Four straight division titles, two World Series appearances and three straight NLCS appearances won’t mean a thing if the 2011 Phillies don’t parade down Broad Street this year. Or, as Jordan said when the Bulls went 72-10 in 1995-96, “It don’t mean a thing without the ring.”
Consider, every key player save Chad Durbin in the bullpen and Jayson Werth is back for a team that won 97 games a year ago. Plus, you have Roy Oswalt for an entire year and add Cliff Lee to a rotation that already had Doc Halladay and a revived Cole Hamels. Oh, and Joe Blanton may be the best fifth starter in the modern era.
With an aging team — the oldest 40-man roster in the league — the time to turn the recent success into a true mini-dynasty is now. Anything short of Jimmy Rollins riding a Clydesdale this fall will be deemed a failure. Fair or not, that’s the reality when you stockpile aces and spend like never before.
Can the Fightins get the job done? Can they survive without Chase Utley for most or all of the season, and minus Brad Lidge an Placido Polanco for stretches this season?
This team is built to win now with the nucleus of Howard, Utley and JRoll. The rotation should not be a problem. Other areas, however, are worrisome.
First, the Phillies didn’t lose the NLCS because of their pitching last year. Instead, they couldn’t score runs against the Giants. They also had stretches of scoring 0-2 runs per game. How many games did Cole Hamels lose 1-0 or 2-1 a year ago? Remember those frustrating days?
You’ve now lost your star right fielder to a division foe and Luis Castillo or Wilson valdez will be filling in for Utley until further notice. You’ve just lost all protection around The Big Piece. How exactly is that going to make Howard or the Phillies lineup as a whole more lethal? How is that going to produce more runs?
You hope Rollins has one last career/contract year in him. You hope Ben Francisco/John Mayberry Jr. can exceed modest expectations. You hope Polanco’s elbow holds up and he can continue to hit at or above .300. You hope Raul Ibanez plays like he did toward the end of last year and that his age doesn’t catch up to him.
That’s a lot of hope an concerns. And, it’s only April 1.
The Phillies should win the NL East again. The Braves will challenge again, but how will they hold up in the first season of the post Bobby Cox era? The Mets have to deal with the Madoff fallout, while the Nationals are improving but still a pitcher or two away from seriously contending.
The Marlins have a solid, young rotation. If their lineup can produce, Florida could be another team that gives the Phillies fits.
Still, we don’t see a team that can hold off the Phillies for an entire season. Halladay, Lee, Hamels and Oswalt will get their wins. Average three runs per game and you’ll win more than you’ll lose with that rotation.
The playoffs are another story. And, we’ll worry about that when we get there. But, when we do, the ring is the thing.