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Cliff Lee Still Winless because of Cliff Lee

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Going into the eighth inning of last Saturday’s game against Toronto, it looked as if Cliff Lee would finally break into the win column for 2012.  

Staked to a 5-2 lead, Lee promptly gave up a walk and three singles, leaving the game with only a 5-4 lead and watching as the runner Chad Qualls inherited crossed the plate as part of Lee’s stat line for the night.  Photo: Brian Garfinkel/Getty Images

Following that inning, Phillies’ play-by-play announcer Tom McCarthy curiously described Cliff Lee as “snakebitten,” as if to say that he simply couldn’t catch a break.  In fact, for most of the season, Lee has been viewed as a guy whose only luck has been bad luck.

How else can you explain the fact that, of the 130 Major League pitchers with at least ten starts this season, Lee is the only one who is still winless?

Clearly, it takes some bad luck to approach the month of July with an ERA in the threes and a win total of zero. There were four occasions where Lee pitched at least six innings and gave up two or fewer runs and still did not register a win.

But, as June comes to an end, the former Cy Young winner can point to one main thing that is maintaining his 2012 o-fer.   

Himself.

Since May 20th, Lee has made seven starts, and there has been very little to feel positive about from those performances.  

In those seven games, Lee has surrendered 27 runs (all earned), 55 hits, 6 home runs and 12 doubles.  That’s an ERA of 5.09 over 47.2 innings.  

Equally frustrating is the fact that Lee has been staked to leads that he promptly gave away, and also put his team into a hole that they could not dig out of.  He has certainly flipped the script on his first month of the season, as he has given his teammates a lack of support as they struggle to win games.

The reason for Lee’s struggles doesn’t seem to be physical.  The games in which he surrenders runs often feature extended stretches of dominance.  Lee will give up big innings and then sit down hitter after hitter, many by way of strikeout as proof that his stuff is still pretty nasty.

Perhaps the mental strain of the early season and a losing team is affecting the former Cy Young winner.  After making hitters look foolish for extended stretches, Lee has made some real mistake pitches in just about every outing.  The hanging breaking balls and poorly located fastballs could be a result of trying to be too perfect.

But one thing is for sure.  It’s hard to call a pitcher snakebitten who has surrendered nearly five runs an outing and allowed opponents to hit almost .300 over a stretch of seven starts.   That he has lost only three of those outings could actually make a solid argument that Lee is anything but unfortunate.  

As the Phillies try to claw their way out of last place and into some sort of playoff relevance, it is absolutely critical that their starting rotation feature a Cliff Lee who is one of the top pitchers in Major League Baseball.  

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Matt Babiarz was born and raised in the Philadelphia area.  He graduated from the University of Alabama, but remained a very close observer of the Philadelphia sports scene.  He recently began covering the Phillies for Philly2Philly.com.   You can also read his work at Bleacherreport.com within the Philadelphia Phillies section. 

Matt can be contacted at mattbabz@comcast.net  

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Photos:
Home Page: Howard Smith
Article photo: Brian Garfinkel/Getty Images
Thumbnail: Al Bellow/Getty Images