Take out the opening day start in Texas, and Cliff Lee of the Philadelphia Phillies is the best pitcher in baseball for the first month of the season — and that could mean a lot for the team’s long-term future.
On opening day, Lee gave up eight runs in five innings and still got the win. After his last four starts, he’s had a 1.20 ERA, 37 strikeouts and one walk in 30 innings. Those are Sandy Koufax-like numbers.
Last year at the trade deadline, the Phillies wanted shortstop Xander Bogaerts of the Boston Red Sox in exchange for Lee. If they could not get Bogaerts, they told the Red Sox “no thanks” on the lesser package that was offered. Lee’s start this season might prove that strategy wise.
The bidding this time could start with a prospect at least as good as Bogaerts, if not better. It’s clear that Lee’s control and velocity is as good as it’s ever been, and that’s saying a lot for a 35-year-old pitcher. An organization close to contention on July 31 could offer the right kind of prospect package for Lee that could pry him free and, in return, put them over the top.
Of course, the beauty of this is that the Phillies could keep him if they can somehow get back in the Wild Card race. Cole Hamels is returning to the rotation this week and, with A.J. Burnett and Lee, gives the Phillies a formidable 1-2-3 top of the rotation.
With his eight shutout innings against the Los Angeles Dodgers in a 7-0 win on Monday night, Lee notched his 19th start since 2010 of at least seven innings and no runs. The only two pitchers in baseball with more are Clayton Kershaw and Hiroki Kuroda with 21 apiece.
If, by some miracle, the Phillies need a game to clinch a Wild Card spot in September, having a starter like that in a big spot would be a comforting thought.
Cliff Lee has been one of the most consistent pitchers the Phillies have had in a long time but might not be on their roster come the trade deadline if he continues to play at this level. In the meantime you can still watch Lee pitch in person by getting your Philadelphia Phillies tickets here.