Philadelphia Phillies 2010 preview

No National League franchise has made three consecutive trips to the World Series since the St. Louis Cardinals turned the trick from 1942-44. With the league’s best lineup and Roy Halladay added to the top of the rotation, this year’s Phillies squad is a serious threat to duplicate the Cardinals’ feat. Philadelphia also should challenge the 100-win plateau, which it has reached just twice in franchise history (1976-77).

Brad Lidge is looking to bounce back after struggling in 2009.
Brad Lidge is looking to bounce back after struggling in 2009.

Three questions

1. Will the bullpen be better?
It isn’t that the bullpen as a whole was bad last season — the 3.91 ERA ranked ninth among 16 NL teams — but closer Brad Lidge must be much better than he was in 2009. Manager Charlie Manuel stuck with Lidge, who was nearly unhittable in 2008, despite his 7.21 ERA, 0-8 record and 11 blown saves. Lidge converted all three of his save chances in the postseason, though, and will have a good-sized leash as he attempts to prove 2009’s disaster was a fluke.

As for the rest of the bullpen, 2009 mainstays Scott Eyre, Clay Condrey and Chan Ho Park are gone, and veterans Danys Baez and Jose Contreras are in. Baez, the more known quantity of the two, had a 4.02 ERA in the Orioles’ bullpen last season. Contreras has only made five relief appearances — all last year after he joined the Rockies — since his rookie season. There could be an adjustment period as he settles into the ‘pen full-time.

2. Which Cole Hamels will show up?
The lefthander failed to meet expectations created by his dominant performance in the 2008 postseason, posting a middling 4.32 ERA and 1.29 WHIP — both career-worsts — last season. Hamels can relax now that Halladay is in town to take that "ace" designation away from him.

"I believe that Cole Hamels will be much better than he was in 2009, though it will be very hard to match his 2008 season," an NL scout said. "He began last year with some arm soreness and his ERA went from 3.09 in 2008 to 4.32 last season. He needs to revive his curveball to get back to his 2008 form."

Without that precise curveball in his arsenal, Hamels’ changeup was less effective, and hitters were more comfortable in the batter’s box. Opponents hit .273 against Hamels in 2009 — they hadn’t hit better than .237 against him in his previous three seasons.

3. How will Placido Polanco’s return to Philly play out?
Taking a long-term view, the decision to sign Polanco will be beneficial for the Phillies, but there could be some growing pains. Switching from second base to third base on a full-time basis will be a challenge; he hasn’t played more than 25 games at the hot corner in one season since 2002.

And all indications are that Polanco will take over the No. 2 spot in the Phillies’ lineup, which could upset a grouping that produced very good results last year. The Phillies will lose some speed at the top, with Shane Victorino, who has 98 stolen bases over the past three years — Polanco has 71 in his 12-season career — moving to the lower third of the order. Hitting between Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley should help Polanco, but it could hurt Victorino. He hit .307 in the No. 2 spot in the lineup but just .222 everywhere else.

Projected lineup
1. SS Jimmy Rollins. Career-low .296 OBP in ’09.
2. 3B Placido Polanco. Career-high 72 RBIs with Tigers.
3. 2B Chase Utley. 93 RBIs were lowest total since ’04.
4. 1B Ryan Howard. Averaging 50 HRs, 143 RBIs since ’06.
5. RF Jayson Werth. 60 HRs, 40 steals over past 2 years.
6. LF Raul Ibanez. 13 HRs at home, 21 HRs on road.
7. CF Shane Victorino. Career-high 62 RBIs, .358 OBP.
8. C Carlos Ruiz. Career-best .780 OPS in ’09.

Projected rotation
1. RHP Roy Halladay. 25 CGs past 3 years; Phillies have 17 in that span.
2. LHP Cole Hamels. 1.80 ERA in ’08 playoffs; 7.58 ERA in ’09 playoffs.
3. RHP Joe Blanton. Career-best 7.5 K/9 in ’09.
4. LHP J.A. Happ. 2.93 ERA for SN’s top NL rookie.
5. LHP Jamie Moyer. Must prove he is healthy/effective.

Projected closer
RHP Brad Lidge. Ryan Madson is nice safety net.

Grades

Offense: A. There isn’t a lineup in baseball with a better power/speed dynamic; the Phillies return five players who hit at least 20 homers (four hit 30-plus) last year and four who stole at least 20 bases. And Polanco (.348 career on-base percentage) will replace Pedro Feliz (.293 career OBP) at third base.

Pitching: B. The 1-2 punch of Halladay and Hamels is elite, but there are questions about the No. 5 starter. Can Jamie Moyer or Kyle Kendrick hold the spot? And Lidge’s performance last year doesn’t exactly inspire confidence heading into 2010.

Bench: B. Ben Francisco is an ideal fourth outfielder — a guy who can play all three outfield positions for extended stretches, if needed. Juan Castro is a veteran defensive-minded infielder who can play second, shortstop and third. Greg Dobbs is the resident lefthanded bat off the bench.

Manager: A. Hard to find faults with a man who has led his team to back-to-back World Series appearances. Charlie Manuel might not always follow the conventional lines of thinking, but he knows the abilities of his players well and gets them to play their best baseball in the second half of the season.

Sporting News prediction: The Phillies, the most complete NL squad entering the season, will meet the Yankees in a World Series rematch. And will suffer a similar fate.

Coming Tuesday: Marlins preview.

Ryan Fagan is a staff writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at rfagan@sportingnews.com.

