Lee helps Phillies close gap on Dodgers for class of the NL

Updated: July 29, 2009

Al Bello/Getty Images

Cliff Lee wasn't getting much run support in Cleveland, but now he joins a juggernaut in Philly.

Well, when you can't get the best available arm, you have to go with the next option. That next option happened to have won the American League Cy Young award last season. Like with CC Sabathia in 2008, the Cleveland Indians dealt away the reigning Cy Young winner. This time, it's Cliff Lee who is headed away from a disappointing Indians team and onto a contender, as he's off to join the defending champion Phillies after Wednesday's blockbuster deal. Does it elevate the Phillies past the Dodgers, the team with the best record in baseball?

Cliff Lee

Starting Pitcher
Cleveland Indians

Profile

2009 Season Stats
GM W L BB K ERA
22 7 9 33 107 3.14

No, Lee is not Roy Halladay, but the Phillies did get the lefty without having to part with their top two prospects, Kyle Drabek and Dominic Brown. Not bad when you also add suitable fourth outfielder Ben Francisco into the mix.

The addition of Lee to this rotation gives the Phillies four lefties, which should be able to work to the team's advantage. Each has a different style of pitching he brings to the table in a division that doesn't handle southpaws well. What Lee can offer is his ability to work late into games. Three times this season, he's been able to go the distance, and he has reached the sixth inning in all but three starts. This will help preserve a bullpen that already has 300 innings under its belt and has struggled since the All-Star break.

Lee's ability to eat innings helped him win 23 games in his Cy Young campaign, but he has sported just a 7-9 record thus far. Those losses aren't on him, though. Instead, most of it comes back to an Indians offense that has failed to provide run support and a bullpen unable to close the door once Lee exits.

Now Lee joins the highest run-producing team in the National League, which undoubtedly makes his job easier and probably makes it far less stressful. He won't have to feel as though he needs to be dominant every night in order to win. The offense should have no problem contributing for him; it does that on a constant basis.

At this point, you can wrap the NL East up in a bow and hand it to Philadelphia. As far as the league goes, the Phillies still have the Dodgers to compete with for superiority. The Dodgers are a well-balanced, well-coached team. Just like the Phillies, they play extremely hard for their manager. It's tough to say which is the better team because they don't play in the same division, but if you take the easy path and just look at the numbers, the Dodgers are better. Their record still says so. If they could trade for another arm -- perhaps someone like Seattle's Jarrod Washburn -- to fill in the back of that rotation, that would make them the toughest team in the NL to beat.

If you match these teams up side by side, you get this: great October baseball. The Dodgers remember what happened last year in the playoffs, when the Phillies bounced them from the postseason in the NLCS, then went on to win the World Series. Now Philadelphia is preparing for the arrival of another ace as it continues the quest for a third consecutive division title.

In Lee's past three starts, he has pitched 25 innings, has allowed four earned runs and has not issued a single walk. If Lee can keep that up, the Phillies and Dodgers seem headed for another October get-together.

Past Baseball Tonight Clubhouses: July 28 | July 27 | July 26 | July 24 | July 23

TOUCH 'EM ALL

Touch 'Em AllWho went deep? Keep track of all the home runs hit each day on "Baseball Tonight" and on the Baseball Tonight Clubhouse page.

For more, check out the Home Run Tracker page.

Home Run Tracker
NAME HR OPPSITUATION
Adrian Gonzalez, SD28HarangTop 1: 1-1, 1 Out. 1 on.
Mark Teixeira, NYY26WheelerTop 9: 0-0, 2 Outs. None on.
Curtis Granderson, DET22FeldmanTop 2: 0-0, 1 Out. 1 on.
Adam Lind, TOR21Rowland-SmithTop 7: 1-1, 0 Outs. 1 on.

