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Hamels makes Phillies rotation seem almost unbeatable

by | CBSSports.com Staff Writer
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CINCINNATI -- Orlando Cabrera finally tipped his cap.

The Reds shortstop complained about the umpires after Roy Halladay's no-hitter, but there was nothing the Reds shortstop could say after Cole Hamels' five-hit shutout on Sunday, giving Philadelphia a 2-0 victory at Great American Ball Park and a National League Division Series sweep of the Reds.

"Man, Scottie [Rolen] and I were talking, just wow," Cabrera said. "Now is the time to give them credit. The whole thing is during a short series, you can't give credit to the other pitchers, because your teammates get down. Now is the time to [give them the credit]."

A lot of credit. Reds manager Dusty Baker was asked if he could remember three pitchers like Halladay, Hamels and Roy Oswalt in the playoffs.

"Been a long time, probably so far back as the [early 1970s] Baltimore Orioles, maybe, when they had [Jim] Palmer and [Dave] McNally, and [Mike] Cuellar ... yeah, those guys pitched," Baker said. "I mean, they really pitched."

Those three -- Palmer, McNally and Cuellar -- picked up victories against the Reds in the 1970 World Series en route to a championship. This Phillies team appears to be headed to the same place.

Last season with the Twins, Cabrera was knocked out of the playoffs by the eventual champion Yankees. In '08, his White Sox were knocked off by the Rays, who lost to the Phillies in the World Series.

As an Angel, he suffered playoff losses to eventual champions in the 2007 Red Sox and the '05 White Sox. He was also a member of the '04 world champion Red Sox.

More on Phillies at Reds

In short, Cabrera has seen championship teams. He saw another on Sunday.

"Man, they didn't even celebrate," Cabrera said, laughing. "They knew they were going to win."

They knew it because of the pitching. Halladay was unhittable in the opener and Hamels wasn't too far off in Game 3.

The 26-year-old southpaw entered the postseason as one of the game's most dangerous pitchers -- and one much different than he was only a year ago. Last season, he limped to a 1-2 record and a 7.58 ERA in the postseason, including a Game 3 loss to the Yankees in the World Series.

He didn't start out much better this season, sporting a losing record in July. But in his last 16 starts of the regular season, starting with 7 2/3 scoreless innings against these same Reds, he went 10-6 with a 2.07 ERA and a .215/.275/.330 slash line against him.

"I think he came back [this year] kind of with a little bit of a chip on his shoulder and had a little something to prove," Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard said. "He got back to his old self and he's gone out there and he's just been executing."

On Sunday, he yielded five hits -- the first two went off gloves before going safely for hits. The others were never followed by another hit in the same inning. And he didn't walk a batter all night.

"His pitches were great. He was in good command and very aggressive," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "He went in and out on left-handed or right-handed hitters, and his stuff was real good. He had a good cutter, a good changeup, didn't throw many curveballs. But when he did, he used 'em smart. Pitched real good."

Oswalt wasn't at his best in Game 2 against a Reds team that had his number this season, but he's certainly capable of pitching much better than he did Friday, when he surrendered four runs (three earned) in five innings. The three starters went 40-22 with a 2.56 ERA with 11 complete games and five shutouts in 78 regular-season starts.

Against the National League's top offense, Philadelphia yielded only the four runs Oswalt allowed and 11 hits. The Reds hit a National League-best .272 during the season, but only .124 (11 for 89) in the NLDS.

"Put it this way, I don't want to face those guys on an everyday basis," Phillies outfielder Shane Victorino said. "I'm glad they're pitching on my team."

Perhaps the next series, against the Braves or Giants, the fourth starter, Joe Blanton, will pitch. Maybe even Brad Lidge or Ryan Madson will get into a game. Who knows, they could actually lose a game.

Right now, it might be tough to see that. The key, though, could be Hamels. Last season, the Phillies had a legit No. 1 in Cliff Lee, this year it's Halladay. Oswalt is an upgrade at No. 2 over Pedro Martinez, who still hasn't pitched since losing Game 2 and Game 6 of last year's World Series.

With Hamels pitching like he did in 2008, when he was 4-0 in the postseason, the Phillies look like they can win it all.

While Baker went back to the '70s for a comparison, Manuel was able to recollect a more recent example -- and for him, more painful.

"Probably was the last time in '95 with the Braves when I was in Cleveland," Manuel said. "They had [Greg] Maddux, [John] Smoltz and [Tom] Glavine and [Steve] Avery, I think was their fourth guy. But at the same time, that was a good starting staff. But this staff here, I would say, it sits right in there."

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