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The five-time defending NL East champion Philadelphia Phillies were expected to win it all in 2011 after signing Cliff Lee to join Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt in a star-studded rotation. However, despite winning the division once again, the Phillies fell in the NLDS to the eventual World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals.
Going forward, the Phillies will try to do everything they can to get back to the World Series. However, 2012 will be tough for them.
First baseman Ryan Howard may miss a good chunk of the 2011 season after injuring his Achilles tendon during the postseason. As a result, the Phillies brought back the veteran slugger Jim Thome in case Howard's injury lasts a few months into the season. Second baseman Chase Utley and third baseman Placido Polanco will return, but longtime shortstop Jimmy Rollins may not return to the Phillies. It would be a huge change for the team because Rollins has been the clubhouse leader for the past decade.The Phillies also brought in Ty Wigginton for additional infield depth.
In the outfield, the Phillies still have center fielder Shane Victorino and right fielder Hunter Pence, both of whom are expected to have big years in 2012. The question mark though is left field. The Phillies could let Domonic Brown play every day or platoon with Ben Francisco. They could also sign a left fielder to replace Raul Ibanez, who is very unlikely to return. John Mayberry is yet another option the Phillies have.
On the pitching end, the Phillies still have Halladay and Lee, two of the most dominating pitchers in baseball. Assuming both stay healthy in 2012, they will carry the team once again towards postseason contention. Hamels had a solid season in 2011 as well and the Phillies will need him to pitch well in order to win the division this time around. With Roy Oswalt unlikely to return, the back end of the rotation will likely consist of the the young Vance Worley, who won 11 games in his rookie season and the veteran Joe Blanton.
The one glaring weakness the Phillies had in 2011 was their bullpen. As a result, the first thing that general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. worked on this offseason was to sign a new closer and they got just that in Jonathan Papelbon, whom they signed to a four-year contract. This means that Brad Lidge is not likely to return, although a return for him in a set-up role should not be ruled out. Antonio Bastardo and Jose Contreras are likely to be the Phillies' main set-up men in 2012.
The Phillies have a great group of veterans, one of the best pitching staffs in baseball and a lot more stability in the bullpen. Nonetheless, if Howard misses a lot of the season, the offense will suffer dramatically without their big run producer in the lineup. The Phillies will still win a lot of games in 2011, but Howard's health could be the difference as to whether they can keep up with the Braves.
Projected Finish: 2nd Place, 88-93 Wins, Wild Card