Cliff Lee shocked the baseball world when he returned to the Phillies in the offseason.
The buzz around Philadelphia is palpable, and rightfully so. The Philadelphia Phillies are about to enter into one of the most exciting seasons in recent memory, bringing four aces to the table that are looking to make history. The Phillies brought back the one man whose departure brought as much anger and disappointment to the City of Brotherly Love since, the now loathed, J.D. Drew refused to sign with the Phillies after they made him the second overall pick in the 1997 draft. That one man is Clifton Phifer Lee, but you can call him Cliff.
Lee joins an already stout rotation consisting of Roy "Doc" Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels. The four of them have combined for three Cy Young Awards, three postseason awards, and an astounding 20-8 record in the postseason. Pitching Coach Rich Dubee goes right towards the top of the "Easiest Jobs in the World" list. We all know the statistics. We have all seen the numbers. If they all can stay healthy, they have the potential to be the greatest rotations in the history of baseball.
For the first time in a long time, pitching isn't the biggest concern for the Phillies. With the quality of arms that they have in the rotation, let's not forget that Joe Blanton is no slouch either, the three-time defending NL East Champs should not need to score a ton of runs to win their fourth division title in a row.
This is a team that has been known as one of the best hitting teams in the league over the past few years, but their dominance at the plate has declined as of late. Granted, injuries played a major role in that, seeing as how the Phillies' opening day lineup only played together a handful of times throughout the course of the 2010 season. However, that's just an excuse, and excuses are one thing that this team does not make.
So, when looking at this lineup for the 2011 season, there are a few things that need to happen if the Phillies want to hoist the World Series trophy, as many are expecting them to do. First, and it is a daunting task, is replacing the production of Jayson Werth. With the Phillies doling out much of their allocated offseason budget to sign Lee, there was not enough left to replace Werth, as he left to sign a lucrative deal with the Washington Nationals. While Werth did hit a measly .186 with runners in scoring position last season, he also amassed 63 homers and 184 runs batted in during his two years as a full-time starter. Obviously, players who put up those types of numbers do not grow on trees.
They Phillies are acting like they are not going to rely on phenom Domonic Brown to step right in and hit the ground running, and that is the right way to go. The expectations are undoubtedly through the roof for Brown, but he did have his struggles after being called up last season. However, it would be unwise to project Brown to be spark plug for a lineup that has lost a lot of pop, only because that is a lot of pressure to put on a kid who has barely gotten his feet wet at the highest level. Hitting coach Greg Gross has been working with Brown to fix some of the kinks in his swing, and it will be interesting to see how he responds. If Brown happens to make the roster out of spring training, he will likely platoon with Ben Francisco until he proves he is ready to carry the full load.
There are two other players that will need to carry some of the burden left by Werth's departure. The first is shortstop Jimmy Rollins. Rollins had his worst season as a professional in 2010, and dealt with nagging injuries that limited him to just 88 games. Everyone knows what an effective and healthy Rollins does for the rest of the lineup, so it is vital that he have a bounce-back year. The other player is coming off a career year, and that is Phillies' catcher Carlos "Chooch" Ruiz. Chooch set career highs in hits, runs batted in, total bases, and batting average in 2010, but the Phillies will need him to take it one step further this season. In a lineup that lacks pop from the right side, Chooch becomes an even more valuable asset to this team. While no one expects him to start bombing the ball out of Citizens Bank Park, he can still progress at the plate, and make valuable contributions in key situations.
There is no doubt that the Philadelphia Phillies are armed for another run at a championship, but they will need more consistency from their hitters if they want to reign supreme again. While their lineup is still extremely formidable, it would be a waste of exceptional talent (and a lot of money) in the rotation if this team peters out in 2011 when it matters the most.