It’s really not a surprise, is it? The Phillies go out and land Cliff Lee, giving them — on paper — the best starting rotation since the 1993 Braves, and it lands the starting five on the cover of Sports Illustrated‘s baseball preview issue.
The only reason I balked and wondered if they’d go with Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford in Boston is because this Phillies cover is unprecedented. (Plus, a Boston cover wouldn’t have been a stretch; the magazine does pick the Red Sox to beat the Giants in the World Series.) A team has been represented as the main cover image in consecutive years — the Yankees in 2002-03, with the entire starting rotation on that ’03 cover — but never before has one player appeared in the cover’s main image in back-to-back springs. Until now, until Roy Halladay. He had the cover to himself last year, and this week he’s off to the side as the other four stand behind Lee, but the placement doesn’t matter. In becoming just the fifth player to appear on the cover’s centerpiece twice (joining Willie Mays, Steve Garvey, Mark McGwire and Derek Jeter), Halladay is the first to do it two years in a row.
I won’t rehash the full breakdown from last year, but I will update the relevant statistics.
Red Sox, 7
That’s a total of 61 teams on the covers (accounting for two or more players sharing the spotlight in some years). Through last season, 22 of those 60 teams (before this year’s Phillies) made the playoffs, with the results as follows:
Won World Series, 6
Lost World Series, 5
Lost ALCS, 2
Lost NLCS, 1
Lost ALDS, 6
Lost NLDS, 2
The Phillies last year became the first featured club to fall in the NLCS. When it comes to regular-season standings, the editors have hit on top-two teams more than the other positions combined:
Here are a few more team-related numbers:
Won 100, 6
Lost 100, 2
Player with a new team, 12
Defending champs, 13
As for individual accolades, Halladay became the third player whose cover appearance foretold a Cy Young season, the third to win 20 games, the 36th to have an All-Star season and the 10th to lead the league in at least one major category:
Hall of Famers, 16
Cy Young, 3
Broke record, 2
20-game winner, 3
Led league, 11
And finally, by putting the Philly five on the cover, SI has widened the gap between starting pitchers and any other position (each player counts once, not as a group, meaning the starters went from 20 to 25):
Moving forward, we have regional inset images to consider. They began in 2009 with Carl Crawford, Justin Morneau, Dustin Pedroia, Manny Ramirez, David Wright and Carlos Zambrano. Last year, they included Matt Kemp, John Lackey, Brian McCann, Albert Pujols, CC Sabathia and Troy Tulowitzki. This year, we have Robinson Cano and, presumably, others, but they’re not online yet. I’ll update when they appear.