With Lee again a Phil, are the Braves playing for the wild card?

Those were the days, my friend. We thought they'd never end. (AJC file photo)

Those were the days, my friends. We thought they'd never end. (AJC file photo)

Whenever Bobby Cox was asked last winter about the Phillies’ acquisition of Roy Halladay, he had the same answer: “At least they don’t have [Cliff] Lee.”

Your attention, please: Now they do. And this would seem a propitious moment not to be managing a team that has to play the Phillies 18 times a season. Which means Cox timed his retirement pretty doggone well.

The Phillies rocked the ol’ world Monday night, coming from far off the pace to land the biggest prize of this free-agent class. Lee was supposed to be bound for the Bronx, where every big-ticket ballplayer eventually lands, or back to Texas, scene of his most recent success. Instead he’s going to the Phillies, which not so long ago shipped him to Seattle because they couldn’t afford both Halladay and Lee.

Now they’ve got Halladay and Lee. And Cole Hamels. And Roy Oswalt.

This isn’t just the finest rotation in contemporary baseball;  it’s the best the sport has seen since the era of Glavine and Smoltz and Maddux and Avery/Neagle. Those Braves won every division title by outpitching everybody else. The Phillies, who have already taken the past four NL East titles, should outpitch everybody now and for the foreseeable future.

This doesn’t mean the Braves have no chance. It’s baseball. Stuff happens. But even in weirdo baseball the one thing that can override all else is starting pitching. The Braves’ rotation — Hudson, Hanson, Lowe, Jurrjens and maybe Mike Minor — will be very good. The Phillies’ will be better than good. Anyone inclined to pick the Braves to win the East in 2011 has just had a re-think.

It’s the old Braves’ formula: You win over the long haul because your Nos. 3 and 4 starters are better than everybody else’s. And there’s another Braves’ precedent at play: An already-good rotation became the greatest ever because the biggest free-agent pitcher of the era took less money than the Yankees were offering to become a Brave.

And now Cliff Lee has done as Greg Maddux did 18 Decembers ago. And now a pretty decent Braves’ offseason pales in comparison. Good thing there’s the wild card, huh?

By Mark Bradley

175 comments Add your comment

rawdawg

December 14th, 2010
9:17 am

Buck Commander

December 14th, 2010
9:20 am

Hey, its my first second!

Mark Bradley

December 14th, 2010
9:23 am

Three in two days for rawdawg. Unprecedented kudos.

Fire Frank Wren

December 14th, 2010
9:25 am

This sounds like the hapless Frank Wren…

Which is why the phone rang in this reporter’s household after midnight Monday night, and a highly ranked official on another National League team was asking, pretty much at the top of his lungs: “Did the Phillies just sign Cliff Lee?”

And when the answer was, “Well, he’s coming to Philadelphia, if that’s what you mean,” the official on the other end of the line had this reaction, also pretty much at the top of his lungs:

“Holy [colorful adjective] [colorful noun].”

“I don’t know how they do it,” said the same guy, after catching his breath. “But between Pat [Gillick] and Ruben [Amaro Jr.], when they want something at a high level, they find a way to get it done.”

eric the elder

December 14th, 2010
9:28 am

The Phillies have just extinguished the fire in the hot stove.

Ben Gunby

December 14th, 2010
9:28 am

You know, about 8 years ago the two time defending NL Champs and team with the best pitching staff in baseball added the best pitcher in all of baseball. How’d that work out for them in terms of making the World Series?

Ben Gunby

December 14th, 2010
9:30 am

I mean 18, as was alluded to.

juice sourcer

December 14th, 2010
9:30 am

How can the Phillies afford this and other teams like the Braves can’t. I mean it’s Philladelphia for gods sake.

Fire Frank Wren

December 14th, 2010
9:30 am

Are the AJC and MB editing what comments make it to the message board based on content?

1eyedJack

December 14th, 2010
9:31 am

Now, ain’t that a pip.

BoroBall3

December 14th, 2010
9:33 am

Phillies can afford him b/c they dont need to allocate that money to one-hit wonder Jayson Werth

Kane337

December 14th, 2010
9:33 am

Yes, the Braves will be playing for the wild card unless the Phillies suffer a number of injuries over the course of the season. Phillies fans have to be extatic over this.

urm

December 14th, 2010
9:35 am

Record low temps and now this? I’m going back to bed!

gadawgs

December 14th, 2010
9:37 am

Fire Frank Wren

December 14th, 2010
9:37 am

It turns out a public forum isn’t quite so public. Adios, journalistic integrity.

