*From Protect the Plate
For the second straight season, the Philadelphia Phillies ran down the New York Mets to win the National League East.
The Phillies went 13-3 in their final 16 games and rode the hot streak into the playoffs, winning their first World Series since 1980 and going 11-3 in the postseason.
Unfortunately, the victory lost some of its luster on a national level, as game five was suspended in the top of the sixth inning due to rain. The rain prevented play the next day as well.
It may have been an unconventional victory, but the Phillies are still defending World Series champions, and will look to repeat with a roster that underwent very few changes.
Consistency is King:
The Phillies have won at least 80 games in eight straight seasons, the longest such streak in the National League.
While it's impressive, the Phillies hadn't broken the 90-win barrier until last year, and only made the playoffs the last two seasons.
With a 25-year-old ace and three star hitters just now entering their prime, Philadelphia has a great shot at extending that run, at least for a few more seasons.
The only teams with longer current streaks of 80-plus win seasons are the Yankees (13) and Red Sox (11).
Star is Born:
In his third full season, Cole Hamels not only had a break through, but became a bona fide star.
The lefty led the NL in WHIP (1.08), ranked second in the NL in both batting average against (.227) and innings pitched (227 1/3), fifth in ERA (3.09), and sixth in strikeouts (196).
He followed the impressive regular season with a dominant performance in the playoffs, going 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA in five starts. He was awarded with both the NLCS MVP and the World Series MVP.
Recently, Hamels took some positive steps toward making the start on Opening Day, but it's unlikely he'll be ready in time.
He has been dealing with inflammation in his elbow and is expected to miss his first start.
With Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins in the lineup, Philadelphia should have no problems scoring runs.
Howard's batting average has dropped each year since 2006his MVP season going from .313, to .268 in 2007, to .251 last year.
But that hasn't changed the fact that he's one of the most dangerous hitters in the game, leading the majors in 2008 with 48 home runs and 146 RBI.
Utley played through a hip injury last year, but still hit .292 with 33 homers and 104 RBI.
Jimmy Rollins struggled with a sprained ankle early in the season and failed to duplicate his MVP numbers from the year before. His average dropped from .296 to .277, his homers from 30 to 11, and his RBI from 94 to 59.
Despite the drop off, J-Roll was still an elite shortstop and stole a career-high 47 bases while picking up his second Gold Glove.
Brad Lidge rose from his own ashes to post one of the most impressive seasons by a closer in baseball history.
After falling apart in Houston, the Phillies took a chance on Lidge and were rewarded handsomely. He was a perfect 41-for-41 in save opportunities while averaging almost 12 strikeouts per nine innings and posting a 1.95 ERA.
Lidge's career had fallen apart after he gave up two huge home runs in the 2005 postseason.
He ended up surrendering just one run in 9 1/3 innings in the 2008 playoffs, saving seven games in the process.
The only significant change to Philadelphia's roster is newcomer Raul Ibanez, who will take over for the departed Pat Burrell in left field.
The 36-year-old Ibanez has four-straight 20-homer seasons and three-straight 100-RBI seasons.
Burrell is a .257 hitter and strikes out every 3.56 at-bats while Ibanez is a .286 hitter who strikes out every 6.08 at-bats.
Though he's nearing the end of his career, Ibanez can still provide steady production to a lineup, and the Phillies should benefit from having a more consistent hitter.
Right fielder Jayson Werth finally received over 400 at-bats in a season, hitting .273 with 24 home runs and 20 stolen bases.
Center fielder Shane Victorino had a career-high .293 average and stole 36 bases.
Brett Myers moved back into the rotation after spending a year in the bullpen and went 7-4 with a 3.06 ERA after the All-Star break.
At age 45, Jamie Moyer won 16 games while posting a 3.71 ERA.
Innings eater Joe Blanton has pitched at last 190 innings in four-straight seasons.
Left-handed reliever J.C. Romero will miss 50 games due to suspension.
Backup third baseman Greg Dobbs led the majors with 22 pinch hits.
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