Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Season is in Joe Blanton’s Hands

As published on
Panic Button time? Not yet, but you should get it out of the closet and dust it off. It’s probably right next to your collection of “Relentless” t-shirts and T.O. bobble figurines. You don’t have to get it now, but come 11pm EST Wednesday night, you might need quick access to that panic button.
With the series hanging in the balance, and with Joe Blanton set to take the mound on Wednesday for his first start since September 29, the Phillies faithful are a justifiably nervous bunch. Blanton hasn’t been the most trustworthy starter this year (not even close), and here he is with the keys to Ruben Amaro’s $145 million Red Lamborghini. Ruben promised he’d take us all to Disney World again this year, but he didn’t say Joe was gonna drive for the scary parts.
This season, when Joe Blanton was set to make a start, Phillies fans could be seen grunting their way to the ballpark. They cursed Joe Blanton, the Phillies rotation and the rotation of the planet itself for landing Joe Blanton on the tickets they bought three months earlier. But more often than not these pessimists left the park eating crow, having seen a Phillies “w”, and an offense come to life.
Despite Blanton’s 9-6 record, his 4.82 ERA, and his general inability to go deep into games this season, the Phillies won the vast majority of his starts, going 17-11. Contrast that with a 22-11 record in Roy Halladay’s starts, and an 18-15 record in Hamels’ starts, and maybe you’ll start to think that Blanton is almost as good as those guys. You’d be wrong, but you’d have some numbers to back your stupid case.
The truth is that the Phillies’ bats had just a little extra pop with Joe on the hill this year. The numbers bare this out, as Blanton received more run support of any Phillies starter, 5.7 runs per game. Comparatively, Hamels got only 3.3.
What was the cause of the disparity? Who knows. Maybe Joe seldom faced a top flight starter. Maybe Joe pitched on hotter days where the ball carried more. Maybe Joe has an extra hot wife and the everyday players tried extra hard to impress when she was around. A quick trip around the internet would probably disprove all of these theories, but we can’t worry about any of that right now, and neither can the Phillies.
The bottom line is the Phillies need a win in game 4. They need to hit a guy named Madison Bumgarner. They need to hit the ball. With runners on base. And they need to do that more than the San Francisco Weird Beards. Victorino needs to get on base, and then steal bases. Raul Ibanez needs to do something, anything, even if what he does is change his name to Ben Francisco. Jimmy Rollins needs to get the back end of the order going. Joe Blanton needs to hit another moon shot. Howard needs an RBI or ten. Polanco needs to go 4 for 4. Utley needs to sit on an inside fastball and drive it into the bay. Werth needs to swing at strikes, and hit them, hard. The Phillies need to score runs, in bunches. I know this all sounds odd, but this type of thing used to happen, all the time, not all that long ago.
Think back to a Joe Blanton start against the Dodgers on August 12th. He gave up 3 quick first inning runs that night, settled in for a few more, and left the game in the 5th with the Phillies down 4-2 and not hitting a lick. And then with the Phillies buried 9-2 in the bottom of the 8th, they woke up. Scored 4 in the 8th, and 4 more in the 9th to win the game. That’s the type of magic that never happens with Cole Hamels on the hill, but that’s exactly the type of thing the Phillies do for Joe.
Maybe a Joe Blow start is just what the doctor ordered. Maybe a 3 run San Fran first inning is just what these Phillies need to see to remember that pitching can’t beat pitching. Maybe just seeing a guy on the mound not named Lincecum, Cain or Sanchez will be enough to wake the bats from their postseason slumber, but one way or another, if the Phillies are going to play for another championship, they have got to score runs.
For one game only, it’s not about pitching. But if it does turn out to be about pitching, well then, you can go ahead and hit that panic button

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