Phillies’ road to pennant still rocky

With pitchers and catchers set to report to Spring Training in three days on Feb. 14, it is only fitting to address the biggest offseason move in the MLB. Of all the $100 million contracts signed this offseason, none was more eye-raising than the Phillies’ signing of pitcher Cliff Lee for five years and $120 million. Lee left two contract years and nearly $50 million on the table when he chose the Phillies over the Yankees in the offseason’s most shocking move.
The addition of Lee sent sports writers into a tizzy with many of them declaring the 2011 Phillies rotation the best of the modern era, and possibly the best of all time. It left others saying that the Phillies could overpass the 2001 Seattle Mariners for most wins in a season. The move also caused Braves fans to rue the day they heard the news and concede the division title to the Phillies before either team picked up a bat.
I have advice for those crazy sports writers and Braves fans: calm down. The 2011 Phillies will have holes, just like every other MLB team, and these holes will be far too great for the Phillies to win 120 games.
First off, while the Phillies added a huge piece in Lee, they lost an almost equally important player when right fielder Jayson Werth left the Phillies to sign with the division rival Nationals for seven years and $126 million. Although Werth’s 2010 numbers were not incredibly impressive, his signing hurts the Phillies in that he makes the Nationals better and the Phillies worse. Werth had a Wins Above Replacement value of 5.2 last year, and assuming he has about the same one next season, it could hurt the Phillies’ chances of winning 120 games if one or more of those wins come against the Nationals.
Werth’s move also means that the Phillies’ 2011 lineup will be extremely left-handed heavy. The middle of the Phillies’ lineup will feature four consecutive left-handed hitters that any capable left-handed pitcher should easily dispose of, in order.
Another reason the Phillies will not be dramatically improved is that the National League East will be better than it was last season. The Braves added the power bat that they were searching for in Dan Uggla. Meanwhile, the Marlins will allow their young core of Hanley Ramirez, Chris Coghlan and Mike Stanton to get more mature while still relying on the National League’s second best starting rotation. The Nationals added the aforementioned Werth, and their younger players will be better than last season. The Mets… well they are still the Mets, but they could be competitive if they stay healthy. All the improvements by teams inside of the division means that the Phillies will not just waltz through it unscathed. One of those teams will have a winning record against the Phillies, and one will probably be around .500 against them.
Another glaring weakness in the 2011 Phillies is the absolutely awful play of the their bullpen. The 2010 Phillies were eighth in the league in blown saves with 19 and their bullpen ERA was 13th in the league. What is worse is that the Phillies bullpen seemed to falter in the team’s most important games as their bullpen ERA after Sept. 1 was 4.48. What is interesting about these inept bullpen numbers is that the Phillies did nothing this offseason to address this concern. They did not sign a reliever that they did not have last season even though the free agency was deep with valuable bullpen arms. The Phillies will have to count on Lee to go nine innings if the game is close because they cannot rely on that shaky bullpen.
Another factor that could prevent the 2011 Phillies from being the best team ever is uncertainty in their greatest asset: their starting pitching. Roy Halladay won the Cy Young award last season in an incredibly dominant year. However, only three players have won the National League Cy Young award two years in a row, so do not expect Halladay to put up the same kind of gaudy numbers. Roy Oswalt was great for the Phillies last season, but we have yet to see how he will do in a Phillies uniform for the entire season. Lee throws far too many first pitch fastballs, and the Phillies fifth rotation spot is just as bad as everybody else’s with Joe Blanton or the ageless wonder Jamie Moyer likely to fill the spot.
Barring injuries, the 2011 Phillies will be a great team, but they were a great team last year too, and they only won 97 games. As we saw last season with the Giants beating the Phillies en route to a World Series title, anyone can win in the MLB, and money rarely buys world titles.


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