Monday, December 27, 2010

Romero Returns

After declining his $4.5 million option for next year, and having a deal with Dennys Reyes fall through, the Phillies have resigned left-handed reliever J.C. Romero. The contract details have not yet been made public, but knowing that the Phillies are now extremely tight for money after signing Cliff Lee, it stands to reason that Romero's contract is similar to the $1.1 million deal that they were prepared to give Reyes.

With Romero, the bullpen is all but set for next year: Brad Lidge as the closer, Ryan Madson setting him up, Romero from the left side, Jose Contreras, Danys Baez, David Herndon, and the final slot (assuming they keep seven pitchers in the bullpen) will likely be kept for a spring training prize. If for some reason Joe Blanton isn't traded, the slot will probably go to Kyle Kendrick, who would serve as the long reliever/slot starter. If Blanton is traded, which seems likely, the likes of Sergio Escalona, Mike Zagurski, Vance Worley, Drew Carpenter, and Scott Matheison will battle it out. Unless the Phillies shock everyone by signing a right fielder, their major offseason moves are probably done. resigning Romero and Contreras takes care of their bullpen needs, they feel comfortable trying some combination of Ben Francisco/Ross Gload/Domonic Brown/John Mayberry Jr. in right field, and then that whole Cliff Lee thing happened. It's possible that they would still resign Chad Durbin, and that would pretty much set the bullpen for the year, unless they're not actually committed to Herndon. At this point, the Phillies will probably make some minor league signings, and those guys will have opportunities to get a bench or bullpen slot, or maybe even the final rotation slot.

Romero struggled with his control last year, issuing 29 walks in 36 2/3 innings, but that may have been related to his injury filled 2009. He still managed a 3.68 ERA. Even with his control issues, left-handed hitters hit .217 against him, in comparison to Reyes against whom they hit .307. Even with his mediocre 2010, Romero has a career 2.60 ERA with the Phillies, and as long as they're signing a left-handed reliever of his caliber, such as Reyes, Joe Biemel, Ron Mahay, Randy Flores, and so on, it may as well be a guy who has been successful for them in the past. Best case scenario, he can bounce back and put up the kinds of numbers he's had for Philly in the past. Worst case scenario, he battles injury, though that wasn't an issue last year, and someone like Escalona has to step up, a possibility the Phillies were apparently considering anyway.

Actually, the ultimate best-case scenario is the reincarnation of three-headed monster at the end of the Phillies bullpen formed by Lidge, Madson, and Romero that happened in 2008.

Monday, December 13, 2010

O, Ho-Lee Night

This time last year, Ruben Amaro claimed that it wasn't possible to keep Cliff Lee and acquire Roy Halladay. Apparently it is possible to keep Roy Halladay and acquire Cliff Lee.

Texas Rangers GM Jon Daniels reported that Cliff Lee contacted him and told him that he was going to sign a contract with the Phillies. Apparently, he's going to sign a five year contract, with an option for a sixth year, that could amount to a total of $120 million. Both the Rangers and the New York Yankees, who were widely expected to land the stud pitcher when the offseason began, were offering more years and more money. However, in the end, the Phillies swooped in and Lee decided to return to a place he had never wanted to leave in the first place.

This is what the Phillies rotation will look like next year:
Roy Halladay
Cliff Lee
Roy Oswalt
Cole Hamels
Joe Blanton/Kyle Kendrick/who really cares at this point?

I can honestly say, I don't think I have ever seen a rotation as potentially dominant and intimidating as that in my life. I have to imagine there are people twice my age who could say the same thing. The fifth spot in the rotation aside, these aren't just four outstanding pitchers. These are four pitchers that have been stud aces in their careers. These are four pitchers who would unquestionably be Opening Day starters for most teams in the league (with the possible exception of Hamels). These are also four pitchers that have already had fantastic success in Philadelphia. In one season...

- Halladay: 21-10, 2.44 ERA, 219 K in 33 starts (plus a Cy Young Award)
- Lee: 7-4, 3.39 ERA, 74 K in 12 starts (plus, remember what he did when he first came to Philly, and how dominant he was in the playoffs for them)
- Oswalt: 7-1, 1.74 ERA, 73 K in 13 starts
- Hamels: 14-10, 3.53 ERA, 205 K in 34 starts (this is a 162-game estimate from Baseball-Reference.com)

These are also guys who will be around for more than one year, with the possible exception of Oswalt, who has an option for 2012. If all goes well next year, I'd be stunned if he didn't take it. With this signing, the Phillies have set the tone of the franchise for years to come. They are committed to winning with starting pitching.

What are the ramifications of Lee's return? The Phillies have been shopping Joe Blanton and Raul Ibanez in the hope of lowering the payroll. Odds are, Blanton will be traded and Kyle Kendrick will be the fifth starter. Whether or not they should trade Ibanez, I don't know. Even though they've already lost Jayson Werth, it might not be a bad idea since it would allow top prospect Domonic Brown to start without making the lineup any more left-handed than it would have been. Ibanez has also been erratic in the past couple years and isn't getting any younger. Either way, his contract expires after this year, and the Phillies would do well to get something for him while they still can. If he isn't traded in the offseason, I wouldn't be surprised if Ibanez were shopped at the trade deadline unless he proves to be an invaluable asset to the offense. If Ibanez goes, it is very possible that they would start an outfield of Domonic Brown, Shane Victorino, and Ben Francisco. Honestly, I wouldn't mind seeing that.

Hard to say who would be in the market for guys like Blanton or Ibanez. Ibanez might have value to a team looking to compete next year, knowing that they're only bound to him for one year. Having missed out on Lee and Carl Crawford, I could see the Yankees being interested, or maybe a team like the Los Angeles Dodgers. Blanton is a harder sell. He's making a lot of money, and he simply hasn't been that good. The Phillies might have to take on some of his contract in order to trade him. But clearly, Blanton is the more expendable of the two players, and it's sounding like he's the one who will be dealt.

Who knows: maybe this plan of rotation-domination will blow up in the Phillies' face. Having four players used to being the top dog of the pitching staff could result in a clashing of egos, though it seems like these four guys are as level-headed as they come. When it was Halladay, Hamels, and Oswalt last year, everyone did extremely well, and Cliff Lee has never been one to make a fuss about anything. In fact, last year the three aces benefitted from playing with each other. They inspired each other to go out and conquer their opponents. Lee had better offers from a team he went to the World Series with last year, and the most dominant franchise in all of sports, and yet he chose to take less to come back to the Phillies.

I remember the Phillies in the late 90's, when they were the pits of the National League. I remember when Scott Rolen demanded to be traded because he hated what was expected of him from Larry Bowa and from the Philadelphia fans (Honestly, I don't blame him; I would welcome him back to Philadelphia with open arms). I remember when J.D. Drew wouldn't sign with the Phillies when we drafted him because he didn't want to play in Philly (Drew I would not welcome back. Have fun sitting on the DL.). Maybe it's the way Charlie Manuel manages the team, maybe it's the rest of the management, maybe it's the gratitude in the clubhouse after taveling a long road in the past ten years to rebuild the team and establish themselves as a dominant team in the league. Whatever it is, in the past two years, two of the best pitchers in baseball, possibly the best two pitchers in baseball, have committed to play for this franchise for far less money than they could be making. That says a lot about what this franchise has become and the people who are in it.

Welcome home, Cliff Lee.

Friday, December 10, 2010

It's the Offseason, Charlie Brown!

The season ended with Ryan Howard looking as Brian Wilson saved the National League Pennant. Wilson then helped to lead the Giants to a World Championship. Not exactly the ending the Phillies were hoping for after acquiring Roy 1 and Roy 2, Halladay and Oswalt, bringing back Placido Polanco, and winning 97 games to have the best record in the Major Leagues. The first set of Winter Meetings are already over, and here is a recap of what happened so far (in no particular order):

- GM Ruben Amaro Jr. announced his top priorities for the offseason: Improve the bullpen and find a right-handed option for right field. Sounds about right, though I would add starting pitching depth, including another high-level starter if available and if they want to intimidate the rest of the league.

- First base coach Davey Lopes and the Phillies could not reach a contract agreement, so Lopes is now with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Lopes has a reputation as one of the best first base coaches in the league, and in his four years with the team, the Phillies have been among the top four teams in the NL in both stolen bases and fewest times caught stealing. However, the Phillies filled his position with former Phillie All-Star Juan Samuel who will become the third base coach, while Sam Perlozzo moves from third to first base.

- The Washington Nationals surprised pretty much everyone by signing Jayson Werth to a 7-year , $126 million dollar deal. People knew that Werth was one of the top free agents on the market, but no one expected a contract of that size. While Ruben Amaro Jr. claimed that they intended to pursue Werth, it seemed evident that they knew resigning him was a longshot. Pat Gillick brought Werth into the franchise in 2007 as a bench player, and over time he became a platoon player with Geoff Jenkins and then a key member of the offense. Now, Werth will be making bank with the Nationals until he's 38. As important as Werth was to the offense, attempting to top that contract would probably not have made much sense. Not surprised to see him go, but he will be missed.

- Both Ben Francisco and Kyle Kendrick had their contracts tendered. Also not surprising, as Francisco seems to be a main reason the team is okay with losing Werth. Kendrick has never become a permanent force in the rotation, but starting pitching depth is always valuable, so while the Phillies can control Kendrick, he's still reasonably young, and he isn't too expensive, they're probably better off keeping him. Kendrick could become a long reliever/backup starter if the Phillies sign another starter for the rotation (as I think they should... more on that later).

- Jose Contreras resigned with the Phillies for two years. Contreras filled every bullpen role last year the Phillies threw at him: long reliever, setup man, and closer. He wound up with a 6-4 record, 4 saves, and a 3.34 ERA in 67 games. Sounds lovely, except that he's 39 years old. But Charlie Manuel seems to like Contreras a lot, and if Ruben Amaro's plan is indeed to make the bullpen younger, presumably using some of the young guys in the system who have made appearances in the past couple years, having an elder statesman like Contreras is probably good.

Players who probably won't be back in 2011: Greg Dobbs, Chad Durbin, Paul Hoover, Jamie Moyer, Nate Robertson, J.C. Romero, Mike Sweeney.
- Dobbs had a lovely stint as a good pinch-hitter and part time third baseman, however once his playing time decreased, so did his effectiveness. Besides, having him and Ross Gload on the same team is a bit silly. Only thing Dobbs does that Gload doesn't is play third base.
- Durbin may actually resign. The Phillies are currently in negotiations with him. Durbin has been an effective member of the bullpen for quite a few years, and hopefully the Phillies can bring him back.
- Moyer is having surgery and may attempt a comeback in 2012, but it may be the end for the 48 year old anomaly. Then again, if he can pitch this long, who's to say that he can't find a way to keep going. If he does retire, the Phillies would be wise to snag him as a pitching coach somewhere in the system before someone else does.
- Once upon a time, Nate Robertson was a regular starting pitcher in the Detroit Tigers' rotation. In 2006, he had an ERA under 4.00. He did have over 100 strikeouts in five straight seasons, but that's about all I can say for him. Philly took a shot on him, it didn't seem to work. Oh well.
- Philly got three great years out of J.C. Romero, but after a season marked by inconsistency and injury, he's gone. Though, he had a 3.68 ERA. One could certainly do worse, and he's only 34. But he may command a larger contract than the Phillies would like to give him and he's been injured during the last two seasons. I wouldn't be surprised if they brought him back to a smaller contract if he goes unsigned, but most likely they'll look elsewhere for a lefty reliever.
- I liked the idea of having Mike Sweeney on the team, but he was basically a left-handed hitter for down the stretch who could spell Ryan Howard while he was recovering. Having him take a bench spot for an entire season makes no sense.

Players already brought in for 2011: Eddie Bonine, Kevin Cash, Erik Kratz, Jeff Larish, Michael Martinez, Dan Meyer, Brandon Moss.
- Who?
- Martinez was taken from the Nationals in the Rule 5 Draft. Not exactly a fair trade for Werth, but they'll also get a couple draft picks. Martinez is a solid defensive infielder who can play multiple positions. At best, he's another versatile, cheap player on the bench that will take the slot vacated by Dobbs. At worst, he goes back to the Nationals.
- The rest of the players were signed to minor league deals. Cash is a veteran backup catcher who probably becomes the third or fourth option at catcher. Larish looks like a younger version of Dobbs who looked okay with Oakland last year. Meyer was a solid left-handed reliever for Florida in 2009, but struggled and was injured last year. Moss started in right field for Pittsburgh in 2009, but he wasn't much of a factor then, and only played in 17 games for the Pirates last year.
- In other words, these guys are role players at best.

