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CBSSports.com Senior Writer

Oswalt, baseball's best No. 3, fits perfectly into Phillies' plans


Roy Oswalt isn't Cliff Lee.

That's fine. Roy Oswalt doesn't need to be Cliff Lee.

But here's what Roy Oswalt is: The best No. 3 starter in all of baseball, and the guy who makes the Phillies not only a team that the Braves should be scared of, but a team that the Yankees, Rays, Rangers and anyone else should be scared of, too.

Unlike Lee, Oswalt will be around through 2011 to help the Phillies rack up more rings. (AP)  
Unlike Lee, Oswalt will be around through 2011 to help the Phillies rack up more rings. (AP)  
And not just for this year.

If the Phillies can overcome all the injuries and get to the postseason this year -- remember, they're still missing both Chase Utley and Shane Victorino from their everyday lineup -- they'll head into October with Roy Halladay, a revitalized Cole Hamels and Oswalt forming a big-time top three in the rotation.

And, no matter what, the Phillies have those same three atop the rotation next year, too.

Trading for Oswalt, as the Phillies did Thursday, keeps one Phillies streak alive. That's five straight years now that they've made an in-season deal for a starting pitcher.

But trading for Oswalt is designed to keep another Phillies streak going. The Phillies have been to the World Series two straight years, and they believe that this core group of players can get there a few more times.

As Hamels said this spring, "We don't want to stop at winning one or two World Series. We want to win as many as we can, to become that dynasty team we could be destined to be."

Everything that General Manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has done has been designed to extend the window and give this team as many chances as possible to win. It's why almost every significant Phillies player is signed at least through the end of 2011 (and why you can bet that Amaro will eventually get an extension done for Jimmy Rollins, just as he did for Ryan Howard).

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And yes, it's why Amaro traded Lee away last December.

This isn't the time or place to revisit the should-he-or-shouldn't-he debate on the trade that sent Lee to the Mariners. Just remember that Amaro's explanation included the point that he didn't "want to put all our eggs in one basket."

Lee is a free agent at the end of this year, and the Phillies never were going to outbid the Yankees for him on the open market. Had they kept him, or had they re-acquired him in a deal with the Mariners he would have been -- in all likelihood -- a 2010-and-done Phillie.

Instead, the Phillies have Oswalt, their first choice among the pitchers available this month.

Last week, when the Oswalt talks heated up, the Phillies had stumbled out of the All-Star break and had fallen to seven games behind the Braves, and four games behind in the wild-card race. Since then, the Phils have won seven in a row, and were only three games back of Atlanta going into Thursday night's game against the Diamondbacks.

Does Oswalt make a difference? Well, you'd have to think he gives the Phillies a better chance of winning Friday night in Washington than J.A. Happ would have -- and a better chance of winning every five games after that.

And Oswalt, 4-0 in seven postseason starts with the Astros, gives them a much better chance of winning in October.

Even with all the injuries (Rollins for a good part of the first half, Utley and Victorino now), the Phillies average nearly five runs a game, more than a run a game more than the Astros. Oswalt went 6-12 in his 20 starts with Houston, but in 10 of those games (and one of his two no-decisions), the Astros scored two runs or fewer.

"He's good," said one scout who has watched Oswalt recently. "He's not as good as he once was, but he's still good. He's still better than most, just not as dominant as he once was."

No, he's not Cliff Lee.

"Halladay's not even better than Lee right now," the scout said. "I mean, Lee isn't better than Halladay, either, but that's how good Lee is. You can't score off him."

A year ago, when the Phillies didn't have Halladay and Hamels was slumping, the Phillies needed a pitcher like Lee to lead them to the postseason. He did that, and by beating the Yankees twice in the World Series, he nearly led them to another title.

This year, with Halladay and a revitalized Hamels, the Phillies could stick to the long-term plan and make a deal that fits that plan.

They got, as manager Charlie Manuel told reporters in Philadelphia, "A top of the rotation starter in the prime of his career."

No, he's not Cliff Lee.

But Roy Oswalt is the best No. 3 starter in all of baseball, and the Phillies have a chance to win with him -- this year, and next year.


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