Saturday, March 29, 2008

30 Teams in 30 Days: Philadelphia Phillies

A look back: Thanks to some help from the Mets, the Phillies returned to the playoffs for the first time since the 1993 World Series (hint, hint, Toronto), although the 2007 postseason was much less productive for the Phils, as the Rockies took just three games to end Philadelphia's run. But the Phillies return the important pieces, and should be in great shape to take another shot at the playoffs.

Positives on the field: The infield. Seriously, Philadelphia's heart and soul comes from its infield trio of Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard. These are three of the best players in the game today, all excellent hitters. When Pedro Feliz, a 20-home run guy in a park that isn't exactly a home run haven is your weakest infielder, it's a good sign. That doesn't even include the power of Pat Burrell, who turned it on at the end of the season last year, finally winning Philly approval.

On the pitching side, Brett Myers returns to team with Cole Hamels as the anchors of the Phillies' staff. Jamie Moyer still finds a way to get hitters out, and assuming Kyle Kendrick isn't traded to Japan, he and Adam Eaton will take the final two spots, giving Philly a solid rotation. There aren't too many weaknesses here.

Negatives on the field: But one of them is the bullpen. The Phillies are putting a lot of faith in Brad Lidge, who went from Lights-Out to Lights-Up with one swing from Albert Pujols. The last time the Phillies added a closer from the Astros, he tore apart their clubhouse with his claims that the Phillies had no chance to make the playoffs, then headed to the rival Mets. (For the record, it's Billy Wagner.) If Lidge blows up again, the Phillies might have no chance this year, unless Tom Gordon gets the job done or Myers returns as the closer.

The Phils also cannot afford to bury themselves with a bad April again. For reasons unknown, Philadelphia forgets that spring training ends in March, not April. A slow start would open the door for the Mets to open a big lead. The Phillies can't count on the Mets choking again.

Outlook: The time is now for the Phillies. All the pieces are in place for them to make a run at the pennant and the World Series crown. They have playoff experience now, they have a talented ball club and they play in the National League. Of course, nothing is a lock, but if Philly can start the season well for once, it's the Phillies' race to lose.

Projected finish: 1st in NL East, defeat Cubs in NLDS, defeat Mets in NLCS, lose to Tigers in World Series. Season opener is March 31 against Washington at Citizens Bank Park.

Spring base: Bright House Networks Field, Clearwater, Fla. The team plays its games on the west coast of Florida in the Tampa Bay area.

Fan of the team?: Check out The Good Phight, the Phillies blog.

Come back tomorrow: OK, I know I was supposed to do this in 30 days. But the season starts tomorrow, so I'll stretch it one more day. The road trip finishes at the gorgeous new Nationals Park in Washington, where the season begins at night.

My time is up. You've all been great. Enjoy Bon Jovi.

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