So where do the Phillies stand in accomplishing their goals:
Bullpen:
The only player the Phillies did come out of the Winter Meetings with was left-handed reliever Dennys Reyes. Well... sort of. They agreed to terms with him: 1.1 million with an option for 1.35 million in 2012. Once he passes a physical, the deal will be completed. He wasn't much better last year than Romero, and lefties hit him really well, so I'm not exactly sure what the appeal is. Apparently, they were in the running for George Sherrill, but Atlanta outbid them.
At the moment, they have Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson, Contreras, Danys Baez, and David Herndon, so there will be either two or three spots open. Most likely, one spot will be a lefty reliever (which Reyes would cover), and another will be a long reliever/spot starter. If the Phillies do want to make the bullpen younger, they'll probably start committing to guys like Sergio Escalona, Antonio Bastardo, Drew Carpenter, Vance Worley, and Mike Zagurski. They may also bring Durbin back. There are quite a number of intriguing relievers on the market, including Miguel Batista, Brian Fuentes, Matt Guerrier, Bobby Jenks, Chad Qualls, Jon Rauch, Arthur Rhodes, and Kerry Wood just to name a few. I'm not saying all of these guys would be great fits, but there's a lot of available talent, so they should have no problem shoring up the bullpen with top notch talent.

Right Field:
Amaro keeps saying that he would be comfortable with the platoon of Francisco and Brown/Gload taking over for Werth, but he has also been exploring other options. He's said he would only make a move if it would truly upgrade what they already have. The Phillies liked Matt Diaz and Jeff Franceour, but they signed with Pittsburgh and Kansas City respectfully. Personally, I don't think they missed much losing out on either of them. There has also been talk of Scott Hairston, who I think has more upside than Diaz or Franceour.
There was also talk of trading with the Giants for Aaron Rowand. Rowand was a great fit while he was in Philly, and while he wouldn't supply the power that Werth had, he would be a welcome re-addition to the lineup. His ethic and clubhouse manner would be worth it. Giants GM Brian Sabean squashed rumors about a Rowand deal, but the Giants have a bunch of outfielders and Rowand didn't have a great year for them last year. Sabean claims Rowand is part of their plan next year, but I would imagine he could be had in a deal.
Other outfielders on the market that could be worth pursuing if they don't cost too much: Bill Hall (more as a utility bench player than a starter in right field), Brad Hawpe, Gary Matthews (would be great for the bench if Francisco becomes a starter), Xavier Nady. I might even suggest Magglio Ordonez, if he could be had for a short contract, and maybe, just maybe, Manny Ramirez would be worth it. He does have a history with Charlie Manuel, and it doesn't appear that many teams are interested in signing him. If he could be had for cheap, it could be a low-risk, high-reward situation.

Starting Pitching:
While there hasn't been an enormous amount of talk regarding getting another starter, there should be. If this is a team that expects to dominate the league, Joe Blanton and (most likely) Kyle Kendrick just isn't going to cut it for the bottom of the rotation. There is no reason the Phillies can't go out and find an excellent player for the fourth slot in the rotation. The Boston Red Sox (who after acquiring Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez may be the team to beat in the majors) have Josh Beckett, John Lackey, Jon Lester, Clay Bucholtz, and Daisuke Matsuzaka, with Tim Wakefield waiting in the wings. There is a major drop-off after the Phillies' top three pitchers and that is something that should be addressed.
The one name I have read about is Kansas City ace Zack Greinke. Greinke won the Cy Young in 2009, but is coming off an off year in 2010 where he went 10-14 with a 4.17 ERA. Greinke is 27, has two years left on his contract, and he and the Royals management both know that the team is probably a couple years away from competing, which is what makes him attractive to a contender now, while he's entering his prime. However, since he's under contract, the management feels no need to hastily trade him away, so they will require a lot of talent in return for him. I'm not sure whether or not the Phillies do in fact have the kind of talent the Royals are looking for, since they depleted the top levels of their minor league system in trading for Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay. I have never been completely sold on Greinke, but then again I wasn't completely sold on Lee when they acquired him. Amaro seems to be interested in acquiring long term options, so for that reason Greinke might be a great move. If they have the talent to land him. If the Rangers lose Cliff Lee to the Yankees or another team, they might swoop in to get Greinke. The Marlins are another potential destination, and their farm system is typically stocked with talent.
Other than Greinke, there are some extremely intriguing free agents that the Phillies could pursue. First of all, Brandon Webb. Yes, he was injured last year, but has everyone really forgotten how good this guy used to be? The highest ERA he has ever had in a full season is 3.59. The lowest number of strikeouts he has ever had in a full season was 164. Both of those lows came in the 2004 season. If Webb can pass a physical and be signed to an incentive heavy deal, he could make the Phillies rotation one of the scariest in baseball. Most of the more intriguing names on the market have some kind of injury history attached, but this is for the fourth or fifth spot in the rotation. Why not take a chance on a guy like Webb, Jeff Francis, Rich Harden, Brad Penny, Ben Sheets, or Chris Young? Worse comes to worse, they get injured, no one will be surprised, and they'll be left with the same rotation they would have had anyway. Best case scenario, they add yet another ace-caliber pitcher to the rotation. Who knows - maybe the Roy Halladay conditioning method will wear off and the Phillies can revive someone's career.

With the first set of Winter Meetings over, it still remains to be seen how the Phillies will spend this offseason improving. This is a team that is built to win in the present. If they do nothing to improve on what they already have, the cracks will show and their pseudo-dynasty will begin its downfall. But there's still plenty of time to make a few moves and create another monster team going into 2011.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Welcome to Doctober!

Roy Halladay waited a long time to pitch in the postseason. Now that he's in, he's sure making the most of it.

Halladay made baseball history, throwing a no-hitter in Game 1 of the NLDS against the Cincinnati Reds, who just happened to have the highest-scoring offense in the National League. That put Doc on a very select list: he and Don Larsen are the only pitchers ever to throw a no-hitter in the playoffs (Larsen, of course, threw a perfect game in the 1956 World Series). On top of that Halladay got an two-out RBI single in the second inning, which allowed Shane Victorino to drive in two more runs and give the Phillies a 4-0 lead. (In other words, Halladay had one more hit and RBI than the entire Reds offense, not to mention Don Larsen, who went hitless in his perfect game.)

They wouldn't score again, but they wouldn't need to, as Halladay thoroughly dominated a dangerous Reds lineup, his only blemish being a walk to Jay Bruce. Usually in a no-hitter, there are a few plays where the pitcher gets some help from the defense. A diving catch, ball dug out of the dirt at first, etc. Dewayne Wise's catch to preserve Mark Buerhle's perfect game last year comes to mind. But Halladay didn't need anything extraordinary from his defense.

Reds pitcher Travis Wood had a sharp line drive to right field in the third, but it was right at Jayson Werth, and in the sixth Juan Francisco had a fairly hard hit grounder up the middle that was slowed by the mound and fielded easily by Rollins. And then there was the final out - a dribbler in front of the plate that Carlos Ruiz dug out and fired to first about a step ahead of Brandon Phillips. But that was as close as the Reds got. Halladay made it look as easy as a pitcher can. All in all, just an incredible performance.

The offense did its part as well, though it was not exactly dominant. They made Edinson Volquez throw a lot of pitches early. Victorino hit a one-out double in the first inning, stole third, and scored on a Chase Utley sacrifice fly, then he struck again in the second inning for two RBI. That was enough to chase Volquez but the Reds bullpen shut the Phillies down for the rest of the game. It may have been a simple lack of urgency from the position players, who may have been watching Halladay throw a game for the ages, just like the rest of us. And it is worth noting that Utley and Howard hit back-to-back deep fly balls that might have gone out had it not been for a hard wind blowing in, but still, not the most encouraging performance.

But in the end of the day, no one will remember that. They'll just remember Roy Halladay and the debut of a lifetime. Welcome to October, Roy.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Phillies Close to Landing Oswalt

According to ESPN, the Phillies are on the verge of landing Roy Oswalt, giving their rotation a major boost for the stretch run. Supposedly the Phillies and Astros have agreed on terms and it's just a matter of Oswalt waiving his no-trade clause. Thus far the players involved have not been announced, save that J.A. Happ would likely be dealt. One has to think he will jump at the chance to leave the cellar-dwelling Astros and join a team who, with him, has to be back in the conversation as elite title contenders.

Even without Oswalt, the Phillies have made a strong push lately. They current sit just 2.5 games out of the wildcard and 3.5 out of the division. And this run has come without Chase Utley. Just getting Utley back in September (assuming he's at full strength by then) could give the Phillies the spark they need to win their fourth straight division title, but adding Oswalt greatly increases their chances to make the playoffs yet again.

Oswalt's 6-12 record this season is certainly underwhelming, but that has more to do with the Astros' poor record than anything else, as he's posted a very respectable 3.42 ERA. What's more impressive is his 1.11 WHIP; his best since his rookie year in 2001, when he went 14-3 with a 2.73 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP.

He may not be as good as the Phillies' other Roy, but he is an established ace and a workhorse. He has no injury history to speak of and, despite his poor records in the last two years, has shown no signs of slowing down. What's more, he shouldn't have any trouble pitching in Citizen's Bank Park because he's already in a hitter's park. He has fared significantly better on the road this season than at home (Home - 2-9, 3.96 ERA/Road - 4-3, 2.61 ERA). Even if he posted an ERA around 4.00, that would still be an upgrade over the back of the Phillies' rotation.

Should the Phillies complete the trade and continue on to the postseason, one would have to like their chances even better than last year's. In 2009, the Phillies rotation consisted of Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Pedro Martinez, and Joe Blanton. The projected 2010 rotation would have Roy Halladay, Hamels, Oswalt, and Blanton or Jamie Moyer (or Happ, if it turns out he's not part of the trade). Switching Lee for Halladay is effectively an even deal. Halladay is a slightly better pitcher, but he'll be hard-pressed to match Lee's postseason mastery in 2009. Oswalt should be an upgrade over Pedro, though Pedro did perform fairly well last year. In addition, Hamels has shown far more poise this season than last and it would not be a surprise to see him return to his 2008 postseason form (or close to it, anyway). The 1-2-3 punch of Halladay-Hamels-Oswalt should make the Phillies extremely tough to beat in any series.

Of course, it must be pointed out that the Phillies had the opportunity for a Halladay-Lee-Hamels rotation. If the Phillies have to give up top-level prospects for Oswalt, it will not reflect well on Ruben Amaro's abilities as GM. It would be yet another short-sighted move. But if they can do it by giving up only Happ and some decent prospects than it's hard to complain. It is actually a wise move (and an impressive sell job on Amaro's part) to make Happ the centerpiece of the deal, selling high on the young lefty. Happ had a great rookie season, but didn't show much in the playoffs (albeit in relatively few chances) and has missed the majority of this season due to injury. If they can turn one good season into Roy Oswalt, it would be a coup, especially considering that according to every sabermetrician out there, Happ was extremely lucky to perform so well in 2009.

We'll see what the terms of the trade end up being (provided Oswalt signs off on it) but things are certainly looking up for the Phillies right now.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Domonic Brown Shines in Debut

We all knew this day would come sooner or later. Domonic Brown has been tearing up the minor leagues while his Major League counterparts have been struggling to score runs. We just didn't think he'd get to play alongside Jayson Werth, who supposedly had one foot out the door as the Phillies shopped the soon-to-be free agent. But with Shane Victorino's injury, Brown gets the call and Werth can rest assured that he's staying put for the rest of the year.

It could be argued that Brown should've been called up sooner. The Phillies offense could've used the help and he's been nothing short of dominant in both AA and AAA. His combined minor league numbers in 93 games this year consist of a .327 BA, .391 OBP, .589 SLG (combining for a .980 OPS), 20 HR, 68 RBI, and 17 SB. In other words, about as complete an offensive performance as you could ask for. But with the Phillies outfield returning three All-Stars, it was a tough sell to get him in the lineup, even with the struggles of Raul Ibanez.

But Victorino's trip to the DL opened up a lineup spot, so here we are. Brown made his debut tonight against Arizona's Edwin Jackson, batting sixth, behind Werth (the man he was supposed to replace). And give Brown this, he knows how to make an entrance. In his first Major League at-bat, he ripped an RBI double off the right field wall, giving the Phillies a 1-0 lead. He'd later hit a single and then a sacrifice fly. His line score was 2-for-3, 2 R, 2 RBI. Not bad at all.

Meanwhile the Phillies are on quite the roll right now, having won a season-high seven in a row. Roy Halladay dominated once more, throwing his eighth complete game of the season as the Phillies cruised to a 7-1 win over the Diamondbacks. In case you're wondering, the last Phillie to throw 8 complete games in a season was (not surprisingly) Curt Schilling in 1999. One more complete game for Halladay and he'll be the first Phillie to throw 9+ complete games since...Schilling in 1998...who threw 15. Okay, so he's not catching Curt in that regard (though it is worth nothing that Schilling's ERA that year was 3.25, while Halladay's is 2.21), but it's still quite an impressive feat.

