2011 Phillies Preview: Shh…It’s About to Get Funner

So today is Opening Day.  Hope springs eternal and all that jazz.  The Phillies, though, don’t play their first game until the second day of the season, an afternoon tilt against the “Phillies-South” Astros so it’s ok for this preview to go up now.  We’ll take the opportunity to look at the Phils piece-by-piece and then throw in a few thoughts on the rest of the division and a little bit about the anticipated playoff picture.  Let’s get into it.

The Pitching Staff

This is the big one, the place where the Phils made their big splash in the offseason to add yet another Cy Young candidate in Cliff Lee, who’s back in town for a reunion tour after his half-season-plus-playoffs lovefest of 2009 when he was the most unbeatable pitcher in baseball throughout the ’09 postseason.  Oh yeah and the Phillies still have that guy Roy Halladay who won 21 games and the Cy Young last year.  And Roy Oswalt, that guy who was the winningest pitcher in the National League  for a few years in Houston.  And Hollywood Cole Hamels, who carried the Sillies to the ’08 Series and won the NLCS MVP as well as the World Series MVP award.  Also Joe Blanton, the guy that looks like my cousin.  This rotation is going places.  You hear it here first again.

The bullpen?  Eh.  A little less certainty there, although the Phightins bring back a few pretty good parts from last year’s bullpen.  Jose Contreras was a good relieve last year, as was Ryan Madson, and Antonio Bastardo even showed some stuff last year.  Beyond that, though, they lost Chad Durbin who had been a good one-inning reliever for a couple years now after starting his career as a starter and Brad Lidge is down at the start of the season with a mysterious shoulder injury.  Some good pieces here, but the bullpen could ultimately be the undoing of the Phils if things don’t turn around when the season gets underway.

The Lineup

Here’s where people will tell you about the most doom-and-gloom for the 2011 Phils, as they lost Jayson Werth to a comically large contract with the Nationals and never bothered to get a right-handed bat to replace him in the middle of the order.  With his possible replacement Dom Brown and baseball wet dream Chase Utley suffering from injuries, the lineup is not what it looked like it might be on paper coming into the season.  However, I humbly submit the fact that for those of us who actually watched the team last year, we saw EVERY SINGLE PLAYER underperform at the plate with the exceptions of Carlos Ruiz and Placido Polanco and still rank second in the National League in runs scored.

Still going out every day for the Phightins will be back-to-back MVP’s Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins, frustrating-but exciting leadoff man Shane Victorino, the guy who hit better than anyone else for half a season Raul Ibañez, and the clutchest non-English speaking catcher in the world our man Carlos Ruiz.  So everyone chill out a little, there’s still a lot going for these guys.  Oh, and if you’re interested go check out a comparison of Jayson Werth’s first five years in the league and Ben Francisco’s.  There’s reason to believe he might work out okay.

The Bench

Scoff if you’d like at the inclusion here of a separate section for the bench when the bullpen was lumped in with the pitching staff, but in a world where Ryan Howard can get ejected from a game and have Roy Oswalt out in left field, the bench becomes a pretty important facet of a team.  This year the Phils have held onto the key piece of last year’s bench, super-utility man Wilson Valdez, as well as bringing back NL East whore backup catcher Brian Schneider and infielder/outfielder Ross Gload.  New faces to welcome include middle infielders Pete Orr and rookie Michael Martinez, and rookie outfielder John Mayberry.

Valdez should prove to be huge in replacing Utley in the early-going and with any luck can get some momentum going with the regular at-bats to be a good pinch-hitter when Mr. WFC makes his triumphant return.  Mayberry can really mash when he makes contact and could provide some necessary pop off the bench if he gets going (though I don’t know if you want to count on that happening).  The rest of the guys are pretty non-descript, but it should bode well for the Phils that they finally wised up and held onto an extra middle infielder in Martinez considering the injury struggles of Chase and J-Roll in previous years.  Good on ya for that one, Rueben and Co.

All in all?  This team should be pretty dirty.  They won more games than any other team in baseball last year after spending a few months hitting like absolute horse shit.  They may struggle again offensively and have some issues in the bullpen, but every team has flaws.  Not every team has four pitchers that will be unquestioned favorites every time they take the hill.  Let’s not be silly, this team is gonna be fun to be around.

The Division

The Braves are good.  They have three good starters and a good bullpen.  They have Chipper Jones’ corpse hitting like Chipper Jones’ not corpse.  Then they have Brian McCann, Martin Prado, and some good young’ns.  Call me crazy, but I’m not sold that Heyward and Freddie Freeman are going to be quite as good as people think.  Don’t get me wrong, Heyward’s good, but everyone’s gotta have some growing pains sooner or later and I think he may see some this year.

The Marlins have some DAMN good starters, headlined by Josh Johnson and Phillie-killer Ricky Nolasco.  They also still have Hanley Ramirez and a bunch of hard-hitting youngsters, but they lost Dan Uggla and they play defense like a team full of Pat Burrells.  This team is not too scary.

The Nats have no pitching, they stole Jayson Werth from us, and Ryan Zimmerman is still a G.  Their freshies Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa might turn out to be legit, but this team starts Rick Ankiel.  They are not a threat with Strasburg out for the year coming off Tommy John surgery and Bryce Harper still douchin’ it up in the minors.

The Mets…oh, the Mets.  The Mets are a joke in so many ways.  They just paid Luis Castillo like $6 million to play for the Phillies for four games.  Ha, the Mets.

Playoffs

The Braves are probably the most legit contenders in the NL and should be good rivals throughout the year and into the postseason.  They and the Phils will probably split the East and the Wild Card in some combination.  Elsewhere in the NL, the Rockies will be good if they can get some pitching, with $140 million worth of good hitters in Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki.  The Giants WILL NOT make the playoffs this year.  They have some really good young pitchers that got them a World Series title last year, but as we all witnessed with Cole Hamels young pitchers suffer after a long postseason run.  Pablo Sandoval is skinnier now, but Buster Posey is about the only offensive player on that team that scares me.

The AL will be good, and by the AL I mean the Red Sox.  The Yankees have Freddy Garcia on their team (hilarious, hope you checked his medicals) and we stole Cliff Lee right out from under them.  The Rangers should be good again, but a lack of Cliff Lee will probably hurt them, too.  The Tigers are pretty complete, with a real ace (ha, only one) and some good beefy power hitters in Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, and Magglio Ordoñez.

Predictions

National League: Phils, Reds and Rockies win the divisions with the Braves as the Wild Card.  Clayton Kershaw for Cy Young and Pujols with a final MVP for the Cards.

American League: Red Sox, Tigers and Rangers win the Divisions with the Yanks as the Wild Card.  Jon Lester for Cy Young and Josh Hamilton wins MVP.

World Series: Forgive the predictability of this predictable prediction but I’m goin’ Phils over Sawx for the WFC and another Broad Street blackout this fall for yours truly.

Predictable, right?  But man would it be fun if it came true.

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