Monday, March 29, 2010

Philadelphia Phillies 2010 Preview

By Michael Rushton

Philadelphia, PA -  Philadelphia Phillies fans sure are getting greedy, but perhaps back-to-back World Series appearances will do that.

While supporters of just about any other club would have excitement levels off the chart in acquiring one of the top pitchers in baseball, former Toronto and now Philadelphia ace Roy Halladay, much of the talk around the City of Brotherly Love was what the Phillies gave up to acquire the 2003 American League Cy Young Award winner.

In fact, when all was said and done it took some top prospects and another former Cy Young Award recipient to land "Doc" Halladay.

The Phillies bolstered their rotation at the trade deadline last year, acquiring Cliff Lee from the Cleveland Indians when it became apparent it would cost too much to get Halladay from Toronto. Lee, who won the AL Cy Young in 2008, went 7-4 with a 3.39 earned run average in 12 regular-season starts as the Phillies won their third straight National League East title.

Lee then etched himself onto the heart of Philadelphia by posting a 4-0 mark and 1.56 ERA in five postseason starts, winning twice in the World Series versus the New York Yankees. However, Lee's performance wasn't enough as the Phils were denied a second straight World Series championship by New York, which took the Fall Classic in six games.

Aiming to become the first NL team to reach three straight World Series since the 1942-44 St. Louis Cardinals, the Phillies made a big move by acquiring Halladay from the Blue Jays for a trio of prospects, including pitcher Kyle Drabek and outfielder Michael Taylor.

But to the chagrin of the fans, Philly wasn't done dealing. Considering it had previously cost the Phils four minor-leaguers to land Lee and outfielder Ben Francisco from the Indians last July, Philadelphia general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. decided he didn't want to leave the prospect cupboard bare. So instead of a rotation that could have featured Halladay, Lee and 2008 World Series MVP Cole Hamels, Amaro shipped Lee to Seattle on the same day he acquired Halladay, getting three prospects in return.

That left many fans in Philadelphia scratching their collective heads, but even without Lee the Phillies have a club that is built to play baseball in October again.

Below we take a capsule look at the 2010 edition of the Philadelphia Phillies, with a personnel evaluation and prognosis included therein:

2009 FINISH (93-69) - First Place (NL East)

KEY OFFSEASON ADDITIONS: SP Roy Halladay, 3B Placido Polanco, RP Danys Baez,

C Brian Schneider, SP/RP Jose Contreras, INF Juan Castro, 1B Ross Gload

KEY OFFSEASON SUBTRACTIONS: SP Cliff Lee, RP Scott Eyre, 3B Pedro Feliz, SP Brett Myers, RHP Clay Condrey, INF Eric Bruntlett, SP Pedro Martinez, RP Chan Ho Park

PROJECTED LINEUP: Jimmy Rollins (SS), Placido Polanco (3B), Chase Utley (2B), Ryan Howard (1B), Jayson Werth (RF), Raul Ibanez (LF), Shane Victorino (CF), Carlos Ruiz (C)

PROJECTED ROTATION: Roy Halladay (RHP), Cole Hamels (LHP), Joe Blanton (RHP), J.A. Happ (LHP), Kyle Kendrick (RHP)/Jamie Moyer (LHP)

PROJECTED CLOSER: Brad Lidge (RHP)

MANAGER: Charlie Manuel

INFIELD


While the Phillies made no changes to their infield a season ago, 2010 will feature a new look at the hot corner. No longer manning third base is Pedro Feliz, who has an excellent glove but struggled at the plate for most of his two years with Philadelphia.

The Phils turned to the past to fill their void at third, signing Polanco. The 34-year-old rarely strikes out and should add a consistent presence at the top of an order that fanned a collective 1,155 times last year.

This marks Polanco's second go-around with the Phillies as he was acquired by the club in 2002 in a mid-season deal that landed Scott Rolen in the Cardinals. He stayed with the club until getting traded during the 2005 season to Detroit, where he spent the majority of his time at second base. However, he shifts to third for the Phils, a position he hasn't fielded regularly since 2002.

The rest remains the same. Ryan Howard, 2006 NL MVP and 45-home run threat, mans first, while second baseman Chase Utley and shortstop Jimmy Rollins make up the middle of the infield.

Utley and Howard, expected to bat behind Polanco at the third and clean-up spots respectively, should benefit the most from their new third baseman being on the base paths. Utley topped the 30-homer mark for the third time a season ago, while Howard bashed 45 homers and tied for the NL lead with 141 RBI.

Rollins, the 2007 NL MVP, has won the three most recent Gold Gloves at short and shook off an early-season slump -- he was batting .198 on May 12 -- to hit .250 with 21 homers, 77 RBI, 100 runs scored and 31 stolen bases.

Carlos Ruiz, one of three Phillies along with pitcher Joe Blanton and outfielder Shane Victorino to sign new three-year deals in the offseason, enters his fourth year as the club's everyday catcher after hitting .255 a season ago. He is a career .303 hitter in the playoffs though and handles the pitching staff very well.

OUTFIELD

The Phillies return three 2009 All-Stars to their outfield in Victorino, Jayson Werth and Raul Ibanez.

Victorino mans center and is the sparkplug of the team. He has won the last two NL Gold Gloves at his position and batted .292 a season ago with 10 homers, 62 RBI, 102 runs scored and 25 stolen bases. Victorino spent most of last year batting second, but is expected to slip down to sixth or seventh in the order due to the signing of Polanco.

