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Are baseball "experts" overrating the 2011 Philadelphia Phillies?

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They came into spring training (on paper) with the best pitching staff Ryan Howard photo: http://www.reclinergm.com/images/ryan-howard.jpgassembled in the major leagues since the early 1990’s.
 
Their offense, once arguably considered baseball's best, needs to rebound from a year and a half long slump.
 
So Philly2Philly presents this question to the Phillies faithful:

After what you’ve seen during the first week of the 2011 Grapefruit League, do you think the Philadelphia Phillies are STILL a "clear-cut favorite" to take home the 2011 World Series trophy? Baseball writers are looking quite favorably upon the Phils this season. But all is not perfect in Camelot.....

To be fair, every major league team goes into camp with some question marks. And as you can see so far, the Phillies are no exception. Take note of these early questions and observations before you weigh in. And before I get hate mail, I'm not claiming that everything is falling apart for this team. But there are issues that eventually need to be addressed, and I'm far from the only one noticing this.

 1. Chase Utley STILL hasn’t played an exhibition game and just received a cortisone injection.

The loss of Jayson Werth means Utley really HAS to step up and rebound from an injury plagued 2010 season to make this offense run on all eight cylinders. Only problem is, Utley was hurt before spring training even started (as the MRI on his knee proved). He recently received a cortisone injection in his knee because his tendinitis wasn’t improving. That itself is not a good thing.

Even if it’s still a few weeks until Utley is ready to go, what gives anyone the favorable impression that he will be ready April 1st?

And don’t think Michael Young  will be the player that solves our problems- Texas still owes him $48 million dollars. Moreover, even if Placido Polanco fills in at second base for an unspecified amount of time, then there is a problem at third base. NOBODY in the Phillies organization can currently play there consistently and/or effectively for the long haul.


2. Just who IS your number five hitter going to be? And what exactly makes you think the Phillies’ offense has 'returned?'

We all knew that losing Werth was going to put a big question mark regarding who would replace him in the batting order. As well as Ben Francisco is hitting so far this spring, does he belong hitting behind Ryan Howard? Can Raul Ibanez (at this stage of his career) do this for a full season? Jimmy Rollins has already taken his hat out of the ring for the spot. Shane Victorino is better suited batting leadoff (that’s not going to happen), second, sixth, or even seventh. Jimmy Rollins Photo: Getty

During the winter, baseball insiders often picked the Phillies and Red Sox as World Series favorites in their respective leagues. While the Phillies’ pitching has received high praise, the Red Sox pitching staff has some question marks.

As far as offense goes, the nod has to go to Boston, and understandebly so. Howard only has one home run this spring, and his ankle is still not 100% percent. Will Howard's issues at the plate last year carry into 2011? We alreayd touched upon Utley. Can Rollins rebound from his worst statistical offensive season in his career? Can a soon-to-be 39-year-old Ibanez still be productive? Can Victorino bunt more and hit less home runs? Domonic Brown? His broken bone in his right hand will set him back 3-6 weeks.

Mike Schmidt is just a guest instructor, and even he has openly voiced his concerns about these issues. I might change my mind, but I’m not so convinced just yet that the Phillies' bats can make this miraculous comeback.Cliff Lee photo: http://blogs.delawareonline.com/philledin/files/2009/10/200907301930702580308-pf_widec.jpg

 

3. Is Cliff Lee healthy?

If he is, forget it. The Phils will be extremely tough to beat from a pitching standpoint. If not, they are basically in the same position they were in last season- and we ALL know how that ended. Lee was injured in 2007, and for the first part of 2010. With his recent 'mild strain,' there has been speculation as of late that Lee has become injury prone. If this is the case, the Fightins just swallowed a LOT of cash.............

4. How consistent can the Phillies’ bullpen be?

During the championship season of 2008, the Phillies’ pen was ranked second in all of baseball behind the Blue Jays. With one of the “Fab Five” taking the mound, the emphasis on the bull pen is not AS crucial as it was three years ago. In saying that, questions still remain.

Can Brad Lidge throw more than 86 mph on the gun? Can Ryan Madson adopt a closer’s mentality if Lidge falters? Can J.C. Romero throw strikes? (and also recover his stolen vehicle?)  Will Jose Contreras (just how old IS he anyway?) hold up for another season? Is Danys Baez capable of possibly getting anybody out?

All of these topics discussed are certainly valid questions. Most of these will play out soon enough. Some however, might take several months.

The Phillies obviously have enough talent to be a threat against any opposition. But if spring training has taught us anything, it’s to not count our chickens before they hatch.

 

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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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