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Posted: Monday August 24, 2009 5:08PM; Updated: Monday August 24, 2009 6:35PM
Ted Keith Ted Keith >
INSIDE BASEBALL

Lee has made Philly the team to beat again in the NL (cont.)

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Lee's combined numbers are impressive, but not nearly as striking as they have been since his arrival in the NL. He's 12-9 overall (Sabathia, now with the Yankees, leads the majors with 15 wins) with a 2.63 ERA (seventh in the majors), ranks first in innings pitched (192) and is tied for first in complete games with five. His biggest contributions have been harder to quantify. He has stabilized a somewhat hectic Phillies starting rotation, eased the pressure on a struggling bullpen and supplied the team with a bona fide ace capable of dominating a playoff series. And in doing all that, he has helped transform the Phillies into quite possibly the team to beat in the National League.

Asked what kind of a boost Lee has given his club, manager Charlie Manuel said, "About 20 games worth." And though Manuel, now in his fifth year with the Phillies, refuses to think about a potential postseason rotation fronted by Lee, he does admit, "This is definitely the best starting rotation we've had since I've been here."

"It's mind-boggling," Hamels said of Lee's impact on the club. "He's really become the front-runner all of us can look to when the rest of us falter."

"It certainly has been a breeze with him here," said closer Brad Lidge, who has had to work just twice in Lee's first five games. "Expecting him to go deep into games has become a trend. I'm definitely ready [on days Lee pitches], but so far I've just been able to sit back and watch. By the sixth, seventh, eighth innings, he's cruising."

Lee's mastery is somewhat surprising given the slow start he got off to in Cleveland this season. He gave up 11 earned runs in his first two starts and had a 1-5 record in early May. "He wasn't himself in spring training," said Ben Francisco, who had a front-row seat for Lee's Cy Young-winning season of a year ago. "Obviously, it's a little harder to pitch in the American League because of the designated hitter, so it took him a little while to get going, but he's been pretty good the whole year."

Lee's transition to Philadelphia has been almost perfectly smooth, aside from the occasional slip-up, like when he said of his team, "It's easy to be loose when you're winning the way they are, I mean we are." Despite his pedigree, he remains as much a student as a teacher around the rest of the Phillies staff. "He's really taken over the leadership role," Hamels said. "But he's also very observational. He's gone up to every single guy on the staff, gone up to me, gone up to [J.A.] Happ, gone up to [Jamie] Moyer, and asked everybody for advice. You'll tell him something and he'll go, 'OK, I got it,' and then he'll go out and actually do it. Some guys say they'll do it but when they get in a game they forget it. He takes that info and uses it."

From the moment he arrived in Philly, he has been as quick and efficient as he was on Monday. He got to the clubhouse just over two hours before first pitch, and changed from the low-key attire of the traveling businessman -- slacks, button-down shirt, shiny shoes -- into the equally low-key but more casual work duds that include the red hat. He was gone from his locker as quickly as he had arrived, gone to make another start that may yet make baseball people reconsider Cy Young criteria. Because he left so soon, he missed his teammate Francisco's summation of what Lee has been this season, even if he doesn't get the hardware to prove it: "He's the best pitcher in baseball."

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