The Opening Day in the Major Leagues is one of the greatest days of the year. The warm April breeze melts away the winter snow and on that day every fan base has at least a little hope that it will be "their year." The sold out ball parks, player introductions and all of the other festivities make being named the Opening Day Starter a very big deal to most pitchers. Being named the starter on Opening Day is a sign from your manager, that you are the main horse on our staff.
Over the last few seasons, the Phillies have been very fortunate to have a multiple aces but Doc was always the CLEAR choice. Following an injury plagued season by Halladay, Charlie will be presented with a somewhat difficult decision. Who should start for the Phillies on April 1st? Halladay, Lee or Hamels?
Since joining the Phillies via trade prior to the 2010 season, Doc has been the Ace of Aces. He has trotted out in every Opening Day or Game 1 of every series since then. Halladay has made 10 consecutive Opening Day starts for his teams (7 in Toronto, 3 in Philly). Doc is also looking at becoming the first Phillies pitcher to make 4 straight appearances on Opening Day since Steve Carlton made 10 consective starts from 1977 to 1986. Since then, 3 other pitchers have made 3 consective starts (Myers, Schilling, Mulholland).
Halladay's 2012 seaosn was not very "Doc like." He had his highest ERA (4.49) since 2000 and his lowest win total (11) since 2004. The almost machine like Halladay actually looked human last year. But anyone who watched the Phillies last season knows that he wasn't the same, that he battled injuries all season. Halladay is not far removed from 40 combined wins and ERA around 2.40 through his first 2 seasons with the Phillies. He may be 35, but he is one of hardest working players in the game. So if any 35 year old can bounce back, it is Doc Halladay.
Cliff Lee has an almost legendary career that includes a Cy Young, a NLCS MVP and an ALCS MVP. His post season performances with the Phillies and Rangers put him in discussions as the greatest post season pitcher of all time. But with all of the accolades Lee has, he only has made 1 Opening Day Start (2009 for Cleveland).
Last season wasn't a bad year in comparisons with most pitchers in baseball, but it was a down year for Lee. He had his lowest win total (6) since 2007. But he still posted a very respectable 3.19 ERA. His low win total had more to do with lack of run support and just flat out bad luck, than poor pitching by Lee (but he did have his poor starts). He been the team's #2 starter since he rejoined the team in 2011. So it would make sense for him to be next in line after Halladay.
Last season, Hamels signed a 6 year deal worth $144 million. It made him one of the highest paid pitchers in the game and probably the highest paid pitcher to never make an Opening Day start. Cole would have been in line to start on Opening Day following his World Series MVP but he started the season on DL and missed the first week of the season. The Phillies let Hamels start the Home Opener last season but that doesn't have the same cache as the team's first game of the season.
If we are basing the decisions purely on each pichers 2012 performance, Hamels would get the nod. He had career highs in Wins and Strikeouts and had more innings pitched and a better ERA than both Lee and Halladay. Team's don't just hand $144 million deals, so the Phillies obviously have confidence in Hamels and believe he can be the Ace of the staff. Letting Hamels start on Opening Day would be a passing of the torch and it might be time to pass it to the talented lefty.
If the decision was mine. I would let the 29 year old Cole Hamels take the hill on April 1st. I believe that Hamels has earned the right to be the team's Ace and is the team's best pitcher. That says a lot about Hamels because I believe Lee and Halladay still have a lot of great pitching perfromances left in their arms.
But just in case you didn't know. I will not have any say in this decision. Having watched Charlie manage and make decisions over his tenure, I think he will give the ball to his Ace Roy Halladay. Charlie is both very loyal and very stubborn at the same time. For years, I have heard that Rollins hits lead-off because he is the lead-off hitter. Doc has been the number one guy for Charlie for 3 seasons and I would expect him to make it 4 this April.