The complete list of Wednesday's homers

ON DECK: THURSDAY'S BEST MATCHUPS

Yankees at White Sox, 8:11 p.m. ET

Andy Pettitte and Gavin Floyd will take the U.S. Cellular Field mound toting similar totals. Both are 8-6 on the year, and their ERAs -- Pettitte's is 4.67; Floyd's 4.24 -- aren't that far off, either. Opponents, however, are hitting .277 against Pettitte and just .242 against Floyd.

Dodgers at Cardinals, 8:15 p.m. ET

Hiroki Kuroda had strangely similar outings in his past two starts. He allowed six hits and three runs in one start, five hits and three runs in the other. He walked away with a no-decision each time. And the Dodgers won each game 4-3, beating Houston, then Florida.

Phillies at Giants, 10:15 p.m. ET

Both teams were active off the field Wednesday, with the Phillies landing Cleveland ace Cliff Lee and the Giants landing three-time All-Star Freddy Sanchez from the Pirates. Rodrigo Lopez has been solid in his four starts this season, winning three. It probably helps that the Phillies scored a total of 31 runs in those three wins.

For the rest of Thursday's schedule, click here.

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BBTN ON THE AIR: THURSDAY

TIME WHO'S ON?
9 p.m. ET
ESPN2
Host: Karl Ravech
Analysts: Tim Kurkjian, Buck Showalter, Buster Olney
12 a.m. ET
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Host: Karl Ravech
Analysts: Tim Kurkjian, Buck Showalter, Buster Olney

BBTN MINUTE: CLASS OF NL -- DODGERS OR PHILLIES?

SIMON SAYS

Simon Says ESPN researcher Mark Simon digs deep, looking for the night's best baseball numbers.

Tonight, he looks at the White Sox, who have struggled considerably since Mark Buehrle tossed his perfect game against the Rays a week ago:

White Sox since Mark Buehrle's perfect game
W-L 1-6
Record in 1-run games 0-4
Runs per game 2.9
BA .211
Homers hit 10
Homers allowed 2
ERA 3.41

WEB GEMS

WEDNESDAY'S BEST AND WORST

BEST
CainMatt Cain did not get the win Wednesday, but his performance certainly deserved one. The Giants' starter tossed nine shutout innings against the Pirates, allowing only three hits. But the game needed extra innings because neither team posted a run until San Francisco pushed one across in the 10th for a 1-0 win. The performance lowered Cain's ERA to 2.12. He has given up two runs over his past 23 innings, a stretch of three starts.
WORST
Mike Hampton• Oh, the Astros had a tough day at Wrigley Field. The Cubs pounded Houston for a 12-0 win, scoring six times in the first against Mike Hampton. The lefty stuck around, though, and was shelled for nine runs in four innings of work.

NUMBERS TO KNOW

Cliff Lee Cliff Lee was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies on Wednesday, marking the second straight season Cleveland has dealt the reigning Cy Young Award winner at the trade deadline (it shipped CC Sabathia to the Brewers last season). With the success he has enjoyed in the past season and a half, it's hard to believe that Lee was demoted in 2007 after posting a 6.38 ERA in 91 2/3 innings pitched through the season's first four months.

Lee rebounded in 2008, displaying a greater command for the strike zone, as evidenced by his increased strike percentage and lower walk total. He used pitches better, leading to more innings pitched per start.

Lee's first start for the Phillies likely will come this weekend against the San Francisco Giants, a team Lee dominated last season in an interleague start, throwing eight innings, allowing one run on four hits and striking out 11.

Cliff Lee (2006-2009)
2006-07 2008-09
IP/GS 6.0 7.0
Pitches/IP 16.8 15.0
Strike pct. 65.5 68.3
OBP against .337 .298
BB pct. of PA 7.1 4.4

-- ESPN Stats & Information

FANTASY: PREVIEW OF THURSDAY'S GAMES

Fantasy AJ Mass examines the 11 games on Thursday's slate.

Mass ranks the pitchers scheduled to take the mound and supplies loads of other information that could help shape your roster for Thursday. Daily Notes