Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Boy, Cliff Lee really knows how to prepare for a job interview.
Newly clean-shaven and ready to make a good impression, Lee went out of his way to show the entire baseball community that he definitely is a guy you’d like to hire, throwing a complete game shutout last night against the Marlins, 3-0.
Yes, even though it was against the Marlins, it still counts the same as other shutouts.
Suddenly, Lee’s name has been the focus of trade rumors this week, thanks to the hard work and the never-ending need to create content by a couple of national writers. First, CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman asked Lee about the potential of being traded, should the Phillies become sellers at the trade deadline. That was followed up by an excoriating look at the state of the Phils by Sports Illustrated’s Jay Jaffe, who also concluded that Lee is likely to be shipped out if this season goes in the crapper.
It’s one thing if mindless bloggers like us, who follow every single move the Phillies make, and even some they don’t make, speculate about potential trade targets. It’s quite another when national writers start putting players on the auction block a full two months before the trade deadline when the team is just a game under .500.
The timing seems a bit soon and a bit weird (although it should be noted, there are a couple smart people, like ESPN’s David Schoenfield, who think the Phils will be buyers at the deadline).
But, in the internet world, the need to create content is a relentless shrew, and something has to fill that void.
Enter Cliff Lee.
Certainly, last night’s “audition” for the world couldn’t have gone any better. Lee had only one troublesome inning, the second, when he loaded the bases with nobody out. He managed to escape unscathed, thanks to a 5-2-3 double play and a pop out. That failed insurrection seemed to take all the wind out of the sails of the over-matched Marlins.
By the way, the Marlins’ #3 hitter last night was some ham-and-egger named Derek Deitrich, and their cleanup hitter was some retread named Marcell Ozuna.
They sure ain’t the ’95 Indians.
Still, it was clear early on that Lee wasn’t going to let the dregs of the Marlins lineup, or the suddenly suffocating trade rumors swirling around him, to deter him from his mission.
With Chase Utley likely to hit the disabled list due to a rib cage/oblique injury, Lee becomes the Phillie who likely has the most trade value of anyone on the roster, should Ruben Amaro decide to sell come July. Yes he’s still owed a lot of money (at least $62.5 million after this year), but his performance is so good, and his potential to influence a team’s fortune so pronounced, that the Phils could probably get a prime prospect or two in return.
As it was noted in those two national media reports, however, Lee has a no-trade clause to 21 teams (who those teams are is unknown). So Lee still has a great deal of say where he will go, if the Phillies decide to trade him.
But suddenly the Phils, once again, are refusing to completely tank. Last night’s victory was the first time in their last eight tries that they were able to climb above two games over .500. And, since April 26, the Phillies have lost only one series, their two-game sweep in Cleveland. During that stretch, they’ve won series against the Mets, Giants, Reds and Marlins in three-game series, while splitting four-gamers against the Diamondbacks and Marlins, as well as a two-gamer against the Indians. During that time, they’ve gone 13-10.
It’s not lights out, but it is winning baseball.
As I wrote about yesterday, the Nationals have a slew of problems of their own and, after breaking their four-game losing streak yesterday, are still just one game ahead of the Phillies in the standings, at 24-23. The two teams begin a weekend series in Washington, where the Phils attempt to scale Mount .500 for the first time since April 14.
So, maybe Lee’s audition for the entire baseball world last night was just for show. Perhaps the Phils will stick around long enough to avoid the massive sell-off that many in the media and blogosphere are predicting will happen.
If so, we at least learned that Cliff Lee will have no problem applying for a job after he retires.
Where It All Went Right
When the Phils wiggled out of a bases loaded, no-out jam in the bottom of the second. Nick Green grounded a sharp ground ball to Michael Young at third, who competently threw home for the force, followed by Erik Kratz throwing a strike to first to nail Green. Jeff Mathis followed with a pop out to Freddy Galvis at second, and the minor flare-up was squelched. These Marlins are so cute at this age.
Lee obviously was the headline, but don’t sleep on Delmon Young‘s terrific game, both at the plate and in the field. Young hit his second long home run in as many nights, giving the Phils an early 1-0 lead. He also beat out an infield hit with two outs in the sixth, leading to two, two-out runs that gave the Phils a comfortable 3-0 lead. Not only that, Young showed off his hose of an arm in right field, nailing Chris Coghlan trying to tag up from first on a fly out to deep right field. Young, flat-footed when he threw, tossed a BB to Jimmy Rollins, who tagged out Coughlin. It was pretty sweet.
Kevin Slowey, who had to leave the game due to an injury before the start of the sixth inning. But once again, the middling talent continued to frustrate Phillies hitters with his less-than-stellar stuff, giving up just one run on six hits with six strikeouts and no walks.