Saturday, March 14, 2009

2009 Philadelphia Phillies Preview

Last time we previewed the 2009 Mets, now we continue our series of team previews for the 2009 baseball season with the World Champion Philadelphia Phillies.

For the second straight season the Phillies took advantage of another collapse by the New York Mets to capture the NL East, this time by two games and made a fantastic run through the playoffs to capture the world championship.

The Phillies disposed of the Brewers and Dodgers with ease and exposed the Tampa Bay Rays as a young baseball team in a rather uncompetitive World Series. Now Philly is looking for a repeat.

If Philadelphia has one thing going for it in 2009, it is this: they have guile and guts. No team in the majors found a way to excel in clutch moments more than the Phillies in 2008, and that should continue in 2009.

Philadelphia is led by the a group of scrapy players in the prime of their careers. Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino find ways to wreak havoc on the base paths and in the field. Victorino, who is only 5'9" and 180 pounds, led the Phillies in batting average in 2008 with a .293 clip with 14 homers, 58 RBIs, 102 runs scored and 36 stolen bases.

Rollins didn't have a great 2008, but he did hit for his career average of .277. What these two bring to the table however goes beyond baseball. They find ways to motivate their ball club. Before the 2007 season, Rollins guaranteed that the Phillies would win the east. He put up big time, hitting 30 homers and driving in 94, as Philly took advantage of the first Mets collapse to get into October baseball.

The Phillies also possess the best right side of the infield in baseball with MVPs Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. Howard is the game's most prolific hitter in what may be post-steroid baseball. Last season, Howard hit 48 homeruns and drove in 146 in what was a down year for Howard as far as batting average is concerned.

The biggest concern the Phillies should have this year is the fact that they are very left-handed. After the loss of Pat Burrell to free-agency via Tampa Bay, the Phillies went out and added Raul Ibanez, a left handed power hitter from the Seattle Mariners. This gives the Phillies a primarily left handed lineup from the power department with Utley, Howard, and Ibanez. The only right handed bats in the regular lineup of any significance are Jayson Werth and Pedro Feliez, but niether provides much power from the right side.

This means that a tough lefty, i.e. Johan Santana, should have a lot of success in facing the Phillies. Expect them to address this as the season moves along.

Another concern for Philadelphia in 2009 is pitching. Last year, the Phillies got by with Ace Cole Hamels near perfect postseason and rather mediocre play from everyone else. Jamie Moyer is 47 years old, and even though he uses guile to get people out, one has to wonder how much is left in the guy's tank.

Kyle Kendrick and Brett Myers were inconsistent last year. Both had astronomical ERAs; Kendrick had an ERA over five, while Myer had a 4.58 ERA. Joe Blanton was once a very good pitcher with the Oakland A's but trailed off last year. After the mid-season trade, Blanton was 4-0 with Philadelphia but had a 4.20 ERA to go with it.

The Phillies must address their starting rotation if they are to repeat.

As for the Philly bullpen, the combo of Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge proved to be too much for people. Lidge who was once considered a head case by many, but he finally got control of his emotions in 2008 and had a perfect 48 saves in 48 attempts. Don't expect Lidge to be perfect in 2009, but if can come close to being unhittable then Philadelphia is in good shape.

PREDICTION: 91-71 1st place NL East.

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