September 26th, 2011. That was the last time Cliff Lee was credited with a win. Since that date, Lee has pitched in 11 games to start the 2012 season (not to mention one postseason game in 2011) and has compiled a record of 0-3. Despite the fact that Lee has pitched well, especially at the beginning of the season, it has been the combination of lack of run support, a poor bullpen, and the long ball that has sent Lee on yet another streak during his career.
While Lee has been considered a top pitcher in the league most of his career, Lee’s career has been defined by streaks. This is especially true for the past few years when Lee has been on teams that have been legitimate contenders for the World Series. When Lee joined the Phillies in 2009, he won his first five games in a row. In 2011, on Lee’s second stint with the team, he went on two separate streaks of 30+ shutout innings and became the most dominant pitcher in the majors in June and August. Even in 2008, when Lee won the Cy Young in Cleveland , he had win streaks of four games, six games, and eight games and has had many win streaks throughout his career.
In the postseason, Lee has been impressive as well. In the 2009 playoffs, Lee went 4-0 with two complete games and the Phillies won all five games he started. Once Lee joined the Rangers for their postseason run in 2010, he appeared to be one of the most dominant postseason pitchers in the last twenty years. Lee dominated the Tampa Bay Rays, pitching the Rangers to victory in a decisive Game 5 of the ALDS, and took down the Yankees in the ALCS before struggling against the San Francisco Giants in the World Series.
After losing to the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLDS last year, Lee has not been as dominant as he has been in years past. While Lee has been good, he has let up more home runs and seen multiple-run leads disappear in his last two starts. When Lee has struggled in his career, he has hung his curve ball out over the plate and hitters have been able to tee off. In the last few years in particular, Lee has been left in games too long at times and, as a result, lost games. Furthermore, injuries have interrupted his career as well.
The fact that Lee is winless in 11 starts this season is not all his fault. Early in the year, Lee had little run support and recently the bullpen has not been able to secure Lee his first victory. In addition, mistakes in the field have hindered Lee’s chances of winning. Still, the winless streak has proven that Lee can allow the long ball and is not perfect in the postseason. In fact, Lee is riding a three-game losing streak in the postseason since the 2010 World Series and has allowed a combined 14 earned runs.
While Lee most likely has a few years left in his career, the reality is that he has been a streaky pitcher. When he is his pitching well, he is one of the best in the league, and when he isn’t, he is an average pitcher at best. To this point, the winning streaks have outweighed the losing steaks, but if Lee and the Phillies do not play better soon, Lee will miss out on the one thing that can complete his career: a World Series.