Philadelphia acquired pitcher Cliff Lee from Cleveland midway through the 2009 season in an effort to try and win a second straight World Championship. After coming up short on their goal, the Phillies decided to trade Lee to Seattle
in light of the fact they had just signed Toronto ace Roy Halladay to anchor the starting rotation.
Even though the 2010 season was one of Halladay’s best ever, Philadelphia was eliminated by San Francisco in the National League Championship Series in six games. Realizing that they should have never let Lee go in the first place, the Phillies re-signed him as a free agent from Texas this offseason.
The end result could be one of the best starting rotations ever assembled in the history of Major League Baseball. Lee rejoins a staff that not only has Halladay, last season’s NL Cy Young winner, but Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels as well. Oswalt came over last July in a deal with Houston and Hamels is a home-grown product from the Phillies farm system who was the MVP of the 2008 World Series.
Joe Blanton, who has been with the team since 2008, will round out the rotation as the fifth starter.
Given the dominating potential of this deadly combination of arms, it is little wonder that Philadelphia as the prohibitive favorite to win the NL East at minus 345 (Atlanta is second at plus 350). The Phils are also chalk to win the National League Pennant at plus 150 and the early odds-on favorite to win the World Series at plus 300.
San Francisco is the second favorite to win the NL at plus 650 and Boston is the second favorite to win a world title at plus 450.
The biggest question marks for this team are on the offensive side of the ball. The Phillies lost outfielder Jayson Werth, who had 27 home runs and 85 RBI in 2010, to Washington as a free agent and have some serious concern with the health of second baseman Chase Utley’s right knee, which has kept him out of action for much of the spring.
There are also lingering injury concerns with Placido Polanco and closer Brad Lidge, but both are expected to be ready to go Opening Say. If Utley’s situation worsens, look for Philadelphia to plug the hole in the infield with either Wilson Valdez or possibly Luis Castillo, who was recently signed after being released by the Mets last week.
The loss of Utley would hurt, but Philadelphia’s lineup is still loaded with a ton of star power with players such as Ryan Howard, Jimmie Rollins, Shane Victorino and Raul Ibañez. A young prospect to watch this season is Dominic Brown, who is slated to take over Werth’s position in the outfield. He has also struggled with some nagging injuries in spring training, but could be a real plus for this team if he continues to develop.
Philadelphia's 'over/under’ on the season win total is a league-high 96½ games. The Phillies won 97 games last season, which was the most in the majors, but could be hard pressed to top this number in 2011.
All current injuries aside, the high expectations that have been put on this team could actually work against it over the course of a 162-game season, making the ‘under’ play extremely attractive. The Phillies are still the class of the National League and should return to the World Series in 2011, but similar to the Miami Heat in the NBA, they will remain under the looking glass all season long.
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