My article was published by Yahoo Sports on 2/26/11
6 Phearless Philadelphia Phillies Points
The Philadelphia Phillies are so deep, that six points seems too few to offer.
This team appears set to begin what should be the best season in franchise history, even though they have not won a game yet. They have not yet taken the divisional lead, or pulled away from a second place team. They have not caught fire during the dog days of summer, stayed healthy into September, or gone strong into October ready for a playoff push.
So far, the only thing this team has accomplished is to have rightfully set the highest expectations in the minds of the baseball world. Few teams in the major leagues have comparable talent, or potential. Let's look at six key points that dot the path to their potential destination. GPS voice command: “World Series, 2011?”
For all the talk of the Phillies supposed dominance, they have actually been on a three-year slide. In 2008, they won the World Series. In 2009, they won the National League Pennant. In 2010, they won a Division Series. That would be graphed as a decline, not a dynasty. But, a new season is at-hand and trends can quickly be reversed.
The starting pitching staff features a Fab Four of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels. Then, there is that other pitcher who could easily be confused with a contestant from Philadelphia's famous Wing Bowl. “Wingman” Joe Blanton is the guy who makes all the other guys look even better.
Halladay, Lee, and Oswalt have lifetime winning percentages above .600. Hamels lifetime winning percentage is nearly 30 points better than Blanton's .545. If this former 16-game winner is not traded, he just might post more wins than at least one of the Fearsome Foursome. This type of scenario isn't logical, but somehow always seems to play out within every team, every season.
Roy Halladay is a future Hall of Famer and the premiere pitcher in the game. His mound presence indicates that he could pitch and win in any era. With health, he should easily win more than 20 games again and leave lines scores as blunt as this short paragraph.
Cliff Lee stuck it to the Yankees in the offseason and he'll do the same to countless batters this year. There are those who think that because the Giants beat him in the Series, they'll beat him again in any potential playoff rematch. Mr. Cody Ross and any fan who has seen this superb lefty for more than a few games, know that he makes adjustments. That is what dominant pitchers do.
Carlos Ruiz emerged last year as one of the best all-around catchers in the game. Like a Stealth aircraft, his effectiveness has been above detection for a number of years. Besides his solid defense, this pugnacious backstop hit .302 last season, and would not bat in the lower third of many other teams batting orders. If he was moved to a higher position in the Phillies lineup, how would this sixth-year player perform? Check out his playoff numbers and then think about it.
Brad Lidge is still key to the team's potential success. While his fastball seems to have lessened, he showed renewed arm strength, compared to the 2009 season, and deepened his use of mound intelligence. His slider was nearly back to Eric Hinske foiling form as well. As the Phillies lineup has been less prolific in recent seasons, there have been less blowouts. In this revived pitching era, closers are needed to lock the end-game door more often.
Bottom line on the Phillies: With a relatively healthy roster, they could pass their all-time season record of 101 wins, which they set during the 1976 and 1977 seasons. With Charlie Manuel's even demeanor, and the creative aggressiveness of General Manager, Reuben Amaro, Jr., they should adjust to any challenges a season can bring. Their attitude already seems closer to their championship team of three seasons past, than that of the previous two campaigns. Alex Trebek hasn't yet asked supercomputer Watson, but how could any human mind not like Philadelphia's chances to replay 2008's final scene?