Do not take this the wrong way, I still do believe the Phillies will win the NL East. But I also have a feeling it won't be as easy as everyone thinks.
Remember last season? In the preseason the Phillies were picked to easily win the division and make it to the World Series. But what actually happened was much different. They were second in the division behind the Braves for most of the season and only took first place in September.
They then got hot and became the No. 1 seed in the playoffs. Halladay then pitched a no-hitter against the Reds and the Phillies went on to beat them down. However, they just could not beat the Giants in the NL Championship Series.
Was their performance in the playoffs a fluke or a sign of things to come? Their offense is starting to age and even lost some players. Their pitching will improve, but I cannot see it becoming like the old Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz rotation of the 90's. The Phillies pitchers, especially Halladay and Oswalt, are starting to get past their prime in terms of their age and they have an average bullpen. They are still a great team, but to what extent?
The competition will be tough for the reigning NL East champs with the offseason acquisitions by their rivals. The Braves traded for Dan Uggla, the Marlins got Javier Vasquez and Omar Infante and the Nationals acquired Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche. Most likely the only team that really could have a chance of closely competing with the Phillies would be the Braves, but the Marlins could also be close behind.
How many wins will the Phillies have in 2011?
In terms of their "big four", they are great, but not spectacular. The comparisons made between them and the Brave's rotations in the two decades ago are absurd. Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz had a combined five NL Cy Young awards in their 10 years together on the same pitching staff. I cannot see the Phillies staff staying together that long and being that successful. It may be in the top 25 best pitching staffs in baseball history, but it is not the best. They haven't even played a single game together yet!
The Phillies' starting pitchers are only a combined 15-12 against the Braves. That is not dominant by any stretch of imagination. Only Halladay and Hamels have a winning record against the Braves, while the rest are .500 or below. In fact, Oswalt is 0-3 against them and Lee is 1-1. For two 'dominant' pitchers, that is not that impressive.
The Phillies do have a team that can achieve its goals, but with their aging offense and the stiff competition from the Braves, it won't be too easy. Their team is susceptible to injuries that could severely hurt their World Series hopes, especially if the injured player is Halladay or Chase Utley.
The Phillies' road to becoming the 2011 NL East champions will not be paved with gold.