Fire Frank Wren

December 14th, 2010
9:38 am

Just don’t be critical of the Braves front office if you want your comments to be published…

Ron E.

December 14th, 2010
9:40 am

This could give the Phillies an edge over the Braves if they meet in the playoffs, but it doesn’t give them a lock for the division during the regular season. (Then again the Phillies weren’t even able to beat the Giants this season with Halladay, Hamels, and Oswalt.) Their offense and bullpen aren’t what they were when they won the title a few years back while the Braves have gotten better. Bring ‘em on!

Matt

December 14th, 2010
9:40 am

Phillies have money to spend, Braves don’t…………………..simple

dawg4u

December 14th, 2010
9:41 am

It definitely looks like we’re playing for the wild card again. I cannot even imagine a rotation with Cole Hamel as the fourth starter. At least Werth is gone! When they signed Halladay they traded Lee because they said they couldn’t afford both. Go figure. The pressure on them to win it all now will be much greater. Their expectation level now is higher than the Yankees.

Fire Frank Wren

December 14th, 2010
9:44 am

And the comment magically appears back-dated once the AJC is publicly questioned. Wow.

lanier

December 14th, 2010
9:44 am

Lee was 12-9 last year stop this. Bradley I can see you never played any sport above probably grade school.
Rringing your hands and giving up on a pennant 2 months BEFORE spring training show no baseball knowledge

CANTONDAWG

December 14th, 2010
9:47 am

Great get for the Phillies. However, we still have to play the games. The Braves had the best pitching staff for a decade and how many World Series titles do we have. ONE. I like the Braves team and think if we stay healthy we will have a chance against the Phillies

Texas Rump Ranger

December 14th, 2010
9:49 am

Anyone who goes to play in a cesspool like Philadelphia or New York BY CHOICE deserves what they get.

PMC

December 14th, 2010
9:50 am

You’re forgetting they have Jamie MOYER!!! He’s unhittable for the Braves too.

CSpin

December 14th, 2010
9:52 am

“To become a Brave”? Fix that, MB. If only that sentence were true though.

Bull Schmitt

December 14th, 2010
9:55 am

Surely you can’t be serious.

Philly fan

December 14th, 2010
9:56 am

Game, set and match Bravos. To make it a perfect off season all we would have had to do is sign George Sherrill!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Greg

December 14th, 2010
9:57 am

The Phillies had a better starting rotation than the Braves BEFORE this move. Now they’re in entirely another class. I know, you still have to play the games, and anything can happen, blah blah blah, but the truth is we’re probably fried after this ace move.

Dawgdad (The Original)

December 14th, 2010
9:59 am

Yes, it looks like second place will be where we wind up, if we have a good season. Our pitching is good enough to compete with Philly, but they have a strong team behind their pitchers, ours not so much. The weakest outfield in baseball, except the KC Royals, a rookie first baseman, and an inconsistant shortstop, and who knows at third. Going to be tough.

Give it to Frank Wren though, he is trying, with the limited resources available to, to put a winning combination on the field, unlike the KC Royals, who seem to be just trying to put a team on the field.

todd grantham

December 14th, 2010
10:03 am

Mark, D O Ledbetter is giving you multiple kudos for your 2010 Falcons predictions. Is that due to his confidence in you as a prognosticator or his utter suprise you’ve been so close on the record?

sleeze

December 14th, 2010
10:05 am

Yo, Fire Frank Wren, maybe the AJC is doing us a favor by bleeping out your ignoramous remarks.

bulldog bubba

December 14th, 2010
10:05 am

This will sound a little cocky, but BRING’EM ON! I think Fredi and our team are ready for the fight.GO BRAVES!!!!!!!!!!

Sam

December 14th, 2010
10:14 am

How many World Series did the Braves win with their incredible staff?? Don’t worry about the Phils, just make the playoffs. See Giants, see Marlins, etc… etc…

Moonpie

December 14th, 2010
10:16 am

Enter your comments here

Maurice

December 14th, 2010
10:17 am

The Braves have the rotation. A bunch of young upcoming guys over a couple of middle of the road to aging arms. Sure Oswalt and Lee are good pitchers but I think they should have upgraded in the farm system. This kid coming up for the Braves this year Teheran? He’s going to be an awesome flame thrower. It was Atlanta’s bats and fielding that failed them in the playoffs. Not pitching. All of their pitchers match up with other Ace pitchers. And the bullpen is tops. Hitting and fielding… not so much. At least not by last years numbers.

