It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.
The Phillies have certainly proven that cliché true in recent seasons.
But is this the year the Fightins finally look like a championship-caliber club from April through the end of Autumn? The answer is yes, because the Phillies are just that complete of a team in 2010.
Once again, the offense is the least of the Phils’ concerns. This team will hit.
Placido Polanco’s replacement of Pedro Feliz at third base should slightly weaken the Phillies’ perennial air-tight defense, but marginally strengthen their consistently talent-packed lineup. Unlike previous seasons, the Phils’ pitching staff should be reliable, too.
From top to bottom, the Phillies’ starting rotation is one of the finest they’ve ever had. Of course, it doesn’t hurt having a guy named Roy Halladay as the ace.
On June 9 last year, the Toronto Blue Jays were just 1 1/2 games out of first in the AL East, largely because of Halladay.
He was 10-1 with a 2.52 ERA in his first 13 starts. He pitched at least seven innings in every one of those 13 starts. Every…single…one. Halladay might not pitch as many innings this season as he did during his hay-day with Toronto, but we sure can expect him to dominate the offensively-challenged National League.
Halladay should also benefit from the run production provided by the undisputed best lineup in the senior circuit…not like he’ll actually need five or six runs to win most games.
How about the man following Halladay in the rotation? Well, Cole Hamels has struggled in his two most recent Grapefruit League starts.
But there’s a good chance he’ll start the season well, since it’s very likely his first two starts of 2010 will come against the Washington Nationals. Hamels might have struggled against the Rockies and Yankees under the pressure of the postseason, but he’s always been able to rise to the occasion against the Nats.
He’s 7-3 with a 2.30 ERA in 15 lifetime starts against Washington. Last year, the media speculated that Cole’s lack of confidence was a cause for his struggles. If that actually were true, then two quick starts against Washington might be just the trick Hamels needs to begin repairing his bruised psyche.
So, six of the Phils’ first nine games in 2010 will come against a Nationals team they defeated in 15 of their 18 meetings last season.
Actually, the Phillies’ entire April schedule shakes out pretty well. Their season-opening six-game road trip from Washington to Houston isn’t too intimidating and neither is the Washington-Florida homestand that follows.
May’s calendar greets the Phils with a 10-game homestand against the Mets, Cardinals, and Braves: a golden opportunity for the Phillies to get an early leg up on some potentially stiff NL competition.
Of course, Philly’s bullpen has question marks. Somehow, the Phils won 93 games last year despite losing 10 games they led entering the ninth inning (a ML high). Both J.C. Romero and Brad Lidge are recovering from offseason surgery and neither is likely to be healthy by Opening Day.
Without Romero, the Phils don't have a dependable bullpen lefty. And who will be the closer if Lidge struggles like he did last year? Ryan Madson (again)? Or newly-acquired Danys Baez? The end of the pen is still a concern.
But in conclusion, there’s no reason why these Phillies shouldn’t be the best team in the NL East by mid-May.
The Phils are now the oldest team in the majors, with an average age of 29. But these Phils have tons of invaluable playoff experience to go along with talent that’s unparalleled in the NL. So the Phillies’ collective age is a clear strength—not a detriment.
All these reasons make early-season optimism justifiable—but that’s nothing new during this Golden Age of Phillies baseball.
Phillies’ Month-By-Month Record Since 2005 (Regular Season)
March/April 57- 64 .471
May 81- 60 .567
June 62- 72 .463
July 78- 51 .605
August 82- 58 .586
September/October 87- 58 .600