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Phillies draw praise from baseball insiders and media, but questions still remain

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After hearing for the last week on local talk radio and from baseball insiders about how great this Philadelphia Phillies  team will fare in 2010, I had Can Roy Halladay also throw left-handed and pitch out of the pen?to stop and ask myself some honest questions about the 2010 Phillies, and why some of these same questions aren't being tossed around. Yeah yeah, "Roy Halladay  this, Roy Halladay that."  He is the best Phillies pitcher this town has seen since Steve Carlton (or possibly Curt Schilling). Only problem is, Halladay can't pitch every day. He'll go nine innings, but probably not for all 30 plus starts. This team does have holes, and if they aren't plugged, this could result in (to take an old line from a Dennis Hopper Nike  commercial) "Bad things, man. Bad things."

Let me preface that what I'm about to say isn't meant to downplay the talent of this Phillies squad. Not by ANY means. They are still the class of the National League. On paper, they are probably better than the last two Phillies teams, and that speaks volumes. Hey, if the bullpen wasn't so flammable last year, the team probably would have set the franchise's all-time mark for wins in a single season (the '76 and '77 Phils won 101 games).

In saying that, does the bullpen look THAT much better compared to last season? Let's see: The team's best all-around reliever in 2009 (Chan Ho Park) is now a member of "The Evil Empire," the team's only consistent left-handed reliever has retired (Scott Eyre), J.C. Romero and Brad Lidge (two of the three heads who helped them win it all in 2008) are not experiencing any setbacks in their rehab, but are far from 100 percent going into the year. If Lidge suffers another season like he did last year, don't be surprised if the Phillies start grooming Ryan Madson as their closer- for this year AND next year.  If Romero has another lost season, chances are his days in Philly are over, and the team will have to rely on Mike Zagurski, Antonio Bastardo, or Sergio Escalona (whose 11.25 ERA this spring got him optioned out the other day) as your situational lefty. Not that these three can't possibly help the Phillies in the future, but a team in contention for a World Series championship should not have uncertainty coming from such an important slot out of the pen. Ruben Amaro  could be on the phone sooner than expected. Man, where is Eddie Oropesa when you need him? After a spectacular 2008, Chad Durbin dropped off a bit on 2009, and Jose Contreras could go either way. I know it's only Spring Training, but I can't get out of my head that the Yankees beat Contreras' brains in that one day. It's too early to start thinking about last November again, or is it? 

On the other hand, newcomer Dannys Baez and Rule 5 pick David Herndon have not allowed any runs the entire spring. Herndon is an interestingChances are Jamie Moyer will make the starting rotation due to his $8 million dollar price tag. case. The Phillies don't want to have to return him to Los Angeles (Angels of Anaheim) if he fails to make the team, so the last few weeks will be interesting to see if he can catch on with the club.

Now to the starters. Ageless Jamie Moyer  only allowed one earned run in his first "A Game Start" against the Orioles. Despite numerous off-season surgeries, Moyer's $8 million dollar tag for 2010 will nonetheless find him taking the fifth spot in the starting rotation from Kyle Kendrick, who seems to have developed Roy Halladay's mentality (as well as his facial hair).

Speaking of Halladay, his overall attitude and work ethic seems to have rubbed off on the entire pitching staff. You know what you're going to get from Halladay. However, Fox Sports'  Ken Rosenthal has been reporting about a seemingly rejuvenated Cole Hamels. They may not exactly rival the 1971 Orioles staff just yet, but Halladay and Hamels' efforts combined with the performances of J.A. Happ and Kendrick have been very encouraging thus far. Only Joe Blanton has been shaky at times, but he is a workhorse, and you know what you will get from him during the course of the season.

Although the staff's performance this March is one of the main reasons why this Phillies team is being spoken of so highly, there is that offense that features an All-Star at EVERY position except for the backstop (and Carlos Ruiz is THE perfect catcher for this team). Scoring runs won't be a problem for these guys. Let's just hope that Raul Ibanez can stay healthy for the entire season, and Ryan Howard  improves on hitting the breaking ball. The bench is improved. Greg Dobbs is having a nice spring, which is good because Ross Gload is another left-handed threat that could make him expendable. The only real weak link off the bench is right-handed pop. Ben Fransisco is a nice player, but his 0 for the post season could be an indication he is a little over valued. Since Howard continues to improve his defense, the only big question mark is whether Placido Polanco can man the hot corner consistently. The Phillies will miss Pedro Feliz defensively, but overall have gained a better all- around player in Polanco.

Of course, all this talk could mean nothing. The 1996 Detroit Tigers were 20-10 in Spring Training, and they won just 53 games that year! All jokes aside, there are still some question marks for the 2010 Phillies at the end of the day, but the positives far outweigh the negatives.

And if the negatives turn into positives, this could possibly turn into one of the most fun years of Phillies baseball this town has ever seen.

Somewhere, Al Pardo is smiling............

Contact Joe Vallee at jvallee@philly2philly.com