While the Philadelphia Phillies have been a hit first, pitch second type of team the last few years, the gap might hinge just a bit closer in 2010.
Don't get me wrong, the Phils offense will continue to be among the best in the league and the biggest strength on the team. What I am referring to is the evolution and maturation of the Phils rotation since last year, which now has become a group of pitchers who are much more suited for the grueling 162-game season that players must endure.
1. Roy Halladay - Rating: 10/10
Let's start at the top, with Roy Halladay. Last year the team went into the regular season with what they hoped would be their big time ace, Cole Hamels. This year, they go into the regular season knowing that their ace is definitely, 100 percent, for real. No worries about lack or preparation, World Series hangover, or injury. To say the least, Rueben Amaro, Jr. is not worried that his number one pitcher is Halladay.
Halladay has been waiting for this opportunity his entire career, most likely sacrificing millions of dollars to ensure the opportunity to be on a team that consistently has a shot at winning.
His statistics are astronomically high for a pitcher who has thrown over 2,000 innings in his career. He has compiled a 3.43 ERA, 1,495 strike outs, 148 wins, and 49 complete games. All while playing in the vicious American League East, a division which includes the Boston Red Sox and the World Champion New York Yankees.
Now, he gets to come to the cozy confines of the National League. Instead of battling a designated hitter every time through the lineup, Halladay will have the pleasure of dealing with a pitcher at the plate, who in most cases will want no part of trying to hit his pitches.
While Cliff Lee joined the Phils in August, giving the team the necessary boost to make it through to the World Series, Halladay will be with this team all season long, giving them a high probability of winning every fifth day.
And ultimately, that is all you can hope for, especially in a league filled with very few "sure things."
2. Cole Hamels - Rating: 7/10
It is very hard to believe that a year after Cole Hamels did virtually everything right, he has become a big question mark in terms of how well he will be able to perform.
Every question that fans can ask is being asked. Did the celebrity thing get in his head? Was 2008 an aberration? Was last year the real Cole Hamels? Can he really use his curveball as an effective pitch? And finally, the biggest question going into 2010: Will he be able to return to his old self and be dominant again?
Well, if you ask the organization, they believe the answer to this final question is "yes'. If they didn't, there is no way they would have even contemplated trading Lee.
In 2008, Hamels's ERA was 3.09. In 2009, it rose to 4.32. This is considerably high even when looking at his career ERA of 3.67.
But, at 26, Hamels has been in seven postseason series, which included a World Series title and a World Series MVP. This is more than some pitchers can hope for in an entire career.
In the offseason after the Phils won it all, the excitement of being a celebrity most likely got to his head. He probably had a sense of invincibility, a "nobody can beat me" kind of attitude. And in response to these feelings, he wasn't ready.
He wasn't ready for spring training, which made him fall behind for the regular season, which never really gave him an opportunity to catch up. Before you knew it, he was getting hammered in Game Three of the World Series on his own field.
But there is reason for Phils fans to be hopeful for a turnaround.
Today on Mike & Mike in the Morning, Buster Olney of ESPN talked about how well Hamels has looked early in spring training. His curveball seems to have found its movement again, and Hamels himself looks much more confident.
There are also reports that Hamels has thrown nearly every day in the offseason, going as far as bringing his glove on vacation to throw.
This should be a good sign for the Phillies going forward, and they should be cautiously optimistic about Hamels's chances of success.
3. J.A. Happ - Rating: 6.5/10
It is hard to believe that a temporary fill-in for Brett Myers in 2008 is now the Phils' No. 3 starter.
After taking over the reigns for Chan Ho Park's spot in the rotation, J.A. Happ became one of the most consistent pitchers in the National League, not losing a game until facing the Cardinals in July. For almost the entire year, Happ was giving the team exactly what Hamels wasn't. He would pitch deep into games, hardly every letting the game out of grasp.
Ultimately, there is not very much to criticize about Happ. He is a solid middle-of-the-rotation kind of pitcher that will not overpower you but use his off-speed stuff to mess with a batter's head.
One cause for concern, however, is his performance against the Rockies in the postseason, in which he was only able to get through three innings before being pulled by Charlie Manuel. He looked shaken up and it appeared as if the pressure got to him.
Another worrying element is the recent memory of the collapse of Kyle Kendrick. The year after going 10-4 his rookie year, posting a 3.87 ERA in twenty games, Kendrick saw his ERA rise to 5.49 and his spot vacated in the rotation.
Happ came into the league the same way as Kendrick. The only question that remains is will the sophomore blues that haunted Kendrick pass Happ by, or send him back to bullpen.
4. Joe Blanton - Rating: 6.5/10
Coming fresh off a three year, $24 million contract, Joe Blanton has plenty to be pleased about. And rightfully so. Blanton has been a key contributor the past few years for the Fightins, often providing solid outings, which kept his team in the game.
His Game Four performance in the World Series was satisfactory enough to rival C.C. Sabathia's performance, giving the Phils a legitimate shot to win the game.
He isn't an elite pitcher, not even close. Last year he posted a 4.05 ERA, better than his career ERA, but still average to say the least.
However, Blanton has played a huge role in the rotation of this team, and at the age of 29, he still looks to have plenty left in the tank.
5. Jamie Moyer/Kyle Kendrick - Rating: 5/10
Here's where things get messy.
Jamie Moyer, the hometown hero, is set to make $8 million in 2010. He has been a key member of the rotation since he arrived and has led the team in wins the past two years. If it were any other pitcher, these qualities would make him a lock for the fifth starter spot. But there is one factor that separates Moyer from the rest.
He's 47 and coming off surgery.
Now, there is no doubt in my mind that it is Moyer's spot to lose. If Kendrick and Moyer fare equally in spring training, Charlie's loyalty to Moyer coupled with the $8 million owed to him will be the deciding factor in his decision.
And there is also no doubt in my mind that Moyer is going to give it everything he has left in the tank, albeit there may not be much left.
Moyer's ERA of 4.94 last year could have been an aberration, or it might have been a sign of old age. The only way we'll find out is if Moyer is part of the rotation heading into the season.
Then there is Kendrick. His rookie year was stellar, his sophomore year not so much. He has been through a lot since 2007 and he spent the majority of last year with the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs.
I had the opportunity to see Kendrick in person and he gradually became the best pitcher on the Pigs' staff. The return of his confidence was evident and his slider began to look much improved from when he used it in the Big Leagues.
If the competition is generally even, I expect the team to go with Moyer. If he fails in the role, Kendrick will be there waiting. Unlike many teams, the Phils have the rare luxury of being able to experiment with their fifth starter.
Regardless of who the fifth starter is, the Phils have very little to worry about regarding their starting rotation. The city hasn't seen a group this good since Curt Schilling carried them to the World Series seventeen years ago.
Phillies Rotation Overall Rating: 7/10
Phillies Rotation Overall Rating: 7/10