Three straight NL East crowns and one World Series victory have catapulted the Philadelphia Phillies into Atlanta Braves territory as far as Mets rivalries go. There is nothing worse than obnoxious Phillies fans coming up the Turnpike and invading Citi Field as the Phillies beat up on the Mets as they have done the past three years.
There is again reason to fear more of the same in 2010. The Phillies have a lock on the NL Eastern Division crown; at least with respect to preseason polls and predictions.
The Phillies starting pitching is more solid than in recent years. Their offense is explosive. The bullpen seems to be the potential weak link. Their payroll is at a record high and has become one of the highest in baseball. Estimated 2010 payroll will begin at about $145M. The rest of the league must hope that with a little ill luck and injury, the Phillies will be hard pressed to react financially to fill unforeseen holes in the armor.
Starting Pitching: The Phillies top four starters are stronger than in past years. Roy Halladay is arguably the best pitcher in baseball. #2, Cole Hamels is coming off a poor year but could have been affected by the 262 innings pitched in the Phillies championship year of 2008. He should be better rested entering 2010. #3 starter J.A. Happ, had a breakout season going 12-4 with a 2.93 ERA. Joe Blanton in the #4 roll is an innings eater, having thrown at least 194 innings 5 years in a row. Vying for the fifth spot will be Jamie Moyer, Jose Contreras, and Kyle Kendrick.
Relief Pitching: Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson and J.C. Romero will anchor the bullpen, however both Lidge and Romero are returning from off season elbow surgeries and could miss the beginning of the season. Lidge was terrible last year and other than his flawless year in 2008 has not been good since 2005. Look for Antonio Bastardo to be the wild card for the Phillies bullpen. He broke in as a starter last year, got injured but returned for some effective World Series innings. This winter he has been overpowering in the Venezuelan Winter League with an ERA of 1.50 and 18 strikeouts in 14 innings.
Offense The starting lineup is the best in the National League. Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth are the top five in the batting order. Time will tell whether Raul Ibanez can return to his 2009 first half form or has begun his decline at age 37. Otherwise, Carlos Ruiz returns as catcher after a breakout season and Placido Polanco replaces Pedro Feliz at 3rd base
Opinion: The Phillies starting pitching is much improved. Relief pitching is very suspect. The offense is the best in the N.L. The bottom line is that the Phillies will win their fourth straight N.L. East crown.
Prediction: Wins – 94 Losses – 68