Tomorrow night the Phillies will look to extend their streak to eight games, as Kyle Kendrick faces off against Arizona's newly acquired Joe Saunders. We'll see how Brown fares against a left-handed pitcher. Whatever happens, the Phillies have to be pleased with what they're seen so far.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

ROY HALLADAY RETIRES -- 27 straight batters

If there were still any lingering doubts among Phillies fans about whether it was a good idea to give up all those prospects and spend all that money on Roy Halladay, it's a pretty safe bet that they've disappeared, at least for today. That's because in the middle of a slump as the team was struggling to hold on to its divisional lead, "Doc" gave Phillies fans one day of pure unadulterated joy, reserving himself a place in baseball by pitching a perfect game against the Florida Marlins.

If you're not already aware, that's pretty rare. You'll hear these statistics quite a bit, but that's because they're pretty remarkable: It was only the twentieth perfect game in the history of Major League Baseball, and only the sixth pitched with the added pressure of a 1-0 score. The fact that Dallas Braden threw one for the A's earlier this season makes only the second time and the first since 1880 that two have occurred in a season. And the Phillies' only other perfect game was thrown by current Hall of Famer and Kentucky senator Jim Bunning during the otherwise infamous year of 1964.

In a sense it was almost surprising that Halladay, one of baseball's best pitchers and a Major Leaguer for twelve years, had not yet notched a no-hitter into his belt (he came only an out away from a perfect game during only his second start back in 1998), given his remarkable consistency and propensity to be efficient and go deep into games. Needless to say, he looked amazing today, hitting all corners with great variety and accuracy. Although he ran several three-ball count, he was unafraid to get out of them by throwing his big curve for a strike. He notched an impressive eleven strike outs along the way and needed fewer exceptional plays in the field than other perfect game pitchers have, though Shane Victorino's fine backtracking catch in centre, a good grab by Chase Utley in the hole, and especially an excellent stop and throw by Juan Castro at third -- retiring pinch hitter Ronnie Paulino for the final out -- were indispensable help.

The game looked like a close pitchers' duel from the start, with Halladay facing the Marlins' excellent Josh Johnson. Johnson was excellent for his own part, and the Phillies scored their only run, all they would need when a misplayed ball in the outfield allowed Chase Utley to take three bases and drive home Wilson Valdez, who had singled.

As early as the fifth or six inning, this game began to feel like something special as Halladay breezed through one one-two-three inning after another, and the late innings began to take on some of the greatest tension possible in baseball as the developing perfect game rode on every hitter he faced. The Miami crowd of over 25,000 got into rooting for Halladay -- no surprise when a perfect game is in the works, but last night they seemed especially eager and early to do so. The mystery was explained when TV shots showed almost all fans wearing red with Ps on their hats in the Phillies' spring training home state.

Halladay stayed true to his humble, serious, and stoic personality, looking all business until after Paulino was retired, then hugging Carloz Ruiz and his teammates with a relieved grin after it was all over. In postgame interviews he gave as much credit to "Chooch" Ruiz as to himself, which was a fitting tribute to an excellent defensive catcher and game calling, and some admirable humility.

This game will be a lifetime good memory -- not only for those involved or at the stadium, but for those of us who had the still rare opportunity to watch it unfold live. For Phillies fans this first perfect game since 1964 -- and first no-hitter since Kevin Millwood highlighted Veterans' Stadium's farewell season by no-hitting the Giants in 2003 -- is another extraordinary highlight from an amazing past few years. For the team, this game could be a catalyst to an extraordinary season. But even if it isn't, it's still something to be savored even on its own.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Rollins Returns, Phillies Blast Bucs

The Phillies lineup got a boost last night as Jimmy Rollins returned from injury. He picked up where he left off, going 2-for-4 with an RBI and the Phillies coasted to a 12-2 win over Pittsburgh.

Missing from the lineup was Chase Utley, who got the day off with flu-like symptoms, but the offense performed well in his absence. Rollins took Utley's spot in the lineup and the middle of the order provided plenty of power. Ryan Howard hit a grand slam and drove in 6 RBI and Jayson Werth hit a three-run homer and finished with 4 RBI on the day.

It was a strong all-around performance as every position starter recorded at least one hit and Kyle Kendrick went eight strong innings, allowing just two runs. Recently called up Antonio Bastardo pitched a perfect ninth inning, striking out two of the three batters, to finish off the Pirates.

Rollins' return forces Charlie Manuel to make a decision regarding the leadoff spot. He can put Rollins back in his customary role or he can leave Victorino there, who has a .920 OPS while batting first this season, compared to a .470 OPS in seven games batting seventh. Of course, the difference could just be a matter of Victorino getting off to a slow start. Or maybe it's something about hitting ahead of Polanco, as Rollins was dominant from the leadoff spot as well before his injury.

Most likely Rollins will reclaim his place at the top of the order and Victorino will bat seventh, which may be better for the lineup anyway as Victorino has done an excellent job of driving in runs and his presence at the bottom half of the lineup should create more opportunities for the hot-hitting Carlos Ruiz.

However the lineup looks today, the offense should be fine. The pitching is not in question today as Roy Halladay takes the hill, but on the whole is still a bit suspect. However, Kendrick delivered an impressive start last night and has looked markedly improved in his last three starts. He has a 2.57 ERA in 21 innings pitched in May, compared to a 7.61 ERA in April. Much of this can be attributed to an improved ground ball-fly ball ratio. In May he has generated 39 ground ball outs compared to 32 fly ball outs. In April the ratio was 40:45, and it would have been a lot worse without the eight scoreless innings he threw against Atlanta on April 20th, in which he had 16 ground balls and 8 fly balls.

The bottom line with Kendrick (which should not come as a surprise) is when he keeps the ball on the ground, he wins. In his three starts when he had more ground balls than fly balls, he is 2-0 with a 0.78 ERA. In four starts where he had more fly balls, he is 0-1 with a 8.70 ERA. (He had one start in which he had the same number of ground balls and fly balls. He allowed four runs in six innings.) Again, this shouldn't come as a surprise, but in the last few starts, it seems he has figured it out which is a promising sign.

The Phillies will need lengthy starts like Kendrick's if they are to survive their bullpen troubles. The team is effectively closer-less, with both Brad Lidge and Ryan Madson on the DL. Jose Contreras is the closer for now, but it seems that they will go to a closer-by-committee system to some degree. J.C. Romero notched the save two nights ago against the Brewers, but that may have had more to do with Contreras needing a day off than anything else. The Phillies have leaned heavily upon the trio of Contreras, Danys Baez, and Chad Durbin and one has to hope that Romero, Daniel Herndon, and Bastardo can provide some solid innings as well, as not to overwork Contreras/Baez/Durbin.

Either way, the team is looking very strong right now. If Manuel can continue to piece an effective bullpen together and Rollins makes his presence felt in the lineup, they should be able to further their lead in the division and not look back.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Just for Starters...

This week featured a string of successes from the Phillies' rotation.

Monday: The Return of Joe Blanton. That alone is a success for the rotation, especially having lost J.A. Happ to the DL. Blanton looked like his normal self - he threw 6 2/3 innings, allowed 4 runs, and struck out 4. Normally, the Phillies would be able to outscore 4 runs, but the St. Louis Cardinals staff, led by the impressive 23-year old Jaime Garcia (3-1 with a 1.13 ERA on the season) held them to only 3. Nelson Figueroa also allowed 2 runs, and Brad Lidge pitched a scoreless ninth. The only loss of this week for the Phillies: 6-3, Cardinals.

Tuesday: A fantastic pitchers' duel between Cole Hamels and Adam Wainwright. Both threw 8 innings, allowed 1 run each, and Hamels struck out 8 while Wainwright struck out 6. Hamels started to pitch the ninth, but allowed 2 doubles and was removed for Lidge. 1 run scored, but Lidge finished out the inning. Jose Contreras pitched the 10th, and in the bottom of the 10th, on the fourth pitch of the inning, the Phillies hit a home run to win the game. The batter? None other than Carlos Ruiz. By the way, Ruiz is hitting .315 on the year. 2-1, Phillies.

Wednesday: Kyle Kendrick lives to see another day. With the return of Joe Blanton and J.A. Happ not far behind, Kendrick's struggles in his past few starts seemed to suggest that he would not have it for much longer. Wednesday night, he was spectacular, throwing seven scoreless innings, striking out 3. Between Kendrick and Cardinals starter Brad Penny, it seemed like if someone was going to dominate, it would be Penny. Penny struck out 6 in 6 innings, but allowed 3 runs. All three runs came on home runs by Placido Polanco and Shane Victorino. By the way, Chase Utley is leading the team with 8 home runs right now, but tied for second are Victorino and Jayson Werth with 6 apiece. Also, Juan Castro removed himself from the game in the bottom of the seventh and he now is day to day with a mild calf strain. Danys Baez and Contreras followed Kendrick with one scoreless inning each as the Phillies shut out the Cardinals. 4-0, Phillies.

Thursday: Roy Halladay keeps on doing what Roy Halladay does. Halladay pitched 7 innings, struck out 9, and allowed 2 runs, only 1 earned. Former Phillie Kyle Lohse was only able to get through 4 innings, allowing 5 runs, 3 earned. The 3 earned runs came from a home run by Jayson Werth. Halladay is now 6-1 with a 1.45 ERA. Chad Durbin and Baez pitched scoreless innings to finish the game. Not a whole lot to say about this one except that so far, Halladay has been everything this team could have hoped for. 7-2, Phillies.

Friday: If I were to predict one complete game shutout this week, I would have expected it to be Halladay. Instead, it was Jamie Moyer, who made history last night as the oldest player to pitch a complete game shutout. He allowed only 2 hits, struck out 5, and walked none. He was facing a depleted Braves lineup that was without stud rookie Jason Heyward, Brian McCann, and Yunel Escobar, but remember Moyer is 47 years old. He had thrown two other two-hit shutouts, 1 in 1986 (before I was born!) and then another 20 years later in 2006. The Phillies offense backed him up plenty, scoring 7 runs with the 2-6 hitters in the lineup all having multi-hit games. By the way, Charlie Manuel announced that Brad Lidge would be moving back into the closer role. But Lidge wasn't needed Friday night. 7-0, Phillies.

All five starting pitchers this week threw at least 6 innings and allowed a total of 7 earned runs. I wouldn't expect Moyer to dominate in this way every time he goes, but to see Kendrick and Hamels turn around and have such big successes bodes really well for the rotation going forward. Especially Hamels, who the Phillies would like to see regain ace status, forming that great 1-2 punch with Halladay. Also, if they can keep the bullpen from being overworked, that will lessen the blow of losing Ryan Madson for a spell. What a great start to the month of May.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Non-Phillies Pick of the Week: Week 5

Last week's was a tough game to call and it turned out to be a good one, as Cliff Lee and Colby Lewis pitched to a standstill, before the Rangers took it in extra innings. Charles kept up his undefeated season, as he was the only one of us who could predict that outcome. Here are the results so far:













This week we're picking Wednesday night's Angels-Red Sox game, in which John Lackey faces his former team.

Los Angeles Angels (12-15) at Boston Red Sox (12-14)
Joel Pineiro (2-3, 5.76) vs. John Lackey (2-1, 4.50)

Brian






Tough to pick against the Red Sox at home, but Lackey has been mediocre so far and has never pitched well at Fenway Park (5.82 ERA in 12 starts). The Red Sox won the series opener against LA, but were coming off a sweep at the hands of the lowly Orioles. That, and Kevin Youkilis is battling a nagging groin injury and is day-to-day. Both teams are playing below expectations, but I like the Angels' chances here.

Jeff





Lackey has been off to a slow start this season, but he always gets off to a slow start. His career ERA is below 4.00 from May on, compared to 4.79 in March/April. The Red Sox are at home, they'll be facing Joel Pineiro who hasn't been successful on the road, and they'll be hungry coming off a 3-game sweep in Baltimore.

Charles





Lackey and Pineiro have both and up-and-down starts, but Pineiro has had more down than Lackey has, who will be likely to dial it up for a home start against the team he's had so much success with in the past.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Phantasy Pick: Week 5

Ryan Howard

I know, it's not like Howard is riding your bench anyway, but the Phillies take on the Cardinals and the Braves this week, and Howard has fare extremely well against both ballclubs in his career. His success against his hometown Cardinals (1.318 OPS in 30 games) is well-documented, but his 1.126 OPS vs. the Braves isn't too bad either. Add in the fact that he just went 3-for-4 with a double and a home run, all against lefties, in Sunday's game against the Mets, and there's reason to believe he could be in line for an exceptionally big week.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Aces Wild for Mets as Phillies Take Series

On paper, this looked like a very winnable series for the Mets, despite having to play in Philadelphia. In the latter two games, they had their twin aces, Mike Pelfrey and Johan Santana, so after they defeated the Phillies 9-1 on Friday night, Mets fans had to consider the possibility of sweeping the two-time NL Champions at their own park.

