Forget Albert Pujols and forget Prince Fielder. Forget Jose Reyes and Ozzie Guillen. Forget Matt Moore. Yes, that’s right. Forget everything that has made headlines during baseball’s offseason. The Philadelphia Phillies are the best team in baseball regardless of all this. They have been dealing with a number of issues in the last two seasons, but they are marginally better than the team that won it all in 2008. Since then they have made a number of additions while losing a few guys, but they have managed to take it all in stride.
Since winning the title in ’08, Philadelphia has repeated as division winners every season. Their combination of arguably the best pitching rotation in the league with an extremely potently lineup will set them up to do the same, if not more, this season.
Roy Halladay has slowly become the best pitcher in the game, winning 2 Cy Young awards, throwing a perfect game, and also throwing a no hitter in the postseason (one of two guys to do so). Cliff Lee has bee a stud over the span of his pitching career as well. He as well has come to be one of the more dominant pitchers in the new era of baseball. He is an innings-eater and consistently provides a high strikeout-to-walk ratio, averaging over 8 strikeouts per walk. He posted a record 17.1 strikeouts per walk in the midst of one of his better seasons in 2010. Lee won the AL Cy Young back in 2008, putting him in Halladay’s class. Cole Hamels has yet to win a Cy Young, but has had his share in the spotlight. Back in 2008, when the Phils won the Series, he was named NLCS and World Series MVP because of his dominant 4-0 record in the postseason. When Hamels is on, it is lights out for the opposing lineup.
The lineup is no fluke either. Chase Utley and Ryan Howard have had nothing but spectacular careers in Philadelphia. Those two are a given when it comes to Philadelphia. However, it comes down to the lesser knowns. Jimmy Rollins’ role has diminished as of late due to a string of injuries, but at 100%, this guy can rake at the plate and fly around the basepaths. He may have lost a little speed as he’s gotten older, but he is still considered to be elite. Shane Victorino, the “flyin’ Hawaiian”, is still one of the better offensive and defensive threats in the game today. Put him and Rollins at the top and you have a considerable speed threat to worry about.
The most intriguing aspect of the lineup is Hunter Pence. He is a lifetime .292 hitter with a significant power stroke and situational speed. He can be placed anywhere in the lineup and still produce as if he were in the cleanup spot. The Phillies also picked up aging first baseman, Jim Thome. Many wonder whether he will finish his career with Philadelphia. Thome still has somewhat of a power stroke, hitting 15 homers last season putting him at 604 overall. He is looking to rejuvenate this power in Philly and will likely be the starting first baseman, while they are without Ryan Howard.
Speaking of Howard, the Phils will be without him until about mid-May. Howard injured his Achilles tendon during the last at bat of the 2011 NLDS. As he grounded out to end the game, he ruptured the tendon, causing him to collapse at the plate. If we’re going to look at the big picture, this would what could cause the Phillies’ demise. Not Howard’s injury itself, rather the injuries that the Phillies would endure as a team. When players go down, Philly cannot expect to get anywhere near a championship. If they do, it will be a miracle, a “Liberty Bell” miracle of sorts.
Without injuries, the Phillies are, player by player, the best team in Major League Baseball. They have the best rotation in the National League, and perhaps even the entire league. Roy Halladay is clearly the most dominant pitcher of this era and is followed closely by Cliff Lee. The fact that Philadelphia houses both of these arms should be evidence enough that they are a threat to win the World Series. It doesn’t stop there. The Phillies have three more guys in the rotation capable of winning 15 or more games. The bullpen capped off with Papelbon should be enough. It doesn’t stop there.
The Phillies have one of the most dangerous lineups from top to bottom. It will not matter which guy in the lineup you would be throwing to. There will be hits and runs will be scored. You would think that Chase Utley and Ryan Howard can provide enough. The scary thing is, they do and they have, but the Phillies have plenty more. They have the speed and defense by Rollins and Victorino, the power and versatility of Hunter Pence and Utley, and the raw strength of Thome and Howard to drive the ball.
The Phillies should win the World Series, barring injury. There is not one thing that the Phillies cannot do. They can pitch, hit, defend, and run. If they stay healthy, look for this team to be in the World Series and winning it. They are the best team in baseball on a per player statistical basis. Now, can they translate it into a 6th straight NL East title, an NL Pennant, and a World Series ring?
-Will Fairbanks is the owner and contributor to The Educated Sports Fan, a blog offering analysis and opinion for all things MLB, NFL, NHL, NBA, and NCAA.