Cliff Lee speaks at his first press conference after signing with the Phillies this offseason.
This offseason, the Philadelphia Phillies did something historic; something totally remarkable; something that may not have ever been done before in the history of Major League Baseball.
The Phillies took four of baseball's best pitchers and placed them on the same rotation.
Fans rejoiced, as it was the first time they could remember their team being picked to win the World Series by almost everyone who pays attention to baseball with an unbiased opinion (I'm looking at you, Mr. Met).
But really, does having four of baseball's best starters pitching day after day secure a trip to the Fall Classic and a parade on Broad Street?
No, it does not.
For each of the four aces, there's an important question that must be answered.
How Will Chase Utley Perform This Season, if at All?
Because of the excitement of the offseason, it seems like decades since the last time we’ve had a serious concern about the Phillies.
Chase Utley, Ruben Amaro and Scott Sheridan (the Phillies’ athletic trainer) recently talked publicly about Utley’s injury for the first time in about a week. Both Amaro and Sheridan said that Utley’s knee isn’t responding to non-operative treatments and that other options may have to be explored.
How many games will the Phillies win this season?
Utley added that although this season means a lot to him, he must be focused on his future as well.
If Utley does in fact need some sort of surgery, he might miss significant time, which could force Ruben Amaro to make a move for a replacement. Wilson Valdez did a wonderful job filling in last season when injuries plagued the infield, but when it comes down to it, he's still only a utility player.
After the acquisition of Cliff Lee this offseason, Ruben stated that the Phillies have reached their limit when it comes to spending money, so free agency will not be an option.
The only resort would be making a trade, which could hinder another aspect of the team depending on who would be given up. Even if Utley does play in the near future, will he be anywhere near the level he has played at in the past?
We don’t know, and only time will tell.
Is Raul Ibanez Going To Be...Good?
Last year, Raul Ibanez just was not there offensively. Whether it was because of his newfound food allergy, or the simple fact that he's aging, he had a miserable season.
This year, with so many questions offensively, Ibanez is going to need to step up his game. He needs to be able to hit fastballs well again, or hit breaking balls and off-speed pitches very well.
In 2009, Ibanez had a stellar first half and he was a huge part of the team's success and World Series run. If he proves himself this year, he really could be a difference-maker in the offense's production.
Will the Phillies’ Offense Continue To Produce Miserable Numbers and Spoil Terrific Starts by the Rotation?
In 2008 and 2009, the Phillies scored three or less runs in 59 and 58 games, respectively.
Last season, Philadelphia scored three or less runs in 75 games. In those 75, the Phillies went 24-51. Many of those games were ones in which the starting pitcher only allowed one or two more runs than the offense scored.
The inability to play small ball or come up with clutch hits hurt the team when it came to winning games. The Phillies scored 48 less runs and hit 58 less home runs than they did in 2009. Their offense was very inconsistent, going through multiple slumps over long periods of time throughout the season.
Part of the blame goes to Jimmy Rollins, who had a very below-average season. This year, Charlie Manuel is contemplating dropping Rollins to the fifth spot in the batting order, where he can no longer have the opportunity to be an offensive catalyst.
Manuel is making a mistake.
In the past, when Jimmy Rollins gets on base, the Phillies score runs. That's how it is.
If Charlie expects the Phillies to score, he needs to put the offense in the hands of Rollins as he has in the past.
Another offensive question has to do with second base and right field. If Chase Utley is missing and Ben Francisco takes the spot in right previously occupied by the powerful Jayson Werth, will the offense be able to score enough runs?
Once again, we’ll have to wait and see.
How Is This Year’s Bullpen Going To Perform?
Brad Lidge, 2008’s Mr. Perfect and 2009’s Mr. "As Far From Perfect as Possible," will continue his duties as Phillies closer. In 2010 Lidge was on and off, but his season was considered successful.
What Brad Lidge are fans going to be seeing this year?
Will they be confident when Brad takes the mound in the ninth, or will they be turning off the television to avoid getting angry at the result? Hopefully, Lidge has gotten his act together and will throw a solid season.
If not, quality starts and hard-earned leads will fade away before our very eyes.
Ryan Madson is always a solid eighth-inning setup man, and he will be the least of the Phillies' worries if he continues his above-average pitching. Jose Contreras is also a guy who will most likely continue his clutch late-inning work.
We'll also need to pay attention to the lefty who will be called on when big-name left-handed hitters step up to the plate. Ruben Amaro was hesitant to re-sign J.C. Romero this offseason because of his health and control problems last year, but after other options proved futile Romero is once again wearing red pinstripes.
If J.C. performs like he did in 2008, he could be a difference-maker in tough situations. If not, we might see baby-faced Mike Zagurski and other left-handers in the minor leagues trying their luck on the major league squad.
After not being able to come to a contract agreement with Chad Durbin this offseason, it looks like Charlie Manuel will be giving Durbin’s long/middle-relief position to Kyle Kendrick.
Kendrick has shown he can be a quality pitcher, but his inconsistency is cause for some concern. He's arguably going to be stepping into a more important role than his fifth-starter spot last year, because he might be thrown into key late-game situations this season.
Other questions in the bullpen include whether or not Danys Baez will be of any worth, who will fill the last setup/late-inning role in the seventh or when Madson needs a rest and who will be the second left-hander in the 'pen.
Eventually, all of these questions will be answered.
Chase Utley will receive a second opinion on his knee, the offense will attempt to regain its past form and the bullpen will try to solidify roles and hold leads late in games.
On paper, a World Series win looks very attainable, but when you’re buying tickets for the World Series before Opening Day, remember that nothing is certain.
The Phillies are still going to need to play their hearts out, and some things will have to go the team's way for fans to attend another Broad Street parade.