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Thursday, April 1, 2010

Can the Phillies get back to the World Series?

It has been five months since the Phillies fell to the Yankees in the World Series, and like most seasons, 2010 promises to be another reminder that pitching wins championships.

In 2007, the Phillies took advantage of the New York Mets’ historic collapse, but it was the trio of J.C. Romero, Tom Gordon and Brett Myers taking the ball nearly every day out of the bullpen for the entire month of September that willed the Phils into the playoffs for the first time since 1993.

In 2008, none of us will ever forget how brilliantly Cole Hamels pitched in the playoffs, going 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA, while Brad Lidge was as perfect as a closer could be, racking up 48 saves in 48 chances; a performance capped with a parade marching down Broad Street for the first time since 1983.

Then in 2009, despite the postseason dominance of Cliff Lee, the Phillies couldn’t come up with enough arms against the Yankees to make it a Philly repeat.

So in 2010, we all know that the Phils’ bats will keep them in the hunt, but do they have enough pitching to win in October?

I wish I could give a more definitive answer to this question, but in reality, I have no idea if they do, and I don’t think anyone could say “yes” or “no” with any certainty.

Right now, Roy Halladay is the undisputed ace of the starting rotation, but after Doc, the Phillies have some question marks.

Yes, Hamels, Joe Blanton (with Kyle Kendrick temporarily filling in due to injury), J.A. Happ and Jamie Moyer will round out the rotation, but other than Blanton’s league-average consistency, none of us can predict how the others will fare.

In the No. 2 spot in the rotation, the Phillies are counting on Hamels to shake off his disastrous 2009 campaign, in which he posted the worst ERA of his career during the regular season, and then an even worse 7.58 ERA in four playoff appearances.

It has been widely reported that Cole has been adding pitches to his repertoire, but will he actually use them during the season? I wondered last year why his curveball wasn’t used more when it was clear that his fastball was sitting at 90-mph instead of being the blazing 95-mph heater from 2008.

Hamels has always been about keeping hitters off balance with his devastating fastball-changeup combination, but when his fastball wasn’t there last year, his changeup no longer confused people, and he should have gone to his curveball to throw off hitters. Hopefully this year, Hamels will keep his composure and use some of Moyer’s teachings to get guys out when the going gets tough, instead of blaming fielders, umpires and the sun for his poor performance.

In the third spot in the rotation, we can pencil Blanton (after returning from the DL) in for an ERA of just north of 4.00, as he does seemingly every year.

Now it gets a little more dicey, as Happ, Moyer and Kendrick need to provide the Phillies with some consistency to make up for the potential of another down year from Hamels, but can they actually do it?

Since 2004, Moyer has turned in three seasons with ERAs over 4.50 and three seasons under 4.50, which means he could be awesome, as he was in 2008, or he could be bounced from the starting rotation for the second straight year.

Happ, who was very successful last season posting a 2.93 ERA, could solve the Phillies’ troubles by delivering a repeat performance and claiming the seat behind Halladay in the rotation, but like Kendrick from 2007 to 2008, he could be due for a sophomore slump if the National League’s hitters have figured out him out.

Moving to the bullpen, does anybody know if the Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde version will show up this year?

Due to injuries, Brad Lidge and J.C. Romero probably won’t head north with the Phillies. While I don’t worry about Romero’s ability to turn it on once he re-joins the big club, I am terrified to see what happens when Lidge walks through the bullpen door with a one-run lead in the bottom of the ninth.

Lidge was perfect in 2008, and had excellent seasons in 2004 and 2005, but in 2009 he was terrible, blowing 11 saves in 42 chances, posting a 7.21 ERA in the process. Last season, just like in 2006 and 2007, Lidge was not “lights out,” which is why I can’t chalk up his performance in 2009 to an injured knee. Combining the 11 blown saves and 11 homers allowed in 2009 with the 19 homers and 14 blown saves from 2006 and 2007, it would appear as though 2008 was anomaly, and not the norm.

So which bullpen will show up in 2010?

In reality, it all depends on which Lidge shows up. If he lives up to his “Lights Out” nickname and pitches close to his 2008 form, then Danys Baez, Ryan Madson and Romero can fill out the low-pressure innings in front of Lidge. If Lidge blows up like he has in three of the last four years, then everyone’s role changes, and suddenly the Phillies will need big leads and 120-pitch outings from their starters.

As always, the Phillies need 92 to 95 wins to make the playoffs, and I know that 20 will come from Halladay.

Can the rest of the staff come up with 75 more?

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Name: Matthew Fleishman, Yardley News Editor
Location: United States

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