Philadelphia is the team to beat on paper entering the 2011 season. On the field, however, the Phillies
are starting the campaign on the wrong foot, hand, shoulder and knee according to the latest list of walking wounded.
So are their opponents in Friday's season opener, the Houston Astros.
The two National League clubs will be at Citizen's Bank Park in Philly for a 10:05 a.m. (PT) first pitch on ESPN, assuming the weather cooperates. Charlie Manuel gives the ball to last year's NL Cy Young winner Roy Halladay to get things rolling, with Brad Mills sending former Phillie Brett Myers to the mound for Houston.
The Phillies will open play with second baseman Chase Utley (knee injury), rookie outfielder Domonic Brown (hand) and closer RP Brad Lidge (shoulder) on the DL. There has been no timetable set for Utley's return, while Brown could return by mid-to-late April after surgery on a broken bone in his right hand. He was expected to take over in right this year for Jayson Werth who bolted for Washington via free agency on the Scott Boras Express.
Lidge's sore shoulder has turned into a torn rotator cuff. He's out at least through mid-June, and could miss the entire season. Veteran Jose Contreras, who turned 39 this offseason, is expected to get the majority of the save opportunities while Lidge is out.
Houston also suffered several bad bites from the spring injury bug, first losing starting catcher Jason Castro (knee) for the season. Clint Barmes, acquired from Colorado during the winter, was plunked on the left hand by the Yankees' Ivan Nova during a recent exhibition game and will likely miss all of April. Angel Sanchez will take Barmes' place at short.
In his final Grapefruit League start before the season, lefty J.A. Happ suffered a strained oblique and is not expected to answer the call in Sunday's series finale against his former club who dealt him to get Roy Oswalt last July. No official word yet on who might take his place in the rotation though Ryan Rowland-Smith is a very likely candidate.
But enough about the players that won't be part of Friday's action.
Halladay certainly made an impression in his first NL season after 12 years with Toronto in the American League. From a perfect game in late-May versus Florida to the no-hitter against Cincinnati in the NLDS, he was as dominant and consistent a pitcher as you could find.
The Phils were 22-11 in his 33 regular seasons starts, 2-1 in the postseason. In front of the home fans with Halladay on the hill, Philly was 14-6 including a pair of postseason starts. One of those six defeats came to these Astros in late-August, 3-2, long balls from Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn doing the damage.
Myers was also incredibly consistent for Houston in 2010, his first with the Astros after spending eight campaigns with the Phillies. The former first-round pick lasted at least six innings in 32 of his 33 assignments, the one exception his final start of the season when he worked 5-2/3 innings.
His lone start versus the Phillies in 2010 came in August, another 3-2 Houston victory thanks to a late 2-run single by Carlos Lee. The Astros were 20-13 overall in his 33 starts while Myers fashioned a 3.14 ERA and worked the fifth-most innings in the NL (223-2/3).
Myers' last two seasons with Philadelphia saw him make 19 starts at Citizens Bank Park. The Phils only won six of those outings despite Myers posting a respectable 3.42 ERA in a park known as hitter-friendly.
The two clubs took turns pulling off road sweeps against each other in 2010. Bettors who got on board for all four of Houston's wins in Philly last August are probably still counting their money after the 'Stros won the games as 165, 240, 310 and 155 underdogs on the MLB money line. That was payback and then some for the Phils' early-April sweep in Houston that was capped by Halladay besting Oswalt in a 2-1 duel.
After all of the talk about the Phillies pitchers this winter, Mother Nature might actually throw the first curveball of their season. The current forecast calls for chilly conditions, a 50 percent chance of a rain/snow mix on Friday and an afternoon high at 50ºF. Saturday's weather should be dryer, but not much warmer.
A battle of southpaws is expected in Game 2 of the series. Cliff Lee is slated for the Phils against Houston's Wandy Rodriguez. Game 3 was to have been the Happ-Oswalt battle, but Happ has been scratched.