|Phillies Favorites in Tight NL East||| Print |||Send|
Written by Jonathan Leshanski (Contact & Archive) on February 23, 2012
Once again, the Philadelphia Phillies are the favorites to win the National League East and to reach the World Series.Â That makes them the boogieman to the other contenders in the division and in fact the league.Â But for a change the team also is beginning to show some cracks
The Phillies have three legitimate ace pitchers in Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels.Â Then they have youngster Vance Worley, who has knockout stuff and could raise his game to that elite stratosphere with a few seasons of seasoning, and Kyle Kendrick to, well, to eat innings.Â Neither Kendrick nor Joe Blanton have great stuff, but they get the job done and match up against the four and five pitchers that other teams throw.
The pitching staff is essentially bulletproof.Â Or at least it seems so.Â But there is a team in the division who is going to challenge that.
So if Johnson could split half of his games against his Phillies counterpart it becomes about the edges.Â And the Marlins would have the edge against Kendrick, Blanton and maybe Worley, meaning theoretically in a five-game match up the Marlins could conceivably match up evenly.Â In reality, that won't happen quite that ideally.Â The edge Zambrano and Sanchez have over the back end of the Philly rotation isn't as big as the edge Lee and Hamels would have over Nolasco and Buehrle.
But all things being equal, it's closer than the Phillies should feel comfortable with.Â Yet the Phillies wouldn't be looking over their shoulder at all if their offense wasn't older and a bit more brittle than management should be comfortable with.
Of the big bats, Ryan Howard is already on pace to miss the first six to eight weeks of the season.Â Second baseman Chase Utley is 33 and has questionable knees.Â Shortstop Jimmy Rollins is the same age, has lost a step or two and is no longer a lock to play 140 games -- or even 130.
There are a lot of other older players on the team including regular third baseman Placido Polanco.Â Corner infielder Jim Thome is 41, and even super utility player Ty Wigginton is 34. Â Basically this is an old team by baseball standards.Â Basically they are the New York Yankees of just a few years ago.
That's not a bad thing.Â The Yankees have been very successful at getting good seasons out of their older stars, and the Phillies are using a similar model, though not the model that the Yankees use when they acquire top free agents at the drop of a hat.
What the Phillies have done this offseason is build depth.Â They've built a strong bullpen. They've built a strong outfield.Â But most importantly they've built a bench with an embarrassment of depth, where they have backups for backups.Â That should allow them to overcome injuries to one key player, maybe even injuries to two of them.
That will translate to wins and it's why the Phillies are the favorites to not just win the East, but to make it back to the World Series.Â But while they ran away with the division last year, this year it's not just Atlanta who'll be breathing down their neck, but other teams that have completely revamped themselves to take advantage of any mishap that befalls the Phillies key players.