No National League franchise has made three consecutive trips to the World Series since the St. Louis Cardinals turned the trick from 1942-44. With the league’s best lineup and Roy Halladay added to the top of the rotation, this year’s Phillies squad is a serious threat to duplicate the Cardinals’ feat. Philadelphia also should challenge the 100-win plateau, which it has reached just twice in franchise history (1976-77).

Brad Lidge is looking to bounce back after struggling in 2009.
Brad Lidge is looking to bounce back after struggling in 2009.

Three questions

1. Will the bullpen be better?
It isn’t that the bullpen as a whole was bad last season — the 3.91 ERA ranked ninth among 16 NL teams — but closer Brad Lidge must be much better than he was in 2009. Manager Charlie Manuel stuck with Lidge, who was nearly unhittable in 2008, despite his 7.21 ERA, 0-8 record and 11 blown saves. Lidge converted all three of his save chances in the postseason, though, and will have a good-sized leash as he attempts to prove 2009’s disaster was a fluke.

As for the rest of the bullpen, 2009 mainstays Scott Eyre, Clay Condrey and Chan Ho Park are gone, and veterans Danys Baez and Jose Contreras are in. Baez, the more known quantity of the two, had a 4.02 ERA in the Orioles’ bullpen last season. Contreras has only made five relief appearances — all last year after he joined the Rockies — since his rookie season. There could be an adjustment period as he settles into the ‘pen full-time.

2. Which Cole Hamels will show up?
The lefthander failed to meet expectations created by his dominant performance in the 2008 postseason, posting a middling 4.32 ERA and 1.29 WHIP — both career-worsts — last season. Hamels can relax now that Halladay is in town to take that "ace" designation away from him.

"I believe that Cole Hamels will be much better than he was in 2009, though it will be very hard to match his 2008 season," an NL scout said. "He began last year with some arm soreness and his ERA went from 3.09 in 2008 to 4.32 last season. He needs to revive his curveball to get back to his 2008 form."

Without that precise curveball in his arsenal, Hamels’ changeup was less effective, and hitters were more comfortable in the batter’s box. Opponents hit .273 against Hamels in 2009 — they hadn’t hit better than .237 against him in his previous three seasons.

3. How will Placido Polanco’s return to Philly play out?
Taking a long-term view, the decision to sign Polanco will be beneficial for the Phillies, but there could be some growing pains. Switching from second base to third base on a full-time basis will be a challenge; he hasn’t played more than 25 games at the hot corner in one season since 2002.

And all indications are that Polanco will take over the No. 2 spot in the Phillies’ lineup, which could upset a grouping that produced very good results last year. The Phillies will lose some speed at the top, with Shane Victorino, who has 98 stolen bases over the past three years — Polanco has 71 in his 12-season career — moving to the lower third of the order. Hitting between Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley should help Polanco, but it could hurt Victorino. He hit .307 in the No. 2 spot in the lineup but just .222 everywhere else.

Projected lineup
1. SS Jimmy Rollins. Career-low .296 OBP in ’09.
2. 3B Placido Polanco. Career-high 72 RBIs with Tigers.
3. 2B Chase Utley. 93 RBIs were lowest total since ’04.
4. 1B Ryan Howard. Averaging 50 HRs, 143 RBIs since ’06.
5. RF Jayson Werth. 60 HRs, 40 steals over past 2 years.
6. LF Raul Ibanez. 13 HRs at home, 21 HRs on road.
7. CF Shane Victorino. Career-high 62 RBIs, .358 OBP.
8. C Carlos Ruiz. Career-best .780 OPS in ’09.

Projected rotation
1. RHP Roy Halladay. 25 CGs past 3 years; Phillies have 17 in that span.
2. LHP Cole Hamels. 1.80 ERA in ’08 playoffs; 7.58 ERA in ’09 playoffs.
3. RHP Joe Blanton. Career-best 7.5 K/9 in ’09.
4. LHP J.A. Happ. 2.93 ERA for SN’s top NL rookie.
5. LHP Jamie Moyer. Must prove he is healthy/effective.

Projected closer
RHP Brad Lidge. Ryan Madson is nice safety net.

Grades

Offense: A. There isn’t a lineup in baseball with a better power/speed dynamic; the Phillies return five players who hit at least 20 homers (four hit 30-plus) last year and four who stole at least 20 bases. And Polanco (.348 career on-base percentage) will replace Pedro Feliz (.293 career OBP) at third base.

Pitching: B. The 1-2 punch of Halladay and Hamels is elite, but there are questions about the No. 5 starter. Can Jamie Moyer or Kyle Kendrick hold the spot? And Lidge’s performance last year doesn’t exactly inspire confidence heading into 2010.

Bench: B. Ben Francisco is an ideal fourth outfielder — a guy who can play all three outfield positions for extended stretches, if needed. Juan Castro is a veteran defensive-minded infielder who can play second, shortstop and third. Greg Dobbs is the resident lefthanded bat off the bench.

Manager: A. Hard to find faults with a man who has led his team to back-to-back World Series appearances. Charlie Manuel might not always follow the conventional lines of thinking, but he knows the abilities of his players well and gets them to play their best baseball in the second half of the season.

Sporting News prediction: The Phillies, the most complete NL squad entering the season, will meet the Yankees in a World Series rematch. And will suffer a similar fate.

Coming Tuesday: Marlins preview.

Ryan Fagan is a staff writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at rfagan@sportingnews.com.

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