With spring training in full swing, the Philadelphia Phillies are in uncharted territory. They have the opportunity to win the National League East for third straight time. After beating the Tampa Bay Rays for their first title since 1980 in 2008, the Phils’ repeated as NL East champs and made the World Series, only to lose to the Mighty Yankees. Coming out of camp, there are a few reasons why the Phils’ could win it all and why they could fall short of a repeat World Series birth.
Why they could win:
1. Starting Rotation- This year’s staff boasts a new ace. After acquiring Cliff Lee in a blockbuster deal at the deadline last year, they dealt him in a three way trade to the Seattle Mariners. In return they obtained six time all-star Roy Halladay from the Toronto Blue Jays.
He is going to lock down that number one spot in the rotation and continue to be one of the most dominating pitchers in the league. But the key to the staff is Cole Hamels. World Series hero turned World Series goat, Hamels is looking to bounce back from a disappointing 2009 campaign. His ERA rose from 3.09 to 4.32 and he had an under five-hundred winning percentage.
Cole is definitely looking to get off to a better start this year. He struggled coming out of the gate last year, which saw his velocity drop greatly. If Hamels returns to form, the Phillies have one of the best 1-2 combos in all of baseball.
Following Hamels is Joe Blanton. The bulky righty posted a 12-8 record with a respectable 4.05 era last season. After Blanton is NL Rookie of the year award runner up, J.A Happ. Happ who is coming off an impressive rookie year, is now looked upon to be a big contributor to this pitching staff.
Rounding out the rotation is the ageless wonder Jamie Moyer, who was relegated to the bullpen last year and seemed if his very successful career was over. If the rotation holds up and Cole Hamels returns to form, look for the Phillies to go deep into October once again.
2. Power and Depth- The Phillies lineup is as tough as any in the league. The Phils’ play more of an AL style of game, relying on power to score runs. Which means they have the ability to slug it out with an AL team.
Their lineup is a very scary thought for opposing pitchers. Anyone, from 1-8 can beat you, from Jimmy Rollins to Carlos Ruiz, the lineup never seems to get easier. Jimmy Rollins is the table starter, him getting on base is the key for Philadelphia. Rollins is looking to improve his numbers from last year, which saw him hit .250. Him getting on base leads to the big guns in the lineup.
Perennial MVP candidates Ryan Howard and Chase Utley lead the way in run production and give Philadelphia one of the scariest and most deadly one-two punches in baseball. But the Phillies’ lineup is far from just a one-two punch. Jason Werth, maybe the most underrated player in the NL, and Raul Ibanez follow and are just as lethal.
Both Werth and Ibanez hit over 30 home-runs last year. These four players each hit over 30 home-runs and drove in over 90 runs last year, with Howard leading the way with a whopping 45 home-runs and 141 RBI’s. If Rollins can set the table and hit better than .250 and the “big four” can repeat their numbers, the Phils’ could have another fun October.
Why the Phillies could struggle:
1. Starting Rotation- Their starting rotation could be a major reason for the Phillies success, but it could also be a reason for their struggle. In Roy Halladay, the Phils’ have a bona fide ace who will compete for a Cy Young and could reach 20 wins. He is the only definite in the rotation.
After Roy things get dicey. The Phillies are not too deep in their rotation. If Cole Hamels struggles again and does not return to the ace form, then the Phillies are in some trouble.
Joe Blanton is a decent number three, but if he is relied upon for more than that then there will be problems. The Phillies are relying on Hamels to do better then 10-11, because after him they have Blanton, a sophomore J.A Happ and a pushing 50 year old in Jamie Moyer.
Depth will definitely will be an issue for the rotation. If J.A Happ takes a step back from his rookie year, which is a possiblity, the Phils’ will be left looking for help. At 47, Jamie Moyer is still defying the odds. But for how long can he hold up and be a productive pitcher. If Hamels and Happ struggle, and Jamie Moyer breaks down, the fighting Phils’ will struggle.
2. Bullpen- “Brad Lidge blows the save.” Phils’ fans heard that a cringing eleven different times throughout the 2009 season. Brad Lidge went from being 8th in the MVP voting in 2008 while converting all 41 save opportunities to blowing 11 saves in 67 games in 2009. Lidge’s era went from an amazing 1.25 to an abysmal 7.21.
Coming into the 2010 season Brad Lidge will once again be the closer for Philadelphia. Well if he does not return to the Brad Lidge of 2008, you can bet there will be a whole lot of problems.
The Phils’ bullpen was the saving grace of the championship team of 2008. It was the strength of the team, in 2009 it was its biggest weakness. Most of the fault falls on Lidge’s shoulders, but not all. Ryan Madsen, setup man extraordinaire, was very shaky at different points throughout the year. He was especially shaky when he was tried out as closer.
If Lidge can’t handle the job, the closer roll will most likely go to Madsen. Madsen struggled with the 9th inning in 2009 and if he succeeds Lidge he must do a better job then last year. If Lidge and Madsen struggle, it will be a long year for the Phils’ bullpen.