October 6, 2009

The heat is on.

The Internet was abuzz today with talk about the Philadelphia Phillies' NLDS roster.

Should they have kept Eric Bruntlett or Miguel Cairo? Kyle Kendrick or Tyler Walker? Antonio Bastardo or Clay Condrey?

It's fun stuff to debate -- I engaged in a bit of it myself.

But it doesn't matter.

I'm not arguing for the unimportance of the 25th man -- I'm a firm believer that Cairo's bat will prove more important than Bruntlett's meager pinch-running ability. And I think giving the Inglorious Bastard and Double K a shot all but ensures J.A. Happ's starting Game 4 of the series, which, given Colorado's poor showing versus left-handed pitching, could prove decisive.

But it still doesn't matter. All that matters are Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels.

Lee was 5-0 with a 0.68 ERA in his first five starts as a Phillie. Hamels was MVP of both the NLCS and the World Series in 2008.

At their best, they are two of the dozen-best pitchers in baseball. They are a one-two punch that may be bested only by Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright of the St. Louis Cardinals. They can win you a series single-handedly, and they're the key to the playoff run of the 2009 Phillies.

For all the debate about the bottom of the roster, the back-end of the bullpen and the struggles of closer Brad Lidge, these Phillies will go nowhere without their dual aces. Injuries have depleted this team, and Charlie Manuel seems like he's relying on gut instinct and luck to get by. If it comes down to the guys being arguing about, chances are the arguments won't matter in the first place.

To make it back to the World Series, let alone win it, they're going to need some gems. Lee needs to prove his late-season struggles weren't evidence of his tank running dry, and Hamels needs to show that his regular season mediocrity is in the past.

Will they come through? No one questions their talent, but what we've seen this year tells us nothing is certain. All we can know for sure is that, if they don't, all the Bastardos and Kendricks in the world won't bring about a repeat.

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