Werth proved again last year that he can play everyday, appearing in a career-high 159 games while hitting .268 with 36 homers and 99 RBI. He did strikeout a career-worst 156 times however, a number the Phillies hope their right fielder can decrease a bit.

Ibanez was the new guy in 2009, replacing Pat Burrell in left field. The 37- year-old got off to a hot start, hitting .312 with 22 homers and 59 RBI over his first 62 games before suffering a groin injury that sidelined him for 20 games and hindered him in the second half.

STARTING ROTATION

The Phillies rotation would have been very good with Lee at the front of it. It will be even better with Halladay, who comes over after spending his first 12 seasons with the Blue Jays and is hoping to pitch in the playoffs for the first time in his career.

It's tough not to get excited about getting a pitcher who has averaged 17 wins, 32 starts and 233 innings pitched over the past four seasons. Halladay has dominated the tough American League East in the past, so a shift to the more pitcher-friendly NL should prevent the 32-year-old from missing a beat.

The right-hander, who is 17-8 with a 3.02 ERA in 35 career games (31 starts) versus the National League, signed a three-year extension with an option after the trade, possibly keeping him in the mix through 2014.

It is Hamels, though, who will decide if Amaro is a genius or goat for trading Lee. The Phillies expect the lefty to bounce back from a sub par 2009 season in which he 10-11 with a 4.32 ERA in 32 starts. The 26-year-old was also just 1-2 with a 7.58 ERA in four postseason starts after going 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA in five playoff starts in 2008.

Blanton will be pitching out of the third spot in his second full season with the Phillies after he was their big trade deadline pickup in 2008. The right- hander was reliable in the rotation last season, going 12-8 with a 4.05 ERA in 31 stars and 195 1/3 innings of work.

One of the players Philadelphia did not want to part with last July to get Halladay was J.A. Happ, and the lefty figures to hold down a rotation spot after shuffling back and forth between starting and relieving last year. Happ had a 2.49 ERA in 12 regular-season games out of the 'pen in 2009, but also went 10-4 with a 2.99 ERA in 23 starts.

With Pedro Martinez now a free agent, the fifth spot will be a battle between 47-year-old Jamie Moyer and former starter Kyle Kendrick. Moyer won 16 games for the Phils in 2008, but struggled to a 12-10 mark and 5.94 ERA in '09. He was eventually shuffled to the bullpen late in the season before his year ended early because of a groin injury.

Moyer underwent both sports hernia and knee surgery this offseason but it is believed the job is his to lose. That could land Kendrick in the bullpen.

BULLPEN

Many would say the Phillies reached the World Series in 2009 despite their bullpen, which was their biggest strength in '08. Philadelphia's 'pen had a league-best 3.22 ERA two seasons ago, but that group pitched to a 3.91 ERA last year, blew 22 saves and struggled in the postseason.

Nobody mirrored those struggles more than closer Brad Lidge. The right-hander was a perfect 48-for-48 in save chances in 2008, but was 0-8 with a 7.21 ERA last year while going 31-for-42 in save chances and leading the league in blown saves.

Lidge also had elbow and knee surgery this offseason that he hopes will help him bounce back this season.

Not surprisingly, the Phillies' bullpen features some new faces this season. Out are Scott Eyre, Clay Condrey and Chan Ho Park, while new faces include Danys Baez and Jose Contreras.

Baez missed all of 2008 while recovering from Tommy John surgery, and the righty was 4-6 with a 4.02 ERA in 59 games with Baltimore last year. Baez does have closer experience, as he owns 114 saves, including 41 with Tamp Bay in 2005. He could serve as a backup plan to Lidge and right-hander Ryan Madson, who posted a 3.26 ERA last year but also blew six saves while subbing for Lidge.

Contreras, meanwhile, replaces Park as the long reliever. The Cuban righty has been a starter for most of his career, but the 38-year-old did pitch well out of the bullpen for Colorado after being acquired late in the season from the White Sox.

Lefty J.C. Romero (0-0, 2.70 ERA last season) and Chad Durbin, a right-hander who notched a 4.39 ERA in 59 games last season, also return to the relief group, though Romero and Lidge will likely start the season the disabled list.

BENCH

The bench appears to be set in Philadelphia, with Greg Dobbs and Francisco being joined by newcomers Brian Schneider, Ross Gload and Juan Castro.

Dobbs, one of the top pinch-hitters in 2008, struggled to just a .247 average last season and should give Polanco a rest at third. Meanwhile, Gload (.261, 6 HR, 30 RBI) was excellent off the bench for the Marlins a season ago and is the left-handed answer to Dobbs off this bench.

Francisco should spell Ibanez at times in 2010, with Castro taking over for Eric Bruntlett as the middle infield reserve.

Schneider joins the Phils as an experienced backup to Ruiz after hitting just .218 in 59 games with the rival Mets last season.

OUTLOOK

Never has the Phillies franchise, owner of over 10,000 franchise losses and just two World Series wins in over 125 seasons, been better put together than now. This club is built to compete for a title and nothing less, and somehow found away to get a little better for a third straight season. It's tough to make back-to-back World Series appearances and even tougher to do it three years in a row, but that is the Phillies goal in 2010. And with Halladay, Rollins, Howard and Utley all in their primes, and Hamels and Victorino close to it, there is no reason that this club can't win a fourth straight NL East title and compete in its third straight Fall Classic.
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