All of the hype out of Clearwater today was understandably about the Phillies four ace starters. The Phantastic Four, Mount Rushmore, R2C2 — whatever they’re being called — dominated the headlines.
Overlooked in all the hype surrounding the incredible return of Cliff Lee and the desperate stabs at putting such an overwhelming ensemble of talent into perspective is their number five guy.
From the night Lee shocked the world and signed with the Phillies, Joe Blanton has been all but forgotten. The fifth starter spot was written off as a race between Kyle Kendrick and Vance Worley. Blanton’s bags were packed and ready to be shipped off to the highest bidder.
What no one expected was Blanton to be sitting in the media lunchroom at Bright House Field on the first day of Spring Training, where the most anticipated starting rotation in Phillies history was scheduled to have its first collective meeting with the media.
Everyone knew he really had no business being at the table with his four colleagues, but there he sat with Roy Halladay to his right and Lee, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels to his left, just in the way of that perfect picture the media was hoping for.
He wasn’t left out of the questions, but you could sense that his presence was completely overlooked. One reporter even asked Hamels what it was like to be the only one at the table with a World Series ring. I guess they weren’t there to see Blanton’s homerun in Game 4 of that same series.
He said the right things. He insisted he didn’t feel left out or bothered by the whole ordeal. But everything about it felt awkward. His four teammates went out of their way to include him in their answers and demand he be treated as an equal. Even when everyone in the room knew really, he wasn’t.
Where the problem with the whole dynamic lies is how the public is perceiving Blanton’s role with this year’s team. Too often, Blanton’s history as a good, inning-eating number three starter is being forgotten. No one is going to kid themselves and put him in the same category as the other four guys at the table, but the fact of the matter is Blanton is good. In fact, he’s very good. Having him as the pitcher opposing offenses are circling on their calendars will only mean good things for the Phillies.
Blanton says he isn’t thinking too much about how he’ll matchup with other rotations, but you can’t help but ignore the fact that a bona fide three starter, and someone who has been a number one at times in his career, will be matching up with other teams’ number five guys, at least for the short-term. While Blanton says he faces the offenses, not the other pitchers, there is a huge advantage involved going up against the average number five guy.
Blanton’s bread and butter has always been going six or seven and giving up two or three runs. With the Phillies offense (another piece that’s shockingly being overlooked) going up against number five guys themselves, Blanton could have a dominate year. Obviously with off-days, the matchups can become skewed over time, but Blanton will still be facing bottom of the rotation pitchers for most of the season.
Please, don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to tell you Blanton, by any stretch, belongs in the same category as the other four. But that’s just the problem with the way people are looking at this. Blanton is different and considering the role he’s playing, he’s the best in the league.
Instead of being appreciated for who he is, he’s becoming the punchline in rotation of aces.
Let’s not forget what Blanton did in 2008. Let’s not forget what he has consistently proved over his career.
Blanton’s not only being overlooked, but he’s being disrespected. It’s completely unwarranted. Let’s not forget how happy we were when the Phils first acquired him in 2008. Let’s not forget how thrilled we were when he rode down Broad Street, a winner of two playoff games.
The surroundings have gotten better, but Blanton remains the same. And the same isn’t such a bad thing.