But it wouldn't play out that way. On Saturday, the Phillies sent Roy Halladay to the mound to face Mike Pelfrey. Pelfrey, to that point, had been doing a Halladay impression of his own, with a 4-0 record and 0.69 ERA. He was one of the few starters who could boast an ERA better than Halladay's. But it wouldn't last. The Phillies lit him up for six runs in four innings, highlighted by a Shane Victorino three-run shot.

That offense was more than enough for Halladay, who introduced himself to his new division rivals by throwing a complete game shutout and improving his record to 5-1. It was an impressive showing by Halladay (though one that's getting more and more familiar) but it was even more important that the offense got going again, especially against a pitcher as hot as Pelfrey. Victorino and Chase Utley both broke out of slumps and it was particularly important for Victorino who had struggled mightily since taking Rollins' place in the leadoff spot.

Heading into the rubber game, the Phillies chances of winning the series looked bleak. They faced the Mets true ace, in Santana, and sent the struggling Jamie Moyer to the hill. The concerns proved well-founded, as Moyer surrendered a three-run homer to David Wright (who has a career 1.174 OPS vs. Moyer) in the first inning.

However, the Phillies bounced back quickly. Placido Polanco broke out of a slump with a solo shot off Santana and Ryan Howard tacked on a two-out solo homer to bring the score to 3-2. Of cousre, in the fourth Rod Barajas hit a two-run shot to bring the Mets lead back to three runs.

Then came the bottom of the fourth. Utley led off the inning with a double, but Howard and Jayson Werth were retired, though advancing Utley to third base. But then things got ugly for the Mets and Santana. Raul Ibanez singled to drive in Utley and Juan Castro followed with a single of his own. With Moyer on deck, the Mets opted to pitch around Carlos Ruiz, who drew the walk, loading the bases for Moyer. Santana fell behind and when the count reached 3-1, the Phillies went ballistic. Moyer took a called strike two, fouled off a potential strike three, and finally drew the bases-loaded walk, making it a 5-4 game and causing the Philles fans to erupt.

The at-bat brought up memories of when Brett Myers' battled his way to a walk against C.C. Sabathia in the 2008 NLDS. On cue, Victorino cranked a grand slam over the left field wall (just like he did against Sabathia), giving the Phillies a 8-5 lead and all of the sudden it sounded like October again. As if that wasn't enough, Polanco then singled and Utley drove him in with a two-run blast. Howard followed with a single and Werth drove him in all the way from first with a double in the gap in right-center. Finally Ibanez, the man who started the rally, grounded out to end the inning, but the Phillies had taken the momentum, and the lead, 11-5.

That would be all for Santana, who seemed off the entire game. Every pitcher, no matter how great, is entitled to a bad start now and again, so there's no sense reading too much into this one, but one has to think this will be fresh in Santana's mind the next time he faces the Phillies. And Moyer, to his credit, settled down and got through six innings. It wasn't a great start for him, but he really only made two mistakes and drawing that walk seemingly made up for the five runs he surrendered. The Phillies bullpen handled the Mets with relative ease. Chad Durbin and Danys Baez combined to pitch three scoreless innings, finishing off the game and giving the Phillies the series.

This week will be a challenging one for the Phillies, as they face St. Louis and Atlanta, but they should get a boost from Joe Blanton's return (making his season debut tomorrow night) and the way the offense came to life over the weekend should inspire confidence going forward.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Non-Phillies Pick of the Week: Week 4

Last week we predicted the outcome of last Friday's Giants-Cardinals game. We all were right, but then again picking Tim Lincecum was kind of a no-brainer. Here are the results through three weeks:













Charles is undefeated thus far, but at least I managed to get a win. This week we're picking Friday night's Rangers-Mariners game. Doesn't seem like a great game on paper, but...it's Cliff Lee's debut!

Texas Rangers (8-10) at Seattle Mariners (9-10)
Colby Lewis (3-0, 3.80) vs. Cliff Lee

Brian




Lewis is off to a good start and Lee's career numbers against Texas are pretty bad, but this is a home game and the Mariners should be energized to have their new ace on the hill.

Jeff





Texas took a major hit this week when they lost Nelson Cruz to injury.They were already without Ian Kinsler (though Joaquin Arias has filledin admirably), and so without Cruz, the offense is now carried by an aging Vladimir Guerrero. The next highest batting average is catcher Matt Treanor at .265 and, of the teams 15 home runs this season, 7 came from Cruz, and no other player has more than 2. Michael Young and Josh Hamilton have suffered so far. It shouldn't be terribly hard for Cliff Lee, whatever condition he may be in, to keep the offense in check.

Charles




Tough to tell with this matchup since there' no telling how Cliff Lee will do coming off his injury, but I'm going with Colby Lewis and the Rangers. He's been great in his starts so far this year, many Major Leaguers will not be used to seeing his pitches after his two years in Japan, and Lee is likely to be rusty after his layoff, and miss some of what he would have got from a full Spring Training.

Phantasy Pick: Week 4

Phantasy Pick: Placido Polanco.

Polanco has been rock solid for the Phillies so far this season, and may be in position to step up against the Mets as the Phillies offense looks to get back on track this weekend. The Phillies are facing two left-handed starters, Jon Niese and Oliver Perez, who are the third and fifth pitchers in the Phillies rotation (between them, the Mets send Mike Pelfrey to the mound). Polanco has a .310 career average against the Mets, not that he's played them in a while. He's hit .313 against lefties so far this season, and when he faces Pelfrey, he'll bring with him a .323 average against righties.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Halladay Shuts Out Braves to Halt Skid

Coming of a disheartening loss to the Braves, their third straight, the Phillies needed a strong performance. And that is why they got Roy Halladay, who threw a complete game shutout to give the Phillies a 2-0 win.

Halladay was his usual dominant self, mowing down the Braves with the help of some superb defensive play. The Phillies gave him an early 1-0 lead thanks to back-to-back doubles from Jayson Werth and Raul Ibanez. And that was all Halladay needed. He cruised through the first few innings, though he nearly got burned by a deep drive off the bat of Troy Glaus. However, Shane Victorino made an outstanding catch at the wall, robbing a home run and preserving the lead.

The offense didn't do much damage at the plate, but they consistently worked counts on Braves starter Tim Hudson. Through five innings they only managed one run, but in the sixth Howard got things going. He hit a lead-off single and Werth followed with a double in the gap. Howard motored around the bases and scored all the way from first, allowing Werth to take third and putting the Phillies ahead 2-0.

However, the Braves would threaten later. In the seventh inning, the Braves started off with consecutive singles from Chipper Jones and Brian McCann. Halladay then struck Glaus out swinging, but walked Jason Heyward to load the bases. It looked like Halladay might finally prove himself to be human. In a way, he did. Yunel Escobar hit a sharp grounder up the middle, but Chase Utley made an excellent diving snare and flipped the ball to Juan Castro for an inning ending double play.

From there on out everything was under control. Halladay allowed a double in the eighth inning to no consequence, then retired the heart of the Braves lineup in order in the ninth, aided by a superb diving stop by Howard. And with that the Phillies snapped their losing streak and Halladay got his fourth win in as many starts. What more can we say about the guy? He's 4-0 with two complete games, one complete game shutout, and a 0.82 ERA.

The only blemish on the game was an injury to Placido Polanco. He was hit by a pitch in the first inning and would leave in the seventh, replaced by Wilson Valdez. The fact that he was able to play so much of the game before leaving means it can't be too serious, but still, with Rollins already out, it has to be a concern.

Regardless, it was another impressive showing by Halladay. Hopefully the rest of the pitching staff was taking notes.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Bullpen Gives Up Homers to Give Up a Win

After nearly beating out Jamie Moyer for the final spot in the rotation, Kyle Kendrick has had a rough start to the season. This time, however it wasn't his fault. He pitched superbly - throwing eight shutout innings. Chase Utley had two RBI and Ryan Howard added a third, so when Ryan Madson came in to pitch the ninth inning, he was working with a three-run lead. That's exactly how many runs he gave up. With Chipper Jones on base, Troy Glaus hit a home run to make it 3-2, and Jason Heyward immediately followed with a home run to tie the game. Of course, the very next pitch to Yunel Escobar was a ground ball to Juan Castro at shortstop, but the damage had been done.

The top of the 10th inning looked like a great chance for the Phillies to do some damage, with the red-hot trio of Placido Polanco, Utley, and Howard coming to the plate, all of whom had hits earlier in the night. But Braves closer Billy Wagner made it a 1-2-3 inning. Either way the Phillies were going to have to go back to their bullpen, and so they went to Jose Contreras. Contreras made it a quick inning, though not in the same way as Wagner. Five pitches into facing Nate McLouth, McLouth launched a home run to right field, giving the Braves a 4-3 walk-off win.
What looked like a promising bullpen during the first few games of the year is beginning to show its cracks. On many of each pitcher's last appearance, they've given up multiple runs. Madson gave up 3 runs in his blown save last night, Danys Baez gave up three runs last time we saw him, David Herndon gave up four runs and nearly blew a six run lead last time we saw him, and Jose Contreras gave up the home run to end the game. The alarming thing isn't that the bullpen is giving up runs, it's that they're giving up multiple runs in a single inning. Perhaps this is just a passing phase, but if neither Madson nor Baez can be a reliable closer until Brad Lidge returns (and it's possible that Lidge won't fit the bill either), it could be a long season.

However, seeing Kyle Kendrick pitch as well as he did is very promising. As the bullpen appears to be on a bit of a decline, the rotation has actually pitched better recently. Halladay has pitched well all year, but Cole Hamels and Kendrick each threw at least eight innings in their last outing. Kendrick seems to be getting back to what it was that made him successful in his first couple years in the majors, when he simply got guys out by getting them to make poor contact. Roy Halladay apparently told Kendrick to be more aggressive after his last start, and that seemed to work for him. Now he needs the offense and the bullpen to back him up by doing the same.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Non-Phillies Pick of the Week: Week 3

Here are the results after two weeks. I clearly have some work to do...













This week we're picking Friday night's Cardinals-Giants game.

St. Louis Cardinals (8-4) at San Francisco Giants (8-4)
Jaime Garcia (1-0, 0.69 ERA) vs. Tim Lincecum (3-0, 0.90 ERA)

Brian



The Giants have Tim Linecum and homefield advantage. That should be enough for the win. Not to mention, the last time the Cardinals faced a staff ace, they went 18 innings without plating a run. Hard to see them faring any better in this one (then again, they certainly are due).

Jeff



Both of these teams have gotten off to great starts, but as good a start as Jaime Garcia has had this season, Tim Lincecum is one of the best pitchers in baseball. Neither Albert Pujols nor Matt Holliday have ever had major success against Lincecum. They've fared better than most, but for every hit they have against him, they have at least that many strikeouts (3H, 3K for Pujols, 9H, 10K for Holliday). Lincecum is also in top form at the start of the season, having allowed only 2 earned runs and striking out 24 in 3 starts. Their offense is also off to a nice start thanks to Pablo Sandoval, Aaron Rowand, and Edgar Renteria. They won't need to do much to back up Lincecum.

Charles



Going with the Giants. They've been just as hot as the Cardinals lately and they have their Cy Young-winning ace on the mound against an untested St Louis pitcher. In a battle of teams on a roll, I think the San Francisco starter gives them the edge.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Injuries? What Injuries?

On Monday night, Jimmy Rollins and Jayson Werth were announced in the starting lineup. Neither player finished the game in the field due to injuries. Werth made it through five innings, and was replaced by Ben Francisco at the top of the sixth after feeling soreness in his left hip. Rollins was taken out before the first inning. He suffered a left calf strain at some point during the pre-game warmups. The whole team was surprised when backup infielder Juan Castro made his first appearance this season by starting at shortstop.

In the end, it didn't matter that night. The rest of the offense backed up Cole Hamels with a five run fifth inning, and the Phillies won their home opener against the Washington Nationals 7-4. Hamels allowed four runs in 5 2/3 innings while striking out six. Once the Phillies got the lead, Chad Durbin, Jose Contreras, Danys Baez, and Ryan Madson didn't allow another hit for the rest of the game, continuing the bullpen's strong start to the season. Chase Utley had a two-run home run, and Placido Polanco and Ryan Howard each had two hits.

The entire offense is off to a red-hot start this season, but it remains to been seen how serious these injuries are and how that will affect the team. Werth's removal seemed more precautionary than anything else, and it's likely that the team was a little more wary of it having lost Rollins earlier that evening. Though, if I were to lose one of the two I'd rather have to lose Werth, simply because Ben Francisco is a starter-caliber player. Rollins' injury appears more serious, though we probably won't know how serious until some point Wednesday.

