When the dust settles on the 2011 season, it's likely going to do so with the Philadelphia Phillies owning the best record in the National League, and with it, home field advantage throughout the playoffs. All to go along with the triumvirate of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels and one of the most powerful offenses in the game.
In summation, the Phillies find themselves in a very advantageous position as they look to notch their second World Series title since 2008. But, like last season, they will find themselves in a precarious position when it comes to selecting certain members of their starting rotation.
When they needed a fourth man in the playoff rotation in 2010, they turned to Joe Blanton, as opposed to sending Roy Halladay to the hill on short rest in the National League Championship Series. Say what you want about that decision and whether or not it impacted the outcome of the series, but it was one of the biggest decisions that Charlie Manuel had to make in regards to his personnel.
And in a month or so, the time is once again going to come for him to make a fairly significant decision when it comes to choosing who gets the ball in the fourth spot in the rotation. But unlike last season, there is a bevy of arms to choose from, most notably those belonging to Roy Oswalt and Vance Worley, two players on opposite ends of their careers who could very easily make a case to earn a spot in the rotation come postseason.
At first blush, it seems like an easy choice to give the nod to Roy Oswalt, due to his status as one of the Four Aces and playoff experience. However, a back injury earlier in the season turned him into an entirely different pitcher, and he only recently appears to be regaining the stuff that made him so dominant down the stretch last season.
On top of that, his competition, Vance Worley, has cemented himself as a fine starter in his own right -- and he's the owner of a sparkling 2.85 ERA in 20 games (18 starts) this season. He doesn't appear to be making the decision any easier for Charlie Manuel.
But despite the fact that Worley is younger and hasn't dealt with an somewhat significant injury this season doesn't necessarily mean that he is the better man for the job.
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Roy Is Healthy
It took him a few starts, but the Oswalt that was getting by on luck and grit in the middle of the season is long gone. No longer is he not inducing strikeouts at a career low rate or hoping to sneak a low-90s fastball past hitters. Since his return from the DL in the beginning of August, Little Roy has a 3.60 ERA in five starts, and has regained his strikeout form to the tune of 7.65 K/9 – quite the change from his 3.99 K/9 rate from when he was injured.
Roy The Reliever?
If Roy doesn't get the nod as the starter, his only refuge would be the bullpen. It doesn't sound like a terrible idea, as pitchers with good strikeout totals make very effective relievers. However, his back injury history would make him less suited for that, given that relief pitchers have very little time to warm up before entering the game. There is no telling how he would be impacted by that, but in his one relief appearance in 2010's NLCS, he wasn't exactly sharp. That's not to say it would happen this year, but the Phillies would certainly get more value out of six or seven innings of Roy Oswalt, as opposed to one inning.
Perhaps the biggest argument to be made for Roy Oswalt is that Charlie Manuel is fiercely loyal to his veteran players. It's a character trait that occasionally can be a flaw, but he sticks with guys like Raul Ibanez and Brad Lidge, even if they are struggling. And with Roy's resurgence, it's even less of a reason for Charlie to go with the young Worley.
To be fair to Worley, he is having a very good season, and he deserves to be considered for the final rotation spot in the postseason. But with Oswalt's success as of late, along with his pedigree, it will be a tall mountain for the 23-year-old right hander to climb.
But when October arrives, the smart play is to go with the healthy and dominant Roy Oswalt. His ability to induce swinging strikeouts at a significant rate, along with his veteran status and postseason experience make him a fine choice to get the ball.