Cliff Lee needs to be Cliff Lee.
Every day this month, we here at Philthy Stuff will be counting down the New Year's resolutions of each member on the Phillies, and what they can do to guide this team back to October. Next up, Cliff Lee.
When the news broke in the late hours of December 15, 2010 that Cliff was coming back to Philadelphia, the buzz in the city was palpable. Even if you were far removed from Delaware County, you could feel the excitement through your fingertips as you updated your Twitter account with “omg you guyz here comes Cliff LEEEEE!!!!!”
And why not? Cliff picked up a beleaguered 2009 pitching staff, and his performance in the playoffs was nothing short of superhuman. Despite the fact that the Phillies lost the World Series that season, his performance in Game 1 will go down as one of the greatest moments in the history of the franchise.
So, when he was traded to the Seattle Mariners, the fans were understandably sour and heartbroken, which made his return to the City of Brotherly Love all the more exciting. It's almost like he restored hope to Phillies fans. (Maybe that last part is an exaggeration, but you get the idea -- people love him.)
But even his addition to the team and the rise of the vaunted Four Aces could not deliver another championship to Philly. And while he couldn't pitch much better than he did in 2011, the ace lefty still has a resolutions of his own.
2009 Called: But things were not all rosy for Clifton Phifer last season. Despite his dominance on the hill during the regular season, he could not carry that success into October. In Game 2 of the NLDS Lee was handed a 4-0 lead by his offense. Ordinarily, this would have been more than enough for Cliff, but he was unable to hold the lead, as he went on to give up five earned runs in six innings in what would be a crucial loss for the Phillies, who would lose the series in five games.
I'm not saying that Cliff is to blame for the series loss, but when your team spots you four runs, you need to be Cliff Lee, and Cliff Lee doesn't just give up five runs like that. If the Phillies want to have a parade in 2012,it's not because Cliff was so-so. That's for sure.
Power Surge: We don't pay you to bunt, Cliff. More dingers, please.
On Again, Off Again: As good as Cliff was last season, he fell into fits of wild inconsistency on the mound -- it wasn't uncommon for him to give up four, five or even six runs in a start, as evidence by an ERA of 4.18 in April, 3.78 in May, and 4.91 in August.
Fortunately, Lee also went into fits of sheer and utter dominance and would often go multiple games without giving up an earned run. Just look at his ERA in June (0.21 in 42 innings), August (0.45 in 39.2 innings) and September (1.42 in 38 innings). Sometimes he was the greatest pitcher to ever walk the earth -- at other times he was Kei Igawa. It was weird.
Now, if Cliff ends the season with an ERA in the mid-2s, then we really have very little to complain about. But, for the sanity of myself and Phillies fans everywhere, I think we can all agree that we don't like seeing our beloved ace giving up six runs in a start.
Continue to Ace It Up: But seriously, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. In 2011, Lee won 17 games, had an ERA of 2.40, tossed a league-leading six shutouts and struck out 238 hitters over 232 2/3 innings. He was about as good as you can get without actually being Roy Halladay or Clayton Kershaw, so in other words, all Cliff has to do in 2012 is be Cliff.
Sure, he took his lumps (doesn't everyone?), but at the end of the day, he was still one of the best pitchers in the game.