This will begin my 2010 MLB preview. I intend to touch every team in the major leagues in installments by division. The lineups I provide will be what I predict will be the most productive for each team for the MAJORITY of the season (e.g., Jason Heyward will be listed as the Braves RF even though he may not begin the season as the starter).
I will also provide the stereotypical letter grade to each team's lineup, rotation, bullpen, and bench. Though it is trite, I think all baseball fans can identify with the letter grade system.
Teams will be addressed respective to their predicted finish in their division.
First up, the National League East.
Jimmy Rollins - SS
Shane Victorino - CF
Chase Utley - 2B
Ryan Howard - 1B
Jason Werth - RF
Raul Ibanez - LF
Placido Polanco - 3B
Carlos Ruiz - C
OUTFIELD: The Phillies are deep in the outfield. The trade for Ben Francisco was a good one. They have four legitimate starters with him in the mix, so an injury won't break the Phillies spirit. Ibanez and Werth are pretty good defenders, but Francisco and Victorino are very good. Offensively, the starting trio can all hit.
INFIELD: There aren't many better infields overall in baseball —if any. Utley and Howard provide the long balls, Polanco is one of the best contact hitters in baseball, and Rollins does a little bit of everything. Hats off to Rollins last season for enduring a grueling slump in the first half to finish with a .250 avg. and score 100 runs.
If Victorino struggles in the no. 2 spot in the order, Charlie Manuel won't hesitate to plug Polanco in there. In fact, Polanco may actually hit behind Ruiz in the no. 8 spot to serve as a quasi leadoff hitter. On the right side, Howard and Utley are average defensively, but on the left side, Polanco and Rollins will be sharp.
CATCHING: Carlos Ruiz is turning into a solid backstop. Brian Schneider hits left handed and has plenty of experience. They should be a nice platoon, with little difference in offensive production between the two.
Roy Halladay - R
Cole Hamels - L
Joe Blanton - R
J.A. Happ - L
Kyle Kendrick/Jamie Moyer - R/L
I feel that Moyer, aged 87, may really see his health decline this year (baseball-wise). Kendrick made a couple starts last year and posted a 3.42 ERA for Philly in limited action last season. He made 24 starts at Triple A and posted a 3.34 ERA there. It is time for him to take over as a major league starter.
The Phils have a great balance of righties and lefties and the one-two punch of Halladay-Hamels could prove devastating. Look for Hamels to bounce back this season with much of the pressure he had on his shoulders last year alleviated due to the presence of Halladay. Blanton and Happ are very good nos. 3 and 4 starters, respecively.
Closer Brad Lidge has to put an end to the up-and-down seasons he's been experiencing the last few years. But on that note, he is due to have an "up" year. If he can't get it done in the 9th, Ryan Madson can handle the closer role adequately. J.C. Romero is coming back from injury, but is one of the best late-inning lefties in the game. Danys Baez and Chad Durbin are solid.
Truthfully, the infield depth is lacking, but the outfield depth is fairly abundant. The only scenario I can picture is that the Phillies will retain Juan Castro as the middle infield backup and Greg Dobbs as a corner infield backup. Prime pinch hitter Ross Gload can back up in the outfield and first base. Retaining Dobbs would essentially force Philly to start Ryan Howard-clone, John Mayberry, at Triple A Lehigh Valley.
THOUGHTS: The Phillies quite simply have too potent a lineup and rotation to have their NL East throne usurped, though the inspired Braves will push them. Lidge has to get things straightened out and Romero has to return healthy or the bullpen could go from good to bad.
If the bullpen stinks up the place, it would put pressure on the Phils' lineup to score compensatory runs. That will be no easy task against the Braves' rotation. Fortuantely for the Phillies, the majority of their big boppers are left-handed hitters —the Braves rotation is all right-handed.
Thus, the Phillies will again win the NL East, barring major injury to the triumvirate of Rollins/Utley/Howard.