Aces wild in Philly - Halladay, Hamels, Oswalt
All they're missing is a catchy nickname.
Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt have given the Philadelphia Phillies three aces at a time when most teams would settle for one in their rotation.
The Big Three. Triple Aces.
There has to be a wittier moniker.
No matter what they're called, it's clear there's no better threesome in the majors.
''We feel we've got a chance to win that game when they pitch,'' manager Charlie Manuel said.
That's an understatement.
Since Oswalt joined Philadelphia on July 29, the trio is 16-6 in 26 starts. The Phillies are 19-7 in those games. Overall, they're 31-15 since acquiring Oswalt from the Houston Astros.
Superb pitching is a major reason the Phillies have overcome a seven-game deficit in the past two months, and hold a three-game lead over Atlanta in the NL East. With 15 games left, the Phillies have the best record (86-61) in the NL and are positioned for their fourth straight division title. They'd be the first NL team to win three consecutive pennants in 66 years.
The Phillies used to rely on a powerful offense. They're lineup includes former NL MVPs Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins, five-time All-Star Chase Utley and former All-Stars Shane Victorino, Raul Ibanez, Placido Polanco and Jayson Werth.
But injuries - six of their eight regulars spent time on the disabled list - and inconsistency have been an issue.
So, they're winning with pitching.
Halladay, the seven-time All-Star, has lived up to giant expectations in his first season in Philadelphia. He's 19-10 with a 2.49 ERA and eight complete games, including a perfect game. The right-hander is one victory shy of becoming Philadelphia's first 20-game winner in 28 years, and he's a strong candidate to win his second Cy Young Award.
He's only concerned about reaching the postseason for the first time in his career.
''I'm definitely looking more forward to finishing the year strong as a team and getting ourselves in the playoffs. That's far and above more exciting for me,'' Halladay said.
Hamels, the World Series and NLCS MVP in 2008, has been a surprise. After a disappointing year, he's pitching better than he did when he led the Phillies to their second World Series title two years ago. The lefty is 11-10 with a career-low 3.01 ERA, and is record would be better with some more run support. He allowed two earned runs or less in five of his losses.
Hamels struggled so badly last season that he was passed over for Game 2 of the World Series because the coaching staff felt Pedro Martinez gave them a better chance to win in the hostile environment at Yankee Stadium. Martinez went 0-2 against New York, and the Phillies lost to the Yankees in six games.
''He definitely feels much better about himself,'' Manuel said of Hamels. ''Last year, one of his biggest problems was he had high expectations on himself and he never went through adversity where he struggled and didn't pitch good, but that's part of growing up at the major league level. I never questioned his mental toughness.''
Others did, and Hamels has proven them wrong.
He arrived at spring training in better pitching shape than any point in his career. He added a cutter to his repertoire and began using a curveball instead of sticking just with a fastball and changeup.
The biggest difference has been his demeanor. Hamels had a tendency to pout when things didn't go his way last year. He hasn't sulked this season, even when an anemic offense wasted some of his best outings.
''The confidence, knowing you can push through the times that are tough, makes you a better person and a better player,'' Hamels said.
With Halladay and Hamels, the Phillies already had a formidable 1-2 punch atop the rotation. But when the Astros put Oswalt on the market, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. couldn't resist.
Oswalt was 6-12 for Houston, but the three-time All-Star has been outstanding with the Phillies. He's 6-1 with a 1.98 ERA in eight starts.
Joining a team with championship aspirations has reinvigorated Oswalt, who is 4-0 in eight career playoff appearances. Oswalt had a no-trade clause in his contract, and he could've forced the Phillies to pick up his $16 million option for 2012. But winning was the priority.
''I feel like I got a new life coming over here,'' Oswalt said. ''I've been out of playoff contention for about five years. These guys have been there twice. They've got a ring and I don't. Hopefully I can push them to get another one.''
The Phillies acquired Halladay from Toronto in a blockbuster trade the same day they shipped Cliff Lee to Seattle in December. Lee was dominant in the postseason, going 4-0 with a 1.56 ERA.
Fans wanted the team to keep Lee, but the Phillies were concerned they would lose him in free agency after this season. People lamented the trade for several months, questioning the move on radio shows, blogs and everywhere they could vent.
No one's complaining anymore. Not with Halladay, Hamels and Oswalt leading the charge.