NL East Arms Race: Philadelphia Phillies

Grant McAuley@grantmcauleyContributor IIJanuary 29, 2009

The past two seasons have seen the rise of a new powerhouse in the National League East, as the Philadelphia Phillies ascended to the top of the baseball world with a Fall Classic victory over the Tampa Bay Rays last season. Philadelphia's prolific offense often takes the headlines, but the men on the mound will be the key contributors to any World Series repeat.

The foundation of the Philadelphia staff is budding ace Cole Hamels. Signing Hamels to a three-year $20-million contract this offseason underlines the fact that the club is well aware he has established himself as one of the premier pitchers in the National League, a claim further cemented by his World Series MVP performance. It also saves them from having to suffer through the arbitration years.

Hamels, 25, stayed healthy last season and went 14-10 with a 3.09 ERA and 196 strikeouts in 227.1 innings last season before blistering through Philadelphia's October opponents. His playoff numbers were even more impressive, 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA and 30 punch-outs in five starts.

Brett Myers came up big in October for the Phillies, giving the club hope that his transition back from the bullpen may have finally come full circle. At 28-years old, the former first rounder will need to improve his work on the road primarily to give himself a chance to win 15 or more games in 2009.

In 14 home starts, Myers was 7-5 with a 3.01 ERA, but his numbers away fell to just 3-8 with a 6.21 in 16 starts. He has surrendered his fair share of the long ball last season as well, giving up 29 in 190 innings of work. Myers was at his best in the second half and that momentum carried through the postseason, where he was 2-1 in three starts.

The ageless wonder Jamie Moyer, 46, went 16-7 and shaved more nearly a run and a half off his ERA from 2007, down to 3.71 for the year. Moyer's good work earned the soft-tossing lefty a brand new two-year contract worth $13 million this winter.

Moyer is entering his 23rd season, having piled up 246 wins in a career that essentially didn't get off the ground until the age of 30. His ability to change speeds and give Philadelphia nearly 200 innings will be just as vital this time around.

Like Myers, Joe Blanton, 28, is another former first rounder who will be seeking to revert to his 2006 form. Blanton supplies innings, averaging 206 innings over the past four seasons, and has shown he could win games during his Oakland days. Run support shouldn't be a problem with the Phillies.

Chan Ho Park resurrected his sagging career when he returned to the Dodgers last season, where his career began with such promise. In 54 appearances, Park went 4-4 with a pair of saves and a 3.40 ERA. While he did make five starts for Los Angeles, general manager Ruben Amaro did not immediately say how the Phillies plan to use the 35-year old Park.

Philadelphia also has both Kyle Kendrick and prospect J.A. Happ to compete for spots at the back of the rotation this spring. After starting the season 8-3 in his first 19 starts, Kendrick's frequent shellings resulted in a 7.59 ERA in 12 appearances after the break and forced the Phillies to leave him off the playoff roster.

Happ got the nod to take over Kendrick's spot in the rotation and quickly went about solidifying a claim for future starter consideration. He finished last season with a 1-0 record and 3.69 ERA in 31.2 innings, notching 26 strikeouts, with a 2.28 ERA in his four starting assignments.

Highly regarded right-hander Carlos Carrasco was rated the second best prospect in the Phillies organization by Baseball America and should be ready to battle for the fifth starter role. Carrasco, 21, was signed as an undrafted free-agent from the Dominican Republic in 2003 at the age of 17. Last season, Carrasco went 9-9 with 155 strikeouts in 25 starts between AA Reading and AAA Lehigh Valley.

Adam Eaton has completely pitched his way out of the Phillies plans and will likely find himself released if no trade can be brokered. This will put an end to a rather painful three-year $24.5-million contract that was signed prior to the 2007 season, when he turned in a 10-10 record and a 6.29 ERA in 30 starts.

In the bullpen, Brad Lidge leads what is a pretty sound Philadelphia relief corps. Last season was simply unbelievable for Lidge, as he converted all 41 regular season save opportunities before going perfect in seven more postseason chances.

At 32, Lidge is still in the prime years of his career and will continue to anchor the Phillies pen after signing a three-year $37.5-million extension last season.

Big righty reliever Ryan Madson turned in a 3.09 ERA in 76 appearances and staked his claim as one of the best eighth inning men in the National League. After an attempt to use him as a starting pitcher, the Phillies were rewarded for putting Madson back in the pen over the past two seasons.

Madson was at his best in September and October, turning in a 0.64 ERA in 13 games down the stretch, while going 1-0 with a 2.13 ERA in 11 postseason appearances. His good work earned him a three-year, $12-million extension this winter, allowing the Phillies to avoid arbitration and buy out Madson's first two free agent years.

J.C. Romero was slated to serve as the primary left-handed reliever, but was suspended for the first 50 games of 2009 after a positive test for an over-the-counter drug. Last season, Romero paced the Phillies with 81 appearances and posted a 2.75 ERA while holding left-handed hitters to a minuscule .102 average.

Romero's absence will leave the Phillies scrambling for a replacement to fill the void, but veteran lefty Scott Eyre should be able to help out. Eyre, 36, was acquired in an August trade with the Chicago Cubs and went 3-0 in 19 games 1.88 ERA with Phillies last season and signed a one-year $2-million deal last November to return to the defending world champions.

Clay Condrey, who was 3-4 with a 3.26 ERA in 56 appearances, and Chad Durbin, who was 5-4 in 71 games with a 2.87 ERA, will also hold down spots in the Phillies bullpen. The Phillies could choose to utilize any of the hurlers who do not grab the final spots in the rotation, with Park being the leading candidate to bolster the pen further.

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