Thursday, December 30, 2010

2011 Phillies Shaping Up

The Phillies are shaping up to not only be just contenders in 2011, but will enter the season as the favorite to reach the World Series from the National League, if not the favorite to win it all.

Over the years, the face of this franchise has changed so drastically. As the team transitioned into a winning ball-club, they mostly got it done with their bats. During 2006 when Ryan Howard won the MVP, 2007 when Jimmy Rollins took home the award and even in 2008 when they captured their first World Championship, the offense was potent and the pitching was certainly secondary. The team watched the top of their rotation change so drastically, from Kevin Millwood to Jon Lieber, none of whom lived up to expectations. But the offense was among the top of the league every year, producing enough to make up for the lack of quality arms in the organization.

Things are shifting once again. The team went into a prolonged offense slump last season. They still finished among the top of the league in offense, but just about every regular player had a down season. Rollins is aging and has trouble staying healthy and consistent, Howard and Chase Utley struggled through long stretches and Jayson Werth had his struggles while striking out at a very high rate. The only consistent offensive contributors were Placido Polanco and Carlos Ruiz.

Now that Werth is gone, the Phillies' offense stands to be much less effective. Werth's departure not only forces the Phillies to be adequate players in right field, but Charlie Manuel is going to have to figure out a way to protect Howard in this lineup. If someone like Raul Ibanez or a struggling Rollins bats fifth, Howard may not see a fastball all season.

The Phillies still have a potentially potent offense. They can still score runs in bunches. But one has to think that with the Cliff Lee signing, Ruben Amaro Jr. figured they might not need to score too many runs to win ballgames.

Call them what you want: R2C2, the Philthy Phour or just simply Four Aces, but we should be treated to something unprecedented in Philadelphia. Not only have the Phillies been acquiring good pitchers, but the three and four spots in their rotation are occupied by men who would pitch one or two on another team. Roy Halladay, Lee, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels could be talked about as one of the best rotations of all time.

Sure, they look great on paper, but we know that things don't always go according to plan. They'll have to stay healthy and focused to pitch anywhere close to expectations. No one will be concerned about Halladay, but the other three have some question marks. Lee has gone through some bad stretches in his career, especially during the regular season. He wasn't tremendously impressive last season, and after dominating the Yankees in the ALCS, he got hit by the Giants in the World Series. Oswalt is aging but still appears to be close to top form, and Hamels seems to alternate between good and bad seasons. He was very good in 2008, horrendous in 2009 and back to dominant in 2010. Hopefully, that doesn't make him due for a clunker.

The bullpen didn't get any better, in fact, to this point they've gotten worse. Chad Durbin, one of their most consistent arms the last two seasons, remains unsigned.

People will speculate about this team like crazy leading up to the season. Everyone is excited and full of anticipation. But, no one can really predict how this season will unfold. It has the potential to be a fun ride with the quality arms the Phillies will put on the mound in 2011, and for most, it can't come fast enough.

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