It’s that time of the year when the bats are cracking and the gloves are popping. Spring training is in full swing and the 2012 baseball season is on the horizon. Our Philadelphia Phillies are once again in the mix to win a World Series championship in 2012 just as they were the past 3 seasons since winning it all in 2008. For any team striving for a championship a key factor in their success is the strength of the pitching staff. The Phillies are lucky enough to have three aces in their starting rotation this season.

Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels are all studs on the mound and considered top notch aces on any team in Major League Baseball. We’re blessed in this town to have not only one of these guys but all three of them. We all know each of them will put up their usual numbers as long as they stay healthy but the question is which of these three is the best pitcher on the staff.

Roy Halladay finished 2011 with the lowest ERA of all three pitchers with a 2.35. His record for the season came in at 19-6 which is 2 wins shy of his 2010 win total of 21. Halladay is the workhorse of the Phillies pitching staff with a workout routine unmatched by any pitcher in Major League Baseball. He tends to be first to the ball park and last to leave on many nights.

Cliff Lee had a 2.40 ERA in 2011 and a record of 17-8. Lee was the toast of the town last season coming back to the Phillies after a short stint in 2009 where he helped lead the Phillies to the World Series against the Yankees. Lee for the most part enjoyed consistent success in 2011 but faltered under the pressure of the playoff environment. Lee blew a 4 run lead in game 2 of the NLDS against St. Louis and most look back to that game as the main reason the Phils came up short against the eventual champs in St. Louis. Lee has a lot to prove in 2012 as the team attempts to make another World Series run.

Cole Hamels is the longest tenured starter on the team and finished with a 14-9 record and a 2.79 ERA in 2011 which is highest of the 3 pitchers. Hamels is a proven veteran at age 28 and coming into a contract season in 2012. Hamels has said he would love to sign a long term deal with the Phillies that will allow him to finish his career in Philadelphia. Time will tell if Hamels and the Phillies can reach such a deal and if the Phillies were smart it’s a signing they should make. Hamels is a former World Series MVP in 2008 and has enjoyed his time learning from Roy Halladay over the past few seasons.

All three pitchers can easily be considered the top pitcher in the rotation. Each pitcher has something to prove in 2012. Hamels is pitching for a new contract, Lee is looking to show everyone he can get back to being a big game playoff pitcher, and Roy Halladay wants nothing more than to win a World Series ring. The drive within each of these individuals will take them to the top. In my opinion Roy Halladay is the leader of the three. His style of pitching is aggressive and no nonsense. He has no fear on the mound and has no problem pitching inside to some of the best hitters in the game. He’s proven he can handle the pressure of the big game and relishes the opportunity to rise to the occasion when needed. In his first ever playoff start he pitched a no hitter in game 1 of the NLDS against the Reds in 2010. I was lucky enough to actually be in attendance for that game and can honestly say it was an atmosphere like no other once the crowd realized what was at stake.

Without Halladay this pitching staff is still strong with Lee and Hamels but Halladay brings an extra sense of toughness and attitude to the rotation. The debate is open as to who really is the best pitcher of these three and according to the stats Halladay is the best. But let’s face it stats aren’t everything and when looking beyond the numbers Halladay’s toughness and perseverance is what makes him the standout of all three pitchers going into 2012. Only time will tell if these three can bring home a championship together but regardless we’re all in for another season of great pitching in Philadelphia thanks to the Big 3.