12/14/10 9:19 PM EST
Braves not intimidated by Phillies staff
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
Smoltz reminisced and began comparing the components of Philadelphia's current rotation to the rotations that he so greatly influenced while helping the Braves establish themselves as the team of the 1990s.
There was little reason for McCann to reminisce about those childhood days when he watched Smoltz, Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux form a legendary pitching trio in his hometown. The Braves' five-time All-Star catcher was much more concerned about the present, which became a little more challenging for him and each of the other National League hitters who will be subjected to the four-headed monster otherwise known as Philadelphia's new starting rotation.
"My first thought was that the NL East added yet another top pitcher," McCann said with a chuckle. "The pitching in this division is as good as it gets."
When the Phillies enhanced the level of pitching talent in the NL East last year with the addition of Roy Halladay, they were forced to trade Lee to the Mariners because they simply didn't think they would be able to re-sign him when he became a free agent this year.
Much to the surprise of the Yankees, Rangers and many other baseball fans who fell asleep before midnight Monday, Lee left a significant amount of money on the table and jumped at the opportunity to return to Philadelphia to join a Phillies rotation that now also includes Halladay and Roy Oswalt.
"Whatever they've done is done," said McCann, attempting to prove he's not overwhelmingly concerned that Lee decided to sign a five-year, $120 million contract with the Phillies.
When Lee guided the Phillies to the 2009 World Series, he co-anchored the rotation with Cole Hamels. Now with Halladay and Oswalt in the mix, Hamels is simply one of the most accomplished and talented No. 4 starters in the game.
"We'll see what happens," Smoltz said. "But with the stuff that they have, I can't think of any rotation that could be better. That will be determined over time."
It might be far too early to declare that Philadelphia could enjoy the same kind of pitching dominance that existed while Smoltz, Glavine and Maddux were all part of each of the rotations the Braves formed over eight consecutive seasons from 1993-2000.
When the legendary Atlanta trio was introduced to each other, none of them were older than 28. The 32-year-old Lee is the youngest member of Philadelphia's assembled splendid trio. Hamels, the only homegrown member of this strong Phillies rotation, will be 27 years old when he throws his next pitch.
Still, while the city of Philadelphia might not benefit from the longevity Maddux, Smoltz and Glavine provided Atlanta, it's impossible to ignore the fact that for at least one season this has the potential to be one of the greatest the game has ever seen.
Halladay won his second Cy Young Award in November and he has finished among the top five in the balloting for this award each of the past five seasons. Hamels is the still-blossoming pitcher who was the 2008 World Series MVP and Oswalt has finished in the top six in Cy Young balloting six of the previous 10 seasons.
As for Lee, he is simply the guy who won the 2008 American League Cy Young Award and then managed to continue enhancing his credentials while helping the Phillies and Rangers advance to the World Series the past two years.
"It blows me away how unbelievable he has been," Smoltz said. "He has been one of the greatest unknown superstars that there has been."
Halladay is widely regarded as the game's top pitcher and Lee has certainly given reason to argue that he has unseated CC Sabathia as the game's best left-handed pitcher. Together, they have the potential to form something special.
But as the Braves learned in 1997 and '98, adding to an already strong rotation doesn't provide any guarantees. Denny Neagle's late-season addition helped the defending world champion Braves return to the World Series in '96.
But his effective presence the next two years wasn't enough to allow Smoltz, Glavine and Maddux to gain yet another taste of the World Series.
During the 1998 season, Neagle ranked fifth among rotation members with 16 wins and his 3.55 ERA was trumped by Glavine, Maddux and Smoltz, who each sported sub-3.00 marks. A young newcomer named Kevin Millwood notched 17 wins as the fifth starter in this impressive rotation.
In 1997, Maddux, Glavine, Neagle and Smoltz had all produced ERAs below 3.03.
Yet when it came time for the World Series to begin in both 1997 and '98, the Braves found themselves at home and realizing that ultimate gratification isn't achieved with the formation of something as great as the rotation the Phillies now possess.
"There's no doubt that adding Cliff Lee makes the Phillies rotation better," McCann said. "But that's not something that we can worry about in Spring Training or during the season. We like our club and we too have gotten better. We still believe we have a group that can go to the World Series. That's the mindset you've got to have going into the season. You can't worry about what everybody else is doing."
Braves general manager Frank Wren was also surprised to learn Lee's "mystery team" proved to be the Phillies. But using the same mindset that McCann has chosen to adopt, Wren said he will not allow this to alter the confidence he has felt while reconstructing his roster around the addition of Dan Uggla this offseason.
"We feel like we've improved our club," Wren said. "The Phillies have improved their rotation. But you still have to play the game. In the game, I've come to find that individuals help, but teams win. It's a lot more than three or four guys who contribute to a winning season."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.