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Phillies Will Try to Avenge 2010 With Best Season in Club History in 2011

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"KEEP ON PHIGHTIN' WITH JOE VALLEE"

Unlike Phillies teams of recent years, the focus shifted to pitching in 2010. Roy Halladay came as advertised, and although Cole Hamels could have sued for lack of run support, he kept the team in almost every game he pitched. Jamie Moyer had some strong showings before an early summer injury ended his season, and Kyle Kendrick was...Kyle Kendrick. Although Joe Blanton's injury hampered his productivity until August, he still finished a respectable 9-6.

Much like 2009, Ruben Amaro saw the need for another horse, so he stole Roy Oswalt from the Astros. There was talk that Philadelphia might not be the right kind of fit for the Mississippi born Oswalt. But despite a first game shelling at the hands of the Washington Nationals, Oswalt caught fire, going 7-0 the rest of the way. Surprisingly, he also finished 6th overall in the Cy Young Award voting.

Anyone who thinks the Phillies dominated their way to their fourth straight NL East crown has to have blinders on. The team was slightly over .500 when they acquired Oswalt in July. Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Placido Polanco, and Ryan Howard all battled major injuries throughout the season. As a result, their offense never really ran on all eight cylinders. With the exception of Carlos Ruiz, none of the regular starting eight bettered or even matched their 2009 stats.

Despite the offensive inconsistency, a 21-6 finish in September closed out the division title. Moreover, the Phillies' 97 wins led the majors. This was the first time in their long history they achieved this feat. With their stellar pitching, decent offensive and respectable bull pen, the Phils were the odds on favorite to win it all going into the playoffs.

Personally, maybe we should have seen the warning signs (taken from a September article).

"When insiders like Ken Rosenthal start picking the Phillies to win the World Series, you feel pumped, but then start to get a little uneasy. The Phillies the favorite to win it all? What? The Phillies are NEVER considered favorites!! This team relishes the role of the underdog, so it will be interesting to see how this scenario plays out."Roy Halladay continues to make history.

At first, the playoffs started off great. Halladay throwing the second post season no-hitter EVER to start the playoffs?! Unreal.

That was supposed to be the Phillies' statement game. Nobody was going to beat us.

 

False

 

Despite running the table with the Reds in the NLDS, the Phils ran SMACK into destiny at the hands of the San Francisco Giants, who won the pennant at Citizens Bank Park, and then manhandled the Texas Rangers in five games to win it all. Some Phillies fans will tell you they should have demolished San Francisco. Others say they saw this coming, others were completely shocked.

I'm right in the middle of all this. The Giants always play the Phillies tough because of their pitching. However, as inconsistent as the Phillies' bats were in 2010,  I thought it was STILL good enough to beat a duct-taped team of renegades and rejects that the Giants put on the field. Moreover, the Phillies' starters would have done the SAME thing to the Rangers' bats that the Giants did if they advanced to the World Series.

The Giants played like the Phils did in 2008. They got the right hits exactly when they needed them. Tie that in with Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain and that's a winner (as Jack Buck would say). Anyone who says, "Oh well, it was a great season anyway," is SO conditioned in Philadelphia to settle for second best. That's pathetic. In the words of Herman Edwards: "You play to win the game." Sounds simple, but it's so true. Anyone settling for second best should really raise their standards, in life OR in sports. It's not like you're a Pirates fan. This isn't 1999 anymore.

All things considered, the Phillies could very well have won the last three World Series. Cliff Lee is back to Philly. Photo: Andrea Kohalmi.Although 2011 will most likely cement this as the Phillies' golden era, there isn't much hope for a dynasty now unless this team can win back to back titles. The surprising reacquisition of Cliff Lee has this town in a frenzy again about the Phillies, and it should be. Lee, Halladay, Hamels and Oswalt is pretty damn scary if I do say so myself.  If healthy, this team could win 105 games almost by accident. I'm not making predictions here. After all, I DID say IF.

Sure, this team is anything but bulletproof. Can Ben Francisco play right field against lefties while rookie prospect Domonic Brown platoons against righties? Francisco is 1 for 17 in his two post seasons with the Phillies. Not very encouraging, and it's too early to tell if Brown is the real deal. Despite the Phillies now being "reportedly" handcuffed financially due to the Lee signing, they may or may not be able to acquire an every-day right fielder by the deadline if things don't go as planned with the platoon. Hey, if the 1985 Royals can win the World Series with a platoon of Onix Concepcion and Buddy Biancalana at shortstop, anything is possible (Yeah,yeah, I know St. Louis got robbed by that call at first base. That's a topic for a whole other article...)

Moreover, they might be able to deal Blanton to free up some salary room to acquire some relievers. The Phils' bullpen was ranked 18th overall in 2010. The World Champion Giants were number 2, so there is much room for improvement. Having four aces on your staff will obviously somewhat make the pen less of a priority than usual. However, there will be crucial points during the year when your starters will need a rest. And in the playoffs, teams with the best bullpen usually come out on top no matter WHO your starters are.

The real question buried in the mix here is how long the nucleus of this Phillies team can stay together? It's anybody's guess really. Maybe the Phils will find a way to keep all four starters beyond 2011. Or maybe this could be like the 82-83 Sixers, one of basketball's all-time greatest teams who are one and done.

Raul Ibanez, Jimmy Rollins, Brad Lidge, Hamels, and Oswalt could all be playing their last seasons with the Phils. The brass will bring some of these guys back, but not all of them. It might be now or never. This great run can't last forever, and expectations are higher than ever for this team.  After all, how many teams go from winning the World Series to increasing your win total the next three years AFTER the championship?

Either way, anything less than a World Series title is not good enough.

Joe Vallee is a lifelong Phillies fan and former Phillies batboy. Joe has claimed to have seen about 98% of every Phillies game since the early 1980's.

Contact Joe at jvallee@philly2philly.com

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Roy and Chooch Picture courtesy of Associated Press

Cliff Lee Photo: Andrea Kohalmi