Dan Podheiser is a writer for NESN.com but a Phillies fan at heart. These are his words.
Joe Blanton might have made Charlie Manuel’s upcoming decision a little bit easier on Sunday. Blanton, currently tabbed as the Phillies’ No. 4 starter, gave up four earned runs in six innings to the lowly Nationals in what turned out to be an epic 7-6 Phillies victory.
The decision for Manuel would ordinarily be pretty simple. The Phillies have three legitimate aces in Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, and Roy Oswalt, and it should be those three -- and those three only -- that take the mound in the postseason. But until Sunday afternoon, Blanton had been making his case to not just be an emergency starter in the postseason; he was pitching like you’d be foolish not to start him.
Blanton was 4-1 with a 3.50 ERA in 12 starts after the All-Star break heading into Sunday. He had a sensational August in which he posted a 2.81 ERA in five outings, and his September was off to a pretty good start as well. It’s not like Manuel, or any competent manager, for that matter, would ever start Blanton (even when sizzling hot) over Halladay, Hamels, or Oswalt on full rest.
But the Phillies saw firsthand in 2009 what can happen to even the best pitchers when having to pitch on three days of rest. The New York Yankees went with three starters -- CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte -- in their championship run last year. And even though it worked out in the end for the Bombers, it was pretty clear that the starters were barely getting by towards the end of the World Series.
Sabathia was hardly effective in Game 4 on short rest, and Burnett, who pitched Game 2, was awful in Game 5 three days later. Having seen the Yankees’ ability to win the World Series with just three starters should give Manuel the needed confidence to rely on his three aces.
That said, there might not be any harm in starting Blanton with a 3-0 lead in a seven-game series -- whether it is the NLCS or World Series -- if it means giving the Big Three full rest.
As tremendous as Philly’s aces have been, they have thrown a ridiculous amount of innings. Halladay is the biggest horse in baseball, leading the league with 234 2/3 innings, and Oswalt (198 2/3) and Hamels (194 2/3) aren’t too far behind. The extra rest could do them some good.
As a disclaimer, I am in no way, shape or form implying that Blanton should make a start in the NLDS. But he has proven in the second half of the season, in addition to his success in the 2008 postseason, that he can be a reliable arm down the stretch.
He may not be an ace, but Joe Blanton is a valuable card in Charlie Manuel’s deck.