JaxDawg

December 14th, 2010
10:17 am

Wow that rotation is going to be stout. But in all honesty, it’s not all that surprising that the Phillies’ front office is willing to spend that much money and the Braves’ is not. The Phillies sell out all the time and have passionate fans; the Braves struggled during the PLAYOFFS to fill the Ted. If the Braves’ fans treated the Braves like a top-tier organization, then the front office would act like it’s a top-tier organization, instead of a good-not-great mid market team. I miss the 90’s (plus the music was better).

Unbelievable

December 14th, 2010
10:21 am

Hey Fire Frank Wren ….

You’re opinions are a complete and total waste of board space. The Phillies top 6 player salaries for the year of 2010 are more than the Braves spent for their entire roster.

Frank Wren has NO control over how much money he has to spend on salaries. He doesn’t have the latitude that Shuerholtz had in adding players and salary.

Frank is trying to keep this team competitive within the payroll constraints and build the team the only way he can, through the farm system. Our farm system is one of the strongest in all of baseball. It has been for a very long time, we used to trade that talent for high priced stars. Now we’re going to have to develop them and win with them like the Marlins have for so long.

If you want to whine and moan, you can do so about Liberty Media, but Frank Wren is doing a pretty good job, given what he has to work with.

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Mark Bradley, ReidAdair. ReidAdair said: That's best-case scenario RT @MarkBradleyAJC: With Cliff Lee again a #Phil, are the #Braves playing for the wild card? http://bit.ly/hqFGUE [...]

Dan

December 14th, 2010
10:27 am

Lanier- You have very little knowledge of baseball if you are citing Cliff Lee’s 12-9 record last year. His K/BB numbers were 185-18. Think about that. His FIP the last three years have gone 2.83, 3.11, 2.58. His ERA has been similar. He is, without question, one of the top two pitchers in baseball right now.

He is not slowing down. His fastball last year was the fastest it has EVER been, and its been increasing velocity for the last 4 years.

Michael Ruffin

December 14th, 2010
10:30 am

I seem to recall a bunch of no-names winning the last World Series…

gamechanger

December 14th, 2010
10:32 am

Mark Bradley I cant believe you still have a job in Atlanta. You know nothing about sports let alone Atlanta Sports. I have a question for you. Do you still think South Carolina has better coaches than Auburn? Also you said South Carolina had a better defense. Yeah they just gave up 52!!!!! Also just so you know Cam Newton won a big trophy this weekend. I know this is a Braves Blog but people mark by word whatever Bradley always look at the intention and always go opposite of what Bradley says. This guy knows nothing about sports.

Loafer

December 14th, 2010
10:37 am

OK, they got Lee. The dreaded SF Giants beat his a$$ in the WS. Lets go get another good outfield bat and play the game.

bjohndawg

December 14th, 2010
10:52 am

Braves need a new owner in the mold of a Ted Turner or Steinbrenner.
Hopefully Liberty will sell them soon. The corporate ownership model does not work for this team.

Need an ego driven owner that wants to win and will write the check to do it.

Keith

December 14th, 2010
11:02 am

Bradley,

Some are talking about trading JJ for Greinke, but Greinke had one stellar season and hasn’t been nearly as dominant since then. His emotional state affects his play.

I think JJ’s upside is as good as Greinke and Greinke’s potential downside is much greater than JJ’s.

What say you? :)

Keith

December 14th, 2010
11:04 am

Re: gamechanger

Try to stay on the topic of baseball and stay somewhat organized in your thoughts. :p

david

December 14th, 2010
11:17 am

If this doesn’t motivate the Bravos to go acquire another outfield bat, I don’t know what will. Pretending that our lineup is season-ready is laughable, though Wren is doing what he can. Still gotta play the games-but another bat would help immensely, agreed?

beachcomber

December 14th, 2010
11:19 am

As someone said on DOB’s blog – if only you played this game on paper.

Ed

December 14th, 2010
11:29 am

Impressive signing. Impressive rotation. But, its not all about pitching. Especially in that shoebox they call a ballpark. Even with the awesome rotation we had in the 90’s, we only won one title. The Phils will still have to play balanced ball to go the distance.

Mark Bradley

December 14th, 2010
11:32 am

I don’t think Jurrjens is as good as Greinke. I’d make that deal in a minute.

The Lemmer

December 14th, 2010
11:33 am

The Yanks are desparate for pitching, lets offer them JJ & throw in someone for Brett Gardner, had 97 runs & 47 steals last year, is only 27 & plays LF, so WHEN Chipper goes down no problem, plus hes from S. Carolina so close to home for him, McOut & whoever in LF when Prado has to play 3rd is NOT gonna work thats for sure!!!!