Last season, the Phillies lost Jimmy Rollins for a month and wound up doing reasonably well without him. They went 16-12 and still scored 4.9 runs per game. Eric Bruntlett played shortstop in his stead and hit .245 with his OBP and SLG both over .300. Juan Castro has never been a great hitter, but he's a veteran player with a solid glove. If Rollins goes to the DL, the Phillies should be in solid hands with Castro; If Rollins needs any time to recover from this injury, the team should take the safe route and put him there. Better to be safe and have Rollins miss two-three weeks than to take a chance and risk losing him for more time. Shane Victorino is a great replacement in the leadoff spot, and while Bruntlett put up solid numbers last year, Castro is a much more reliable player.

Other options to replace Rollins (or fill the utility infielder spot on the bench) would be Wilson Valdez, who did a nice job playing shortstop for the Mets last season when their entire team apparently suffered the plague, Cody Ransom, who doesn't have much of a glove but had a very impressive spring for the Phillies, or Brian Bocock, who doesn't have much of a bat but is the only other shortstop on the Phillies' 40-man roster. Most likely it would be Bocock, since he has minor league options and the Phillies would risk losing Valdez or Ransom.

The loss of Rollins would be a big blow, but the team has proven to have plenty of firepower this season, and having Shane Victorino move to the leadoff spot would not be something to cry about. They would be down to only six All-Stars in the starting lineup, but somehow I think they would manage. Better to play it safe than be sorry.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Non-Phillies Pick of the Week: Week 2

Last week we predicted the results of the season opening Yankees-Red Sox game. The Red Sox took the game and only Charles had the foresight to pick them. Here's a look at the results so far:

This week we're picking Friday night's Royals-Twins game (because, let's face it, how many more chances will we have to pick a Royals game before they become irrelevant?).

Royals (3-4) at Twins (5-2)
Zach Greinke (0-1, 3.55 ERA) vs. Scott Baker (1-1, 3.86 ERA)

Brian




I like the Royals here. Yes, Minnesota has the better team, but this is just one game and the pitching matchup favors Kansas City. While Greinke's overall numbers against the Twins are nothing to write home about, he has fared extremely well against Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. Mauer's career OPS against Greinke is a lowly .582 and Morneau has fared even worse at .417.

Jeff




Minnesota is off to a hot 6-2 start compared to the Royals at 3-4. Both Greinke and Baker have solid career numbers against the opposing team, but Minnesota's bullpen has been fantastic and Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau are off to hot starts. Kansas City's bullpen has not been so good, and while Rick Ankiel and Scott Podsednik are hitting .333 and .444, respectively, they don't exactly strike fear in the hearts of their opponents the way Mauer and Morneau do when they're hot.

Charles




I'm picking the Twins in this matchup. Both teams have talented starters off to decent starts this season, and Greinke has the edge as a pure pitcher (though how much of an aberration his Cy Young season was still remains to be seen). However, the defending AL Central champions still have a lineup that can score off an ace like Greinke, but the Royals' lineup doesn't guarantee that they'll give that ace much of any run support.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Phantasy Pick of the Week: Week 2

Week 2 pick: Placido Polanco

Polanco couldn't be any hotter than he is right now and this week he makes his return to Citizen's Bank Park, where he's posted a .871 OPS in 87 career games. That's the best OPS he has at any ballpark where he's played 25 or more games.

Halladay Goes Nine Innings in Pitcher's Duel

Roy Halladay once again dominated the opposition, throwing a complete game as the Phillies downed the Astros 2-1. For the first time this season, the Phillies offense stalled. Not surprising, as they were facing Astros ace Roy Oswalt.

Oswalt pitched a good game, allowing just two runs in six innings, which is no mean feat considering how the Phillies have been hitting. Jimmy Rollins led off the game with a home run, as he continued his strong start. Then, in the second inning, Carlos Ruiz hit an RBI ground-out to give the Phillies a 2-0 lead. That would be all the offense the Phillies would muster, but it was enough.

Halladay blew through the Houston lineup, allowing a stray single here and there, but nothing of consequence until the sixth inning. There he got into a bit of trouble as Chris Johnson singled to left, Michael Bourn reached on a bunt single, and Halladay and Placido Polanco couldn't execute a force out at third off a Jeff Keppinger bunt. That left the bases loaded with no outs. But Halladay worked out of the jam. Corey Sullivan grounded into a 6-3 double play, which plated a run, and Carlos Lee popped out to end the inning, with the Phillies still holding a 2-1 lead.

In the seventh, Halladay got into more trouble, allowing consecutive singles to Geoff Blum and Pedro Feliz, then watched both runners advance on a Kaz Matsui sacrifice bunt. But he escaped with relative ease. J.R. Towles grounded to Halladay who checked the runner and threw Towles out at first, then Jason Michaels went down swinging to end the threat.

The rest was easy for Halladay, as he pitched perfect eighth and ninth innings, securing his second win of the season in as many starts. He also recorded a few milestones, notching his 150th career win and pitching his 50th career complete game. In doing so, the Phillies swept the Astros and improved their record to 5-1. They'll head home to take on the Nationals next, as Cole Hamels takes on Jason Marquis Monday afternoon.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Moyer Falters But Offense Lifts Off

The hits just keep on coming for Ryan Howard and the Phillies, who dispatched the Astros in a 9-6 win.

Tonight's game was our first look at Jamie Moyer in 2010 and the results were mixed. Moyer dominated out of the gate, retiring the first eight Houston batters. While he was making the Houston hitters look bad, the Phillies offense was doing its thing. Howard tripled to start the second inning and scored on a Jayson Werth fly out, giving the Phillies a 1-0 lead.

Then, in the third, Moyer sparked the offense with his bat, hitting a single to left with one out. Jimmy Rollins followed with a fielder's choice and it seemed as if Moyer's hit might go to waste. But, as it happened, two-out RBI would be the theme of the night. Placido Polanco followed with a single, Chase Utley walked to load the bases, and Howard walked in a run. Werth then doubled, driving in two more runs. Raul Ibanez flied out to end the inning but the Phillies were looking good, ahead 4-0.

It looked like the Phillies would cruise to an easy win, like the 8-0 win that opened the series. But with two outs in the bottom of the third, things got interesting. Astros starter Felipe Paulino ripped a double over Werth's head in right field and Jason Michaels hammered the next pitch over the left field wall for a two-run homer. Moyer then walked Jeff Keppinger and Hunter Pence delivered a two-run shot of his own, tying the game at 4-4. Later, after three straight singles, the Astros took a 5-4 lead on a Tommy Manzella infield single. Finally, Moyer got Humberto Quintero to ground into a fielder's choice, ending a long inning.

After Houston's third inning rally, both pitchers settled down. Paulino got through the fifth inning without any further harm and Moyer recovered his poise and finished the day with six innings pitched and just the five runs he allowed in the third. But in the seventh, the Phillies offense got going, once again with two outs. After Rollins and Polanco were retired, Utley walked, putting the tying run on base. Howard didn't waste the opportunity, crushing a Brandon Lyon pitch to put the Phillies back on top, 6-5. Three straight singles by Werth, Ibanez, and Victorino extended the lead to 7-5.

The Phillies bullpen had no trouble holding the lead. Chad Durbin and Danys Baez each logged a perfect inning. Then, in the ninth, Victorino, who was one of the few Phillies hitters not to get off to a torrid start thus far in the season, joined the offensive onslaught with a two-run shot off Matt Lindstrom. That gave the Phillies a nice four-run cushion for Ryan Madson, who took the ball in the bottom of the ninth to finish the game off. Madson gave up a lead-off double to (who else?) Michael Bourn, who later scored on a one-out Michaels single. However, Madson locked in after that, retiring Keppinger on a fielder's choice and striking out Pence to end the game.

Moyer's season debut was a bit troubling. He looked very sharp for the most part, but that third inning would be enough to lose the game on many days, as we can't realistically expect to score 5+ runs every night. Still, he was able to regain his control after the third and he managed to work through six innings. Suffice it to say he currently holds the upper hand over Kyle Kendrick to stay in the rotation once Joe Blanton returns, but that's not saying much.

As for the offense, what's not to like? Polanco continued his incredible start with another two-hit performance and currently sports a .542 batting average. It was good to see Victorino get going with a home run, a single, and a couple hard hit outs. But the story thus far has been Howard, who cranked out his third home run in five games.

It's too early to read into it too much, but it is worth noting that Howard has only struck out once in 26 plate appearances this season. If he continued at this pace, he would record just 32 strike outs in 162 games. Obviously it's way too early to start projections, as he's also on pace for 97 home runs and 324 RBI, but it's still worth mentioning.

Tomorrow afternoon, the Phillies will go for the sweep, as Roy Halladay takes on Roy Oswalt. Halladay is Halladay, but he could be in for a test, as Oswalt is also an established ace and has fared well against the Phillies (6-1, 3.23 in 11 games).

Friday, April 9, 2010

Astros Blown Sky-High

Fresh on the heels of some high-scoring matches in Washington, the Phillies continued their opening road trip in Houston last night with their third high-scoring victory in four games, defeating the Astros by a lopsided tally of 8-0. The poor Astros were coming off being swept by the San Francisco Giants and at times looked apathetic as starter Bud Norris couldn't get through three innings and his replacements couldn't stop the bleeding.

The offense is understandably the big story coming out of this game, being on a shocking hot streak to start the season, but worthy of more than a little attention was the fact that this was J. A. Happ's first start of the year. Although he never worked quickly or efficiently -- working only five innings in his allotment of a hundred or so pitches -- and he allowed some hits, he spread those hits out and kept the Astros batters off base. It's very hard to argue with the scoreless line he delivered and the win he picked up, and he looked confident and poised on the mound. It was a feel-good sign for one member of the Phillies' rotation after underwhelming performances from Cole Hamels and Kyle Kendrick.

Young reliever David Herndon made a promising appearance with a nice lead to work with, throwing two scoreless innings. Lower-pressure situations are a nice place for inexperienced relievers to gain confidence.

This early series against the Astros is also notable for the fact that it provides the Phillies with a reunion with their former third baseman, Pedro Feliz, who signed with Houston after the Phillies let him walk in the off-season. Based on today, we got the much better deal. Placido Polanco, despite allowing a runner to reach base on a grounder that took a nasty hop off his finger, went a stunning 4-for-5 with a double and 2 RBI. Feliz was held hitless. In case you were wondering, Polanco's batting average in his first five games back in Phillies red is .579. If nothing else he is sure making Ruben Amaro look like a genius.

Having a better night than Feliz was People's Phillies Blog favorite Michael Bourn, who went 2 for 5 and had some nice plays in center. But even the superhuman power of a Michael Bourn could not stop the Phillies' offense. Only Shane Victorino failed to get a hit, and Raul Ibanez, one of the only Phillies not off to a very hot offensive start against the Nats, seemed to get things going with two doubles on a 3-for-4 night.

The Phillies have been displaying a phenomenal ability to get on base in their first few games, and that will lead to runs. This time they combined it with pitching that shut the Astros down for another blowout. The Phillies can't necessarily score eight runs every game, but if they keep up the practices that led them there tonight we can expect good things from this year. Tomorrow night the Phillies' Jamie Moyer and the Astros' Felipe Paulino face off in their first starts of the season. Unfortunately the Phillies are not expected to face former teammate Brett Myers in this series.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Nelson's defeat at Washington

In their first close game of the year, the Phillies ultimately failed to catch up to the Washington Nationals tonight and dropped the game 6-5, though still managing to take the series. This was Kyle Kendrick's big opportunity to show that he deserved to be starting games, after the injury to Joe Blanton opened a rotation slot for him. No doubt he will get more chances, but he didn't exactly make the best of this one. Kendrick labored, going only four innings and allowing five earned runs. He struggled out of the gate, allowing a lead-off triple that led to three first inning runs, then gave up a two-run homer in the third.

A still-hot Phillies offense managed to keep pace and make up for the damage up to a point, and by the sixth inning the Phillies' persistence in getting men on base against Nationals rookie starter Craig Stammen, timely sacrifices, and the ability to take advantage of an error and a hit-batsman delivered to Ben Francisco meant that the Phillies had manufactured enough to runs to tie the score at 5-5. Ryan Howard was caught in a rundown between third and home in the fifth inning, though, and that wasted opportunity ended up being crucial.
Newly acquired long-reliever and potential spot-starter Nelson Figueroa came in to pitch in the sixth and in the seventh he allowed a run on a bloop double off the bat of Ryan Zimmerman. That was the tipping point. The Phillies couldn't score again despite threatening a couple of times, and Figueroa took the loss in his first game as a Phillie since 2001.
Good signs from the Phillie offense can be taken away from today's game, as the team battled back to tie after an early deficit and never stopped getting men on base. Jose Contreras looked fine in an inning of work, and Nelson Figueroa will have outings without the mistake or two that pegged him with the loss tonight. There were fewer hopeful signs for Kyle Kendrick and unless he improves significantly in his next appearance, fans will quickly be wishing for Joe Blanton to return and push him back to the bullpen.

