prevented Hamels from losing that game. The fifth inning of Sunday's loss to the Giants is a pure microcosm of Hamels' season: up by two runs with two out, and nobody on base, when the pitcher (Barry Zito) comes to the plate. Minutes later, three runs score and the Giants take the lead. A friend of mine sent me a text message simply stating "This inning is an excellent example of why Hamels will never be a number one starter." With his inconsistency this season, it's tough to argue. Hamels admitted that he was not in playing shape at the start of the season, but at times it looks like he's still trying to find his groove. Let's hope he finds it by October, because it looks like there's a new sheriff in town.

3. Tim Lincecum IS the real deal, and the Giants may be this year's sleeper team in the NL-  Just to show you how dominant Tim Lincecum is, he allowed seven hits in eight innings, struck out eight, and shut the Phillies out despite getting out of several jams on Saturday night. And although several Phillies helped him by not working counts or swinging at the first pitch with the bases loaded, that was considered an OFF game for Lincecum. Not many teams in baseball can get the best of the Phillies in a seven game series. However, Lincecum and Matt Cain could really make things tough in a five game series- which is exactly what the Giants could find themselves in if they manage to win the wild-card. The Phillies, who were unbeatable at home in the 2008 postseason, could be singing a very different tune if this team is their opponent in the first round and happen go to San Fransisco down 0-2. Lincecum is almost impossible to beat once in a series let alone twice in a five game series. The Giants came into this season with probably the weakest all-around offense in the National League. However, the emergence of Pablo "Kung Fu Panda" Sandoval and the acquisitions of Freddy Sanchez and Ryan Garko at the trade deadline could dramatically improve the team's anemic offense. Another strength of the Giants is that the team uses the spacious AT&T Park to their advantage. Their 37-16 record at home is the best in the National League. Yet ANOTHER reason why you DON'T wanna face these guys in October.

4. When the Phillies struggle with runners in scoring position, they can't even drive Miss Daisy home- When the Phils offense is running on all eight cylinders, they are the best hitting team in baseball. When they go into one of their infamous hitting droughts, the make castoffs like Yusmeiro Petit (who hadn't won a game in a year!!) look like Tom Seaver. 8 for 64 with RISP on this seven game road trip to Arizona and San Fransisco is flat out ugly. Oddly enough, the team scored runs for Cliff Lee, who was constantly the victim of poor run support in Cleveland, but managed just three more runs the rest of the series against San Fransisco. We've seen this before. Remember the World Series last year when the team was setting records (and not in a good way) for their inability to do this exact same thing?  This is just a funk that they will get out of soon enough, and facing Lincecum doesn't help the cause. However, as I mentioned earlier, the pitching in this year's playoffs will be considerably stronger than in 2008. The Phillies could be facing pitchers similar to Lincecum's caliber (if not AS talented)  for every series that they manage to participate in. Matt Cain, Barry Zito (and possibly Randy Johnson) on the Giants alone, Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, and Joel Pineiro of the Cardinals, Rich Harden and Carlos Zambrano of the Cubs, Hiroki Kuroda (I know he stinks-but he always gives the Phillies fits), and Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers (and don't even get me started with George Sherrill now in their bullpen) are just some of the pitchers that the Phillies may encounter in the postseason. Obviously they won't play all of these teams, but that's just a preview of what the National League has to offer........

5. Rodrigo Lopez may have started his last game for the Phillies- You have to tip your cap to Rodrigo Lopez. In all actuality, he is the pitcher who kicked off the Phillies best July in the modern era by beating the Mets on July 3rd. Sure, the Mets represent a M.A.S.H. unit right now, but it was Lopez's first win in two years after coming back from Tommy John surgery. Lopez knew all along that his time in the rotation could be a short one, but he made the best of things and handled it with dignity and class. His last few starts have been rocky, which could indicate that teams are possibly starting to figure him out. If Pedro Martinez turns out to be a serviceable fifth starter (and let's be honest: who knows where that is going...?), let's hope the Phils can reward Lopez by finding him a spot in the Phillies steady (but at times inconsistent) bullpen. If not, at least trade or release him so he can sign with a contending team.

 photos: www.mercurynews.com

Andrea Kohalmi: amkjag@yahoo.com