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Monday, March 21, 2011

Which Team is Better -- the 2011 Phillies or the 2010 Phillies? Are you sure?

Last year's lineup and pitching staff (top 5 starters and closer)

C -- Carlos Ruiz*
1B -- Ryan Howard* (who wasn't the same after the injury)
2B -- Chase Utley* (who wasn't the same after the injury)
3B -- Placido Polanco*
SS -- Jimmy Rollins*
LF -- Raul Ibanez
CF -- Shane Victorino*
RF -- Jayson Werth

SP -- Roy Halladay
SP -- Cole Hamels
SP -- Roy Oswalt
SP -- Joe Blanton
SP -- Kyle Kendrick
Closer -- Brad Lidge.

This year:

C -- Carlos Ruiz
1B -- Ryan Howard
2B -- Luis Castillo or one of four journeymen
3B -- Placido Polanco (who battled an injury in spring training)
SS -- Jimmy Rollins
LF -- Raul Ibanez
CF -- Shane Victorino
RF -- Ben Francisco (most likely)

SP -- Roy Halladay
SP -- Cliff Lee
SP -- Cole Hamels
SP -- Roy Oswalt
SP -- Joe Blanton
Closer -- Brad Lidge (who battled an injury in spring training).

So, the question that poses itself is, which team is better?

Answer: It's pretty hard to say. On the one hand, the pitching looks stronger in 2011. On the other hand, the offense didn't look great in 2010, and it doesn't look any better this year. Also, are they seriously thinking of keeping Dennys Baez? Look, the cash-strapped Mets ditched $18 million in salaries by cutting Castillo and Oliver Perez. Can' t the Phillies shed Baez in favor of Scott Mathieson, who has more than earned the chance and looks to have the makings of an excellent Major League reliever?

In favor of 2011: Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt for a full year, Jimmy Rollins is healthy, Ryan Howard is almost fully healthy.

In favor of 2010: Jayson Werth might have been the team's best hitter. You had the presence of Utley if not the performance down the stretch. Position players all are a year older in 2011. Lidge got better as the season progressed, is battling an injury now. The team successfully cobbled together makeshift lineups to stay in the race and then get to the NLCS. CAn it really have that type of success two years in a row? A lot has to go right.

If the Phillies were to open today, could the lineup look like this:

1. Shane Victorino, CF
2. Placido Polanco, 3B
3. Jimmy Rollins, SS
4. Ryan Howard, 1B
5. Ben Francisco, RF
6. Raul Ibanez, LF
7. Carlos Ruiz, C
8. Luis Castillo, 2B
9. Roy Halladay, P?

They say that you're supposed to put your best hitter third. Well, that would be a fully healthy Utley, but the risk with Rollins is that he's had two bad seasons in a row. If not Rollins, though, who? Francisco? That's a lot of pressure. Victorino? His big problem last year was trying too hard to hit it out, and, in the process, he lowered his OBP to a dangerous level. The Phillies don't need him doing that now. The player with the best on-base percentage is Carlos Ruiz, but is he a 3-hole hitter? Doubtful.

Last year, they got a lot of mileage out of Wilson Valdez, Dane Sardinha, Francisco, Ross Gload and a few others. But the lineup that I just wrote in isn't nearly as scary as it was last year when it had Chase Utley and Jayson Werth in it.

The Phillies have a good pitching staff, but they will need run support. The front office should be worried, at least a little bit.


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