Figueroa Rejoins Phillies

Former Phillie and, more importantly, Brandeis alum (as am I), Nelson Figueroa will return to the team where he first made his mark, as the Phillies claimed him off waivers from the Mets. Figueroa has yet to pitch this season, but has done solid work for the Mets over the last two years as a reliever and a spot-starter. Last year he was particularly strong, posting a 4.10 ERA and throwing a complete game shutout against the Astros (who are conveniently the Phillies' next opponent).

He came to the Phillies in 2000 as part of the trade that sent Curt Schilling to the D-backs, in exchange for Figueroa, Omar Daal, Vicente Padilla, and Travis Lee. (Remember when Travis Lee was a hot prospect?) Figueroa got the call-up in 2001 and joined the rotation on June 26th. He faced the Braves in his debut, allowing one run in 7 1/3 innings but getting the loss. He pitched quite well over his first nine starts, going 4-2 with a 2.96 ERA and a 1.02 WHIP, but struggled late in the season. His next four starts saw him go 0-4 with a 5.87 ERA, after which he was moved to the bullpen.

In April 2002, the Brewers claimed him off waivers and since then he has bounced around, pitching for the Brewers, Pirates, the Nationals' AAA affiliate, then going abroad for a few years. He pitched in the Mexican, Chinese, and Venezuelan leagues, before making a triumphant return to the Majors as part of the Mets.

While Figueroa's career numbers are not overly impressive (4.54 ERA, 1.45 WHIP), a lot of the innings he's logged have been as a starter. He's fared considerably better as a reliever, posting a 3.44 ERA and a 1.31 WHIP. He's not likely to be a crucial member of the team, but he's good enough to log some quality innings out of the bullpen and can provide a start or two if needed.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Hamels Solid in Victory

Opening Day came and went with much fanfare, but mostly went as expected. Roy Halladay dominated and the Phillies won with ease. Then the spotlight fell on Cole Hamels. After a hard luck 2009 that can only have left his confidence shaken, how would he fare in 2010 with a blank slate?

We still don't know the answer, but today's start was somewhat encouraging. Hamels was by no means dominant, allowing two earned runs over five innings, but he showed flashes of brilliance and an ability to battle through some hard luck without blowing the game.

It helped that the Phillies' offense got to work early and often, putting up two runs in the first inning and eventually chasing Washington starter Jason Marquis after tagging him for a total of six runs in four innings. Ryan Howard had the big hit with a monster two-run homer and Hamels even got in on the action with an RBI single in the third.

For his part, Hamels did alright. He started the game with a seemingly ominous four-pitch walk to Washington speedster Nyjer Morgan, but no harm came of it as Hamels recorded three straight easy outs. In the third, he ran into a little trouble, surrendering a solo shot to Ian Desmond, which seemed to unnerve him a bit. After the homer, he walked two straight batters, then allowed an RBI single to Josh Willingham that tied the game at 2-2. Ivan Rodriguez then reached on an infield single, loading the bases, but Hamels was able to escape further harm, when Mike Morse grounded out to end the inning.

Hamels took the lead back in the fourth with his RBI single, but then allowed the Nationals to tie it up again when Morgan (who reached on a Ryan Howard error) scored on a double from Desmond. But the offense had his back, scoring three runs in the fifth (capped by Howard's home run) and Hamels took care of business in the bottom of the inning. By that point he had thrown 103 pitches, so his night was over, but all in all it was a respectable showing.

The bullpen did its share as well. Chad Durbin pitched two scoreless innings, but Danys Baez struggled a bit, allowing a lead-off triple and a sacrifice fly, then a double, before being pulled for Antonio Bastardo. Bastardo recorded an out and was lifted for Ryan Madson, who struck out Desmond to end the eighth. The Phillies held a 7-4 lead at that point, so the plan was for Madson to pitch the ninth as well.

In the top of the ninth, Howard extended the lead to 8-4 with a double, giving him 3 RBI on the day (five in two games). Shane Victorino and Carlos Ruiz walked with two outs, leaving Charlie Manuel with a difficult decision: go with a pinch hitter with two outs and the bases loaded, or leave your closer in to hit. Manuel's chose to let Madson hit for himself. Not surprisingly, Madson struck out, but given the circumstances (and the fact that Greg Dobbs and Ross Gload had already been expended), this was probably the right call.

Madson followed his own strikeout by striking out Ryan Zimmerman. But then he ran into a little trouble, surrendering back-to-back singles to Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham. However, before Phillies fans had the chance to get too nervous, Ivan Rodriguez grounded into a game-ending double play, giving the Phillies an 8-4 win.

This was not the dominant outing fans would have liked to see from Hamels, but there are some positive signs. This was exactly the type of game that Hamels would have lost last year, as a few walks or sloppy plays in the field put him in a position to potentially fail. Last year, he often buckled in these situations, but today he was able to work out of them and, while his stats on the day won't blow anyone away, he got the job done and started the season on the right foot.

Meanwhile the offense continued its torrid pace from yesterday, working pitch counts and getting on base frequently. The Phillies walked eight times today (17 walks in two games), which is a great sign. It's obviously still very early, but this looks to be an extremely well-constructed and balanced lineup and it's been especially encouraging to see traditionally slow-starters Rollins and Howard getting off to red-hot starts.

It's only the Nationals so it's hard to get too worked up, but thus far Phillies fans have to like what they see.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Opening Day: Our New Favorite Halladay

Opening day 2010 was one of the most anticipated in recent memory for Phillies fan's; we're coming off a pennant year, have just acquired the most popular pick for Best Pitcher in Baseball, and we wanted to see him herald a year of uninterrupted success by blowing away the perennial losers who play in Washington. The uninterrupted success is yet to be proven, but we did get to see the Nationals very convincingly blown away by an 11-1 tally.

We began with the traditional first pitch from President Obama, wearing a bright red Nationals bench jacket, and no sooner had I mockingly asked "Isn't he a White Sox fan?" did he top it with a White Sox cap pulled from his pocket, grinning broadly while the crowd booed it. Political resonances of Barack Obama grinning while being roundly booed aside, the game began.

The first inning was full of bad omens. In the top half, Jimmy Rollins ended it by trying to stretch a run and getting thrown out at the plate. In the bottom half, the bad signs seemed to come directly from the Phillies' two shiny new acquisitions: Placido Polanco played Nyjer Morgan too close, allowing him a cheap infield hit, and then Ryan Zimmerman doubled off Halladay to drive Morgan in.

After that, though, Washington wouldn't score, and the Phillies would have nothing but glowingly positive signs for the year to come -- those and one early tick in the win column. After the first inning pitches, Roy Halladay settled into excellence. He was extraordinarily efficient, throwing only 88 pitches and combining speed with great control and unpredictable location to keep the Nationals stymied. He struck out nine in seven innings -- many looking -- and could have probably pitched the final two if the Phillies hadn't blown the game open.

About the Phillies blowing the game open -- it started in a very lengthy five-run fourth that blasted Washington starter John Lannan out of the game, then kept building. Highlights included an incredibly distant two-run home run courtesy of Ryan Howard that signaled the power hitter's return as well as anything else could, and an infield RBI hit for Roy Halladay in his debut as a National League pitcher.

Placido Polanco couldn't have had much of a better re-introduction either. After his first-inning fielding misjudgment he redeemed himself with an impressive double play. But it was really his bat that made him stand out. The Phillies new (and old) third baseman took home six RBI on the day, four of which came on a dramatic grand slam to left center in the seventh.

As a matter of fact, no Phillies position player was left out of the party. If we're looking for omen, then everything, both pitching- and hitting-wise was perfect. It can't stay that way forever, but for Phillies fans opening day was really a cause for celebration this year. Not so much for the ever-luckless fans of the Washington Nationals. The loss demoralized the Nationals to the point that, when asked about President Obama's attendance, manager Jim Riggleman could only reply, "That is like asking Mrs. Lincoln how she liked the play."

Tune in on Wednesday when the Phillies will attempt to further dishearten the Nationals behind Cole Hamels.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

2010 Phillies Season Preview

Tomorrow night the 2010 season gets underway. There are huge expectations for the Phillies this year, as they attempt to win a third straight pennant (in the third year of PPB's existence). What should you expect from the team this year? Here are our prominent questions and answers:

1. What is your reaction to the Cliff Lee/Roy Halladay trades?

Jeff
I understand why they made the two deals, and in his brief time in Seattle, Cliff Lee has already gotten injured, so it’s hard to argue against the two deals. The presence of Roy Halladay atop the rotation legitimizes the team as a true power in the National League. I’m not terribly intrigued by the prospects they got for Lee. It really seems like they could have gotten more – a major league ready young bullpen pitcher would have been nice. Ultimately, as much as I appreciate what Lee did in the World Series, I almost wish they would have bit the bullet and made Drabek available at the deadline so that they could have acquired Halladay then.

Charles
A rotation that started with Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee could have been one of the most devastating things a baseball team ever employed. I would have loved to have kept them both. That said, I can understand the reasoning for letting Lee go, considering the resources available to the Phillies and how much, comparatively, Lee was going to want (to say nothing of the legitimate demands that were being made on the farm system). Would I have jumped for joy at a situation that left us with both Halladay and Lee? Obviously. So would any other Phillies fan. But I'm still happy with the situation we finally ended up with.

If it's a question of Roy Halladay locked down for a number of years, versus Cliff Lee – potentially as devastating but less established and about as old – for only one season after which we'd be unlikely to be able to re-sign him, you have to go with Halladay. Amaro doesn't want to deplete the farm system too much, and that's not a bad thing considering the Phillies are a team that's built to win now.

Brian
It's a tough call. On the one hand, I'm thrilled to have Roy Halladay. He's arguably the best pitcher in baseball right now and by making the switch from the AL East to the NL East, his already incredible numbers stand to improve. I'm disappointed to lose Cliff Lee, who was brilliant in the regular season for the Phillies and otherworldly in the playoffs, but there was a good chance we would have lost him in a bidding war after this season anyway. The trades allowed us to be assured that we'll have an elite pitcher (at a bit of a discount) for several years. It would have been great to have both Lee and Halladay, but it's also nice to have some semblance of a farm system. Personally, I would have gone for broke and tried to win a World Series this year with Halladay/Lee/Hamels/[who cares] as my playoff rotation, but I can understand the long-term concerns that led Ruben Amaro to make these deals.

2. How has Ruben Amaro done so far as the GM?

Jeff
Amaro seems committed to making this team older by signing veterans to long-term deals. I understand why they signed Polanco and Ibanez, but in a couple years they could be in trouble, having to start players who may not be able to produce anymore. Jamie Moyer’s performance last year is an example of this. The Halladay/Lee situation could have been handled better – Kyle Drabek suddenly moving out of untouchable status was kind of strange, and it begs the question of why he was completely unavailable at the deadline. Now that Amaro has depleted the farm system, in a year or two we’ll see how good a GM Amaro really is when it comes time to use it to fill in the gaps.

Charles
Overall, I give him a thumbs up. He has curiously tended towards going almost uniformly with moves that have brought older players to the Phillies, and that is odd and a little questionable. However, most of these moves to bring in older players have worked out so far, so it's hard to pick at them individually. As has been pointed out by others, it is rare for a team to make it to a second World Series in a row, but even rarer for it to do so with an almost entirely different front-end of the rotation. Amaro deserves some credit for making that happen. Cliff Lee was possibly one of the most successful mid-season acquisitions of all time last year. Amaro simply seemed to have pulled one of the best pitchers in the game out of a hat, and the way he's been semi-swapped for Roy Halladay this year is controversial, but, I think, ultimately wise. The signing of Pedro Martinez last year did just what it needed to, just when it was needed to provide late-season help from an experienced hand, and so far having Ibanez in left field instead of Pat Burrell is something most Phillie fans seem to agree is a good thing. I also see Polanco over Feliz as an upgrade, but the results of that do still remain to be seen.

My main criticism of Amaro would be in the seemingly illogical ways that he let guys like Brett Myers and Chan Ho Park go after last season. I think a little more patience in dealing with Park would have been rewarding, considering his current role with the Yankees. Overall, though, with some reservations over a couple off choices and the trend towards age, I approve of the largely effective moves Amaro has made, and the pennant they helped get us.

Brian
It's hard to argue with the results, as the Phillies won the pennant in his first season and are considered favorites to win a fourth straight division title (if not more). That said, I haven't been overwhelmed by his performance. There has been a clear contrast in style from Pat Gillick, who never seemed to make splashy moves, but had a good enough eye for talent that he was able to acquire role players who could get the job done without commanding huge salaries or egos. For example, in 2008 Gillick's big late-season acquisitions were Joe Blanton and Matt Stairs. In 2009, Amaro added Cliff Lee and Pedro Martinez. Both were valuable additions, and yet the Phillies were stymied in the World Series. Was this due to bad luck or playing a superior World Series opponent? Or did these acquisitions have a negative impact on the psyche of Cole Hamels and others? Who knows, but it's a question that warrants asking.

