As the Phillies made their unexpected push to the National League wild card late last season, a couple scouts talked about the performance and potential of pitchers Brett Myers and Cole Hamels.
Both said they might be the best 1-2 punch of any NL wild-card contender. One even wondered if they were the best tandem in the league, other than Houston's Roger Clemens and Roy Oswalt.
"Oh, hell yeah," Phillies front-office adviser Dallas Green said Monday when asked if Myers and Hamels have the potential to be Philadelphia's best 1-2 punch in years.
It's only potential at this point so far because both are young. Myers is 26, although he has been with the Phillies since 2002. Hamels is 23, and he begins his first full season in the majors tonight when he faces Atlanta Braves righthander Tim Hudson at Citizens Bank Park.
Myers and Hamels are 1-2 in this rotation mostly because of their talent but partly because of logistics. Myers earned his shot to start opening day, but manager Charlie Manuel also prefers to split up his righthanders and lefthanders. (Manuel easily could have justified pitching Freddy Garcia on opening day if he were healthy or put Myers and Garcia back-to-back.)
But no matter the reason, because Myers and Hamels are 1-2, fans and followers will look to them to be the anchors of a staff that could be one of the deepest in the league.
"From a manager's standpoint, it's outstanding, and it's terrific from a team standpoint because, truthfully, every time they walk out there you think you have a shot at winning the game," Green said. "And if you're in a little bit of a losing funk, you always think those guys are going to get the game and pitch a good one for you and stop the bleeding. That's why it's so important."
The Phillies haven't had two starters win more than 30 games since 1993, when Curt Schilling (16) and Tommy Greene (16) won 32. Since then, Schilling (15) and Paul Byrd (15) won 30 in 1999, Randy Wolf (16) and Kevin Millwood (14) won 30 in 2003, and Jon Lieber (17) and Myers (13) won 30 in 2005.
There hasn't been a tandem to win more than 32 since John Denny (19) and Steve Carlton (15) won 34 in 1983. There hasn't been a tandem to win more than 40 since 1980 when Carlton (24) and Dick Ruthven (17) won 41.
Notice a pattern? (The Phils played in the World Series those seasons.)
Myers points out that wins and losses sometimes are out of a starter's control. This is true. A problematic bullpen can take away wins in bunches. A stagnant offense can do the same. Crazy things happen. But those tandems almost always give their team a good chance to win.
Myers and Hamels think they can do that.
"Being young and being first-round picks and everything, people look up to you and look for you to lead," Hamels said. "It's something Brett and I are able to do, and we can use each other to help each other out. We can lean on each other to advance though the tough times and the good times. Believing in each other obviously is going to be the big key. I believe in him, and I know he believes in me. We want to see each other succeed and put the team in a good opportunity to win."
Both will push each other. Myers led the league with 107 strikeouts after the all-star break last season. Hamels and John Smoltz were tied for second with 101. Hamels went 7-3 with a 2.70 ERA in his final 12 starts. Myers posted double-digit wins for the fourth consecutive season and led starters in wins (12), ERA (3.91), innings (198) and strikeouts (189).
"It makes things a little more fun," Hamels said. "There's some competition hitting-wise and pitching-wise. And then we're able to learn from each other because we are young and we can talk to each other and then talk to guys like Jamie [Moyer] and Adam [Eaton] and Garcia."
"We have fun with it," he said. "We don't like dwelling on numbers or anything like that, but if I go out and pitch seven, I want him to go out and pitch eight. I want him to outpitch me. And I want guys to outpitch him. It's not a competition, but it's like I want to pitch better than those guys. It pushes me a little bit. But I love seeing those guys do well. Maybe in the past, when you're working your way up, you might want to see yourself in that spot to where you can try to dominate games. I'm looking forward to all of our pitchers doing that. Because honestly, I don't really care how we do it as long as we do it."
It starts at the top.
The Phillies had four strong starters in 2003. Wolf (16), Millwood (14), Myers (14) and Vincente Padilla (14) won a combined 58 games. The last Phillies rotation to have five starters with double-digits wins was 1993, with Schilling (16), Greene (16), Ben Rivera (13), Danny Jackson (12) and Terry Mulholland (12).
Myers thinks this rotation has that potential.
"I think everybody has big potential on this staff," Myers said. "Everybody is very capable of that. We can go as far as our pitching will take us."