The bottom line with Amaro is that his moves have seemed fairly short-sighted. Case in point, the Cliff Lee trade. At the time, it looked like a great move. The Phillies acquired an elite pitcher without giving up their most prized prospects. And it worked out, as Lee was phenomenal. Only one problem...Amaro then turned around and traded his previously "untouchable" prospects for Halladay, while swapping Lee for some prospects who are widely considered to be inferior to the ones the Phillies gave up. If we were going to have to trade Kyle Drabek/Michael Taylor/etc for Halladay anyway...why not just do it at the deadline last year, lock him up, and be done with it? Was it really that unpredictable that Lee would want to test the free agent market in his one true chance for a massive payday?

And then there's his handling of arbitration...or lack thereof. Rather than take good-but-replaceable players such as Shane Victorino, Joe Blanton, and Carlos Ruiz to court, he simply awarded them 3-year deals. Maybe that's great for morale (Mrs. Ruiz can finally afford those new kitchen cabinets!), but it won't sound so good next year when we can't afford to re-up Jayson Werth. If the team can win another pennant then no one will be complaining, but these sorts of decisions (and his strange fascination with making the team older) have to make you question the team's long-term prospects.

3. Who was the most important off-season acquisition, aside from Roy Halladay?

Jeff
Danys Baez. The bullpen was the biggest issue last year and coming into this off-season. Brad Lidge struggled last year, and when he got injured, Ryan Madson was erratic. Baez gives them another veteran option at the closer position, he can be a setup man, and he can be an extremely valuable seventh inning guy. The bullpen may still be an issue this year, but Baez should be a big help.

Charles
I know I'm not going to shock anybody with this answer, but it's Placido Polanco. The one change in the Phillies' regular starting nine is a big deal, and to my mind it's an upgrade. He'll hit for a better average than the man he's replacing, and he's much more of a contact hitter who will try to fight his way onto first base. That's key in the Phillies' lineup of power hitters, and if he plays up to potential Polanco could very well change the tenor and strategy of the whole lineup. His presence and the kind of hitter he is necessitates some awkward and controversial changes to the batting order. These may or may not work out, but either way Polanco's presence will be felt in a big way.

Brian
Placido Polanco seems like the obvious answer here, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say Jose Contreras. Chan Ho Park did a tremendous job last year out of the bullpen as a versatile middle reliever. To win a championship, you need a guy like that. Last year it was Park, the year before it was Chad Durbin (and, yes, I know we still have Durbin, but 2008 seems to have been a career year for him as he fell off considerably in 2009). The primary concern about Contreras should be that his groundball-to-flyball ratio isn't great, but the same could be said of Park last year, who fared well. Not to mention, Contreras has been in the AL for virtually his entire career.

4. How much of an upgrade is Placido Polanco at third base?

Jeff
I think he’ll be a big upgrade offensively. He’ll provide consistency at the top of the batting order; something that we haven't gotten from the combination of Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino. I also thing moving Victorino lower in the lineup will help Jayson Werth and Raul Ibanez. Adding Polanco gives them almost undoubtedly one of the scariest lineups in the Major Leagues. On the field I’ll miss Pedro Feliz’ glove, but I don’t think Polanco will have a huge problem shifting from second back to third base. Polanco is a good fit for the ballclub in general.

Charles
I expect him to do well, although there is no way to be sure. Placido played a good third for us in the past, he's played a good second since. He's a versatile fielder, and he's spent all Spring Training working on the new position rather than jumping into it mid-season. His arm looks strong. I really doubt he will be much a downgrade from Feliz who seemed to be losing a step, and was mostly in there for his glove at that. I for one will still be thanking my lucky stars that at least we don't have to endure any more of Abraham Nunez.

Maybe the Phillies have been affected by the Curse of Mike Schmidt. We've had the best third baseman ever, but the Phillies' only two other star-quality third basemen (Dick Allen and Scott Rolen) have left fantastically unpopular after asking to be traded.

Brian
Feliz was a superb fielder and delivered some clutch hits, but let's face it: he basically morphed into Abraham Nunez. What happened to all that power we were supposed to get? And just when it seemed like he was turning things around at the plate last season, he goes and posts a .625 OPS in the 2nd half of the season. His 82 RBI were impressive, but his poor foot-speed and lack of power made the bottom of the order a double play waiting to happen. Polanco probably won't be as good in the field, but he should be a major upgrade offensively. His ability to make contact and move runners should be a huge asset, especially for such a strikeout-prone lineup. More importantly, Polanco will bat 2nd, which moves Victorino to the 7-spot. Here he'll provide Raul Ibanez with some protection and should form an excellent hit-and-run combination with Carlos Ruiz, who, like Polanco, does an excellent job of putting the ball in play.

5. Which Cole Hamels should we expect this year?

Jeff
I think he’s going to be good, but it may take him some time for him to get into a groove. He’s been working on his secondary pitches this spring and coaches have been impressed. Some of those adjustments may take time for him to get comfortable with during the season, but as long as he stays healthy he’ll have breathing room pitching behind Halladay. He also has Halladay as an influence, not to mention Jamie Moyer is still there. As long as he stays healthy, I think he’ll have a successful season.

Charles
I see him being somewhere in between his 2008 and 2009 campaigns. I do buy that psychology and stress were issues that weighed on Hamels last season and affected his performance on the mound. I buy that he'll be able to work on these and regain the poise that helped him so much in 2008. However, hitters will now be more confident against him and he won't be surprising anybody with his stuff. I look forward to a productive, helpful year from Hamels, but until he fully develops another pitch and can throw all his pitches with pinpoint control, he won't regain the total dominance he had in 2008. That's not to say he won't get those, but I don't think he'll be there yet. That said, I think the lowered pressure from having Halladay there and not having just won the World Series -- as well as hopefully some hard work -- should help him keep it together after he gives up a run or two. And that should make a huge difference considering the particular ways he tended to become unravelled last year.

Brian
Not quite the 2008 edition, but close. Hamels has got to have a chip on his shoulder coming into this year, as he was effectively blamed for the Phillies' loss in the World Series. Last year was the perfect storm of awfulness for him. He pitched far more innings than ever before in 2008, came into the season out of shape and saw limited Spring Training action, as the Phillies coddled him. Then he had to deal with being replaced as the staff ace by Lee and even being bumped down to #3 starter by Martinez. So it's no surprise that he struggled. Now he has to prove once more that he can be an elite pitcher...and I think he will. He's still very young, still has tremendous stuff, and will have had the benefit of learning from the likes of Jamie Moyer, Pedro Martinez, Cliff Lee, and now Roy Halladay.

6. Who should be the fifth starter?

Jeff
With Joe Blanton’s injury, both Jamie Moyer and Kyle Kendrick will start the season in the rotation, and both of them deserve it. However, had Blanton not been injured, I would have said that Moyer should be the fifth starter. Halfway through spring training, I would have said Kendrick. Kendrick had a fantastic spring training and Moyer had some rough starts in the Minor League camp. I was surprised to see Moyer almost dominate when he started pitching in the Major League camp, but he did and earned his spot back from Kyle Kendrick. Now the two pitchers get to continue battling for the spot during the season.

Charles
I think with Blanton now out of commission for some time, the Phillies are going to have to use both Moyer and Kendrick. The silver lining on that cloud is that, with a chance to see both of them starting in real-game situations this year, the Phillies will get a chance to pick out who has the hotter arm and use him. And that's really the way to go. At this point, though, I'm leaning towards Kendrick for one simple reason. Moyer may do as well as ever as a starter this year, but last year when he was placed in the bullpen he actually improved and became quite successful. The Phils have a questionable bullpen this year, and it would be helped out a lot by having somebody there pitching like Moyer did out of the bullpen in 2009. We already know that as a soft-thrower he doesn't tire as quickly as his age would suggest so he can eat innings, and we well know from 2008's World Series that he can sit around (in his locker if need be) and then pick up and pitch when needed. He might want to start, but we have to use Moyer where he'll have the best chance to help the team most.

Brian
Jamie Moyer. I know Kendrick has looked great and Moyer [insert old-age joke here], but bear with me. Moyer's value to the team goes beyond wins and losses and ERA. He's been a tremendous asset to the young pitchers on the team (and next to him, everyone is a young pitcher). Nothing made me feel better about Cole Hamels' future than having him chatting with Moyer constantly on the bench. Having him is like having a second pitching coach and, much as I'd like to see if he work his magic on Brad Lidge, I'd much rather have him imparting his wisdom on Hamels and J.A. Happ and anyone else willing to listen.

7. What can we expect from the bullpen this year?

Jeff
I think Lidge will be much better than last year once he returns from the DL, though that’s not saying much. I love the addition of Baez and I think it makes the absence of Lidge a little more bearable, and as long as J.C. Romero takes the time he needs to truly come back healthy, I think they’ll be fine. I’m not sold on Jose Contreras. He’s supposed to fill the role Chan Ho Park did last year, and I doubt he’ll be as successful. He hasn’t been terribly successful in a while, and he hasn’t looked great so far as a Phillie. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a bullpen addition around the trade deadline.

Charles
Some trouble, unfortunately. The bullpen was an issue last year, and the main difference this year is that the more reliable guys are gone. Scott Eyre has retired. Chan Ho Park is a Yankee. Condrey is a Twin. The Phillies wanted nothing to do with Brett Myers, who was arguably a better bullpen pitcher than starter. There are going to be a lot of young question marks out there, and a couple of old question marks in Jose Contreras and Danys Baez. Lidge is coming on a year and injuries that make him a question mark. Some of those guys will work out fine, but if you go with all question marks you are going to run into problems.

Brian
It's difficult to say until we know how it's going to shape out, but I would expect it to be slightly better in the long run. Brad Lidge isn't going to repeat his 2008 season, but he can't be as bad as he was last year. And if he is, he'll be replaced by Ryan Madson or Danys Baez. The man can only get so many chances. The bullpen lost Scott Eyre and Chan Ho Park, but a healthy J.C. Romero can replace Eyre and Contreras can take over for Park. Baez should also be a nice addition. The wildcard for me is Antonio Bastardo. He had a couple impressive outings last year and seems to be destined for a relief role, as he basically has two pitches. I see him as the next J.C. Romero. Of course, all that changes if Romero and Lidge battle injuries all year.

8. How does the bench compare to last year?

Jeff
They’re a lot better. They have the same kinds of players, but they’re all upgrades. Juan Castro replaces Eric Bruntlett, Brian Schneider replaces Paul Bako and Chris Coste (Schneider isn’t great, but he’s certainly better than Bako and Coste), and as much as I’m going to miss Matt Stairs, Ross Gload is younger and more versatile. I’d still like to see them deal Greg Dobbs if they can and fill his slot with a speedster since Dobbs and Gload are very similar and the Phillies could use a pinch runner. Also, Ben Francisco was a fantastic pick up in the Cliff Lee deal, and having him as a fourth outfielder for the full year should be big.

Charles
Bit of a step up. Ross Gload was an acquisition I liked; he looks to provide a strong bat off the bench. Brian Schneider is no superstar to be sure, and Mets fans got tired enough of him, but he looks to provide stable backup to Ruiz and is an upgrade over Paul Bako. There are emerging prospects like Domonic Brown who may do well as bench support this year, and I think John Mayberry will improve after some seasoning. The Phillies' bench wasn't actually as big an issue last year as it would have been with many other teams, since the regulars played so often. There was very little variation in the starting position players, and since the Phillies' core is starting to settle into its collective thirties, it might be a good thing to rest them a bit – especially since some attributed a drop-off in Utley's performance to an unwillingness to take a rest. If the bench can take some of the pressure off this season, that might be a big deal.

Brian
The bench should be an improvement over last year's, as it appears that everyone on it provides considerable value. We'll miss Matt Stairs, but Ross Gload should be an adequate replacement for him, while also having the ability to play in the field now and again. Juan Castro should easily replace Eric Bruntlett, and might even be able to get a hit once in a while. Brian Schneider is basically Paul Bako plus a little offense, so he's a slight upgrade. Greg Dobbs is still a competent pinch-hitter and can start an occasional game. And Ben Francisco is a great right-handed bat and a very good fielder. The bench was a strength the last two years, but this year it's deeper than ever.

9. What is the biggest flaw in the current Phillies team?

Jeff
The biggest flaw is the bullpen, especially with Lidge and Romero starting the season on the DL. I doubt that Lidge will have as bad a year as last year, and hopefully he and Romero will take as much time as they need to get completely healthy, but they and Ryan Madson need to anchor the bullpen the way they did in 2008. The presence of Baez should help, and hopefully Chad Durbin won’t be overworked. The last two slots belong to Jose Contreras, who has quite a lot to prove, and (until Kyle Kendrick goes back to the bullpen) David Herndon, a Rule 5 Draft Pick from the Angels. Herndon has had a good spring, but that’s all we know about the 25-year old. Antonio Bastardo will be the sole left-handed reliever until Romero returns.

Charles
All-around lack of pitching depth. The top of the rotation has the potential to be phenomenal, but the temporary sidelining of Blanton has eliminated a lot of margin for error with Kendrick and Moyer probably both starting, and has laid bare the lack of depth. That also takes an arm away from an already uncertain bullpen. There are a lot of mound factors that are big unknowns right now – including whether the number two starter and the closer will be effective at all, and there doesn't really seem to be an iron-clad backup plan for a lot of these contingencies. There are not a whole lot of Major League-ready arms hanging around in the farm system at the moment either.

Brian
Rotation depth. We know (or have been told, anyway) that Halladay will be a Cy Young contender and there's reason to believe that Hamels will bounce back. But after that? Joe Blanton is alright, but little more than an inning-eater. J.A. Happ was superb last year, but it seems like every five minutes a sabermetrician writes about how bad his 2010 projections are. And our fifth starter is either a 47-year old or a guy who barely outperformed Adam Eaton the last time he was a fixture in our rotation. I don't feel too bad about our postseason rotation of Halladay/Hamels/Happ/Blanton, but what if there's an injury? We don't have any stud pitchers waiting in the wings (cough, Kyle Drabek, cough), so an injury to even a guy like Blanton can prove costly.

10. Will the depletion of the farm system last year be an issue in the long run?

Jeff
The farm system needs time to restock. As long as Amaro doesn’t need to use it to make more trades, the farm system should be in decent shape by the time veterans like Ibanez, Polanco, and Contreras are at the end of their contracts. Domonic Brown is nearly ready to take one of the outfield positions. But if one of the Phillies’ key players gets injured this season, they may have a hard time finding a suitable replacement. If Utley or Rollins get injured, they don’t have anyone ready to step in and they don’t have the depth to justify trading for a short-term solution.

Charles
Hard to tell for sure, since the fact is that prospects are always a crap shoot to some degree or another. It's entirely possible that every player the Phillies have had to trade away will turn out to be a wash. The Phillies have a solid system, though, and by and large Amaro has made sure to replenish the system with prospects of a value in a league somewhere in the vicinity of what he's traded away. That was a large portion of the reason why Cliff Lee was traded away – and that demonstrates a certain amount of dedication to the farm system. That said, though, and not to rehash answers, but it's possible that with 2010's particular pitching situation, some of the young pitching phenoms formerly in the system might have come in handy this season.

Brian
It's hard to see how it won't be. Maybe Amaro has a great eye for talent and the Seattle prospects will develop nicely. But aside from Domonic Brown, who do we have to look forward to? (Admittedly I am excited about Tyson Gillies, who strikes me as a Michael Bourn clone.) Most concerning is that we managed to trade both stud catcher prospects (Lou Marson and Travis D'Arnaud) in the past year, so who's going to replace Ruiz in a few years? And if we're going to lose Werth (which seems likely), then why trade our best right-handed outfield prospect (Michael Taylor)? Maybe Domonic Brown (left-handed) is just that much better but you'd have a difficult time proving it. Time will tell, but I'm concerned.

11. Which Phillies prospect might emerge this season?

Jeff
Not many Phillies prospects will have the chance to emerge this season. Most of the top prospects in the system aren’t ready to contribute at the Major League level, and even if they were, there aren’t roster spots for them to fill. Antonio Bastardo and Sergio Escalona could emerge as second left-handed options in the bullpen, and Bastardo or Drew Carpenter could find their way into the rotation should injuries arise. However, for this question I’m going to pick outfielder Quintin Berry. If the Phillies decide they need a pinch runner type, Berry could get the call. He stole 48 bases last year, over 50 in 2008 and 2007, and he might get the chance to become the new Michael Bourn. There may be a Berry Pickers fan group soon enough.

Charles
Well, if we are still counting Antonio Bastardo as a prospect, then it's pretty certain that he will be seeing a lot of playing time out of the bullpen, since Ruben Amaro has told us so. Aside from Bastardo, OF Domonic Brown looks likely to make an impact. He's got a lot of potential with his speed, size, and bat, and he's been essentially designated the heir apparent in right field if the Phillies can't re-sign Jayson Werth for 2011 or beyond. Since that is a definite possibility, it's likely the Phillies will want to prepare Brown by working him into some Major League games. Brown tore up in Spring Training, and I wouldn't be surprised at all to see Brown in the Majors and playing a fourth-outfielder type of role by the end of the season.

Brian
Tough call because, barring injuries, no prospects are expected to get major playing time. Domonic Brown is our most impressive prospect, but a couple of guys would have to go down for him to crack the lineup. My money is on Bastardo, who I mentioned earlier. I think he has a bright future as a middle reliever or at least a left-handed specialist, and has a good chance to get into the bullpen this season, especially if J.C. Romero isn't 100%.

12. Which NL East rival is the biggest threat?

Jeff
The Marlins could be in position for another big year. Josh Johnson established himself as one of the best young arms in the game last year, Ricky Nolasco has looked good this spring, and Hanley Ramirez remains one of the best players in the game. The Marlins have a lot of question marks, but if more of their young pitchers emerge and young position players are able to support Ramirez and Dan Uggla offensively, they could be a nuisance this year.

Charles
The Braves are the popular pick in this category and I won't try to deny they are a dangerous team going into 2010. However, I want to use this space to point out that I think it would be a big mistake to write off the Mets too easily. Yes, we beat heavily-favored Mets teams in the division races of 2007 and 2008. And yes, the Mets were miserable last year. However, there were reasons they were so favored in 2007 and 2008, and they were so miserable in 2009 because of a rash of injuries. They're left with a lot of problems to address, but they also still have some very strong core players and they still have Johan Santana. Jason Bay may not be the Mets' all-time savior, but he is still a dangerous offensive player. So are Jose Reyes and David Wright. I don't think the Mets have a great shot at the division, but I also think most people have grossly underestimated them.

Brian
The Braves. Atlanta looks the most dangerous on paper, given their deep lineup and some outstanding prospects in Tommy Hanson and Jason Heyward. Plus the team will have extra motivation to make the playoffs in Bobby Cox's last season as manager. The Marlins are also a young and dangerous team, but I don't think they're quite there yet.

13. Which NL team has the biggest chance of keeping them from their third World Series appearance?

Jeff
The Rockies have been very good in the past few years, and they seem to keep getting better, finding out what works, who to keep, and having fewer and fewer holes to fill. They have great pitching, headed by Ubaldo Jiminez, and they’re developing a great young offensive core with Troy Tulowitski, Carlos Gonzalez, and Ian Stewart. The rest of the NL West could also be trouble. The Giants have a stellar pitching staff and solidified their offense, the Diamondbacks made some great moves in the off-season and could be dangerous if Brandon Webb is healthy (big if), and the Dodgers field more or less the same team as last year. The Padres may appear so helpless that teams have no choice but to take pity on them. But the Rockies are establishing themselves as one of the top NL teams in recent years and this year they look even better.

Charles
The Division Series is always a little like Russian roulette. Last year the St. Louis Cardinals had the misfortune to pull the trigger on the wrong chamber, but this year they will once again have a strong, balanced team and a very good shot at winning the NL Central. If the Phillies have to face them in either round of the playoffs, they could present more well-rounded opposition than the Dodgers have for the past two years.

Brian
The Dodgers. LA has played us well in the postseason for the past two years and they feature a strong, balanced lineup, a solid rotation, and a deep bullpen. It doesn't hurt that they're got one of the best managers in the game and some rising stars in Jonathan Broxton, Clayton Kershaw, Andre Ethier, and Matt Kemp.

14. Which player is most likely to improve/bounce back?

Jeff
Brad Lidge. He just can’t be that bad again. Last year I picked Lidge to regress only because he couldn’t possibly be perfect again. Regress would be an understatement for what happened last year. Now I’m saying he’ll be better, secretly hoping he’ll improve as much as he regressed last year.

Charles
Brad Lidge, when he gets back on the mound. He had a much publicized uncharacteristically bad year last year, but has proven his ability to bounce back in the past (after a little-known home run incident rattled him when he was with the Astros). It has emerged that he was playing injured for much of last year, which I for one strongly suspect contributed to his troubles. I'm upset he didn't reveal these injuries sooner so Charlie Manuel could manage with them in mind, but I think that once they're dealt with we're likely to see a Brad Lidge who actually pitches like an effective closer (even if he isn't the 100% perfect Lidge we saw in 2008) which would be a big step up.

Brian
Jimmy Rollins. Cole Hamels and even Brad Lidge are also candidates but Rollins was able to put together a strong 2nd half of the season, after struggling before the All-Star break. Having Polanco hitting behind him should help, plus with the revamped bottom of the order, he'll have a few more RBI chances than usual. He's never going to hit like he did in his MVP season again, but he could easily hit in the .270-.280 range with another 20 home runs.

15. Which player is most likely to regress?

Jeff
J.A. Happ. While Happ was great last year, there were a lot of mixed reviews as to whether he would be able to sustain his success. Some people compared him to a young Andy Pettitte, while others thought he was mostly lucky. Last year’s success was so unexpected and I wouldn’t be surprised if some teams are able to figure him out this year. He seems primed for a sophomore slump, though I still think he’ll be good

Charles
Raul Ibanez. I expect a productive year from Ibanez, but the left fielder is aging and his abilities may start to decline. He virtually carried the Phillies on his shoulders during the first half of last year, then evened out to produce season stats that were about average for him because his second half was relatively poor. While I'd love a repeat of that first half performance (and there's some indication that the drop-off may have been contributed to by injury), there's a strong possibility that was an aberration.

Brian
Raul Ibanez. Most would probably say J.A. Happ, but it's hard to argue with Ibanez, who tailed off in the 2nd half after playing like an MVP in the first few months. Oh, and did I mention he'll turn 38 this year? The one thing going in his favor is that he should be hitting in front of Victorino, instead of Feliz, so he should see some better pitches to hit.

16. Who will be the team MVP?

Jeff
While Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, and Ryan Howard will be the heart and soul of the team as they have been for the past few years, Roy Halladay will be their MVP. Halladay gives them a presence at the top of the rotation that they haven’t had since Curt Schilling was their ace. Halladay legitimizes the team as an MLB power, and he should also be a positive influence to the rest of the rotation – young starters like Hamels, Happ, and Kendrick.

Charles
Unless somebody really clears ahead of the field with his bat, I think it has a strong chance of being Roy Halladay. If he pitches as consistently as he has for the Blue Jays (or maybe even moreso, considering he is moving to the National League), that's one really good shot at a win in every start. In short, he could be even bigger for the Phillies than Hamels was in 2008. Quite simply, starting pitchers have a bigger shot at impacting games than offensive players on a given day, and Halladay is a proven ace.

Brian
The early pick has got to be Ryan Howard. He was superb again last season and showed improvement in the field and on the basepaths due to his slimming down in the previous off-season. Now we're told that he's continued to work on his svelte figure and has also retooled his swing to improve his plate coverage. Does that mean he won't strike out 150+ times? Probably not, but it could push his average and OBP up a few points. Every little bit helps.

17. With Matt Stairs out of the picture and Michael Bourn long gone (we still miss him), which normally underappreciated player will become the new People’s Phillies Blog favorite?

Jeff
Ben Francisco. He’s the best fourth outfielder we’ve had in a while (Michael Bourn and Matt Stairs were really fifth outfielders) and we will get excited every time he comes into the game. If we ever see Dewayne Wise or Quintin Berry in the majors, they’ve also got a major shot to become the new favorite.

Charles
Based purely on their names, I would say that Antonio Bastardo and Brian Bocock are the top candidates right now. Since I'm not sure Bastardo will stay underappreciated enough, and I like Bocock's underdog biography (he was a regular with the Giants for two weeks in 2008, hit under .200, then was later claimed off waivers by the Blue Jays and the Phillies). So I am going for Brian Bocock at the moment.

Brian
Always difficult to predict, but there are some strong candidates. Antonio Bastardo has a good shot, if only because of the name. We've already kicked around the idea of the fan group name "Bastardo's Children Born Out of Wedlock" (no offense, Antonio). My sleeper for this honor is Tyson Gillies, who, if given a chance, could be Michael Bourn-lite (I can't bring myself to call anyone the next Michael Bourn. Blasphemy!) But my pick is going to be Dewayne Wise. He has a good shot to be our token 'pinch-runner/defensive replacement in a tight game which sorta makes sense at the time until he comes up with two on and two out in the bottom of the 12th'. But mostly, he's that guy who saved Mark Buerhle's perfect game. What's not to like?