We in sports have become obsessed with cliques, crews, Big 3’s and things like that. We marveled at how Miami was able to bring LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh together, we salivated over the possibility of Terrell Owens and Chad Johnson catching passes from Carson Palmer, and we marveled at how the Celtics brought Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce together.
This past winter, the Philadelphia Phillies trumped them all.
When Cliff Lee announced that he was signing with Philly Monday December 12th it sent shockwaves throughout baseball.
Lee was the coveted prize of the free agent market and the two teams that had the inside track on him were the Yankees (of course), and the team that traded for him the Texas Rangers. But when it flashed across most TV screen that he was going back to Philly (who traded him to get Roy Halladay) people began placing their bets for the 2011 season.
It was clear that at that point the Philadelphia Phillies were the favorites to win the World Series in 2011.
Pitching wins championships, and if that’s the case then why not hand them the trophy right now. The Phillies rotation is a who’s who of the best in the game on the mound in any situation.
Roy Halladay is the ace. A two-time CY Young winner with amazing control who is coming off of his best season ever going 21-10 with a 2.19 ERA and two no-hitters. Following him is Lee, arguably the best lefty in the game with a penchant for coming up big in big situations (ask the Yankees about that). Following him is Roy Oswalt who was trapped in Houston letting his powerful fastball and pinpoint consistency be overshadowed by the team’s recent downturn before the Phillies added him before last year’s trade deadline. Lastly there sits Cole Hamels. Hamels was once thought to be the future ace of the Phillies and proved it with a 2008 postseason to remember when he led Philly to its first World Series title since 1980. Hamels was the World Series MVP and was primed to start a gigantic run as one of baseball’s best lefties before a lackluster 09 kept him down. Last year saw Hamels get back on track with a sub 3 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP, not bad for your fourth starter. Oh yeah and there’s Joe Blanton… he’s got a ring too as the number 5 starter… no biggie.
When looking at that rotation on paper its no wonder that everyone from the media, to the bloggers, to the casual fans began fawning over them even before pitchers and catchers reported.
This staff brings back memories of the mid-90’s Atlanta Braves with John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and Steve Avery taking the hill and straight owning opponents.
However, its time to rain on Philly’s parade just a little.
As impressive as this staff is they might not even be the best staff in the National League, let alone baseball. Out west the San Francisco the Giants are the defending world champs with 4 of the best young arms in the game (and Barry Zito) and, oh by the way, they beat this same Philly team last October.
Lincecum, Cain, Sanchez and Bumgarner are just as good and just a talented as Philly’s Phab Phour and they’ve proven it. The Giants are lying very low as possible title contenders and they have as much claim to throne as anyone.
Also Philly might want to take a look in its own division for some competition. The Atlanta Braves have their most potent staff in years with Derek Lowe, Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens and Brandon Beachy. With that rotation and the addition of Dan Uggla to the lineup Philadelphia wont just run away with the division like everyone expects.
Speaking of offense, can Philly score enough runs to win ball games? I know, I know, that sentence sounds foolish when talking about the Phillies because over the last few years they’ve been one of baseball’s best run producing machines.
However, Chase Utley is still banged up, without him in the lineup or Jayson Werth for that matter, Ryan Howard might put up career low numbers and Jimmy Rollins is coming off of back-to-back poor seasons. It sounds weird to say but what may hold Philadelphia back is their inability to produce enough runs to get victories for Halladay and company.
Taking all of this into consideration, Philly is still the team to beat. I’m sorry but there is nothing scarier than seeing Philly on your schedule and seeing a former World Series MVP, two former CY Young winners and one of baseball’s best power righties coming at you at any point during a series. It’s a murderers row of arms that if healthy can with 100+ games without breaking a sweat.
Let me ask you this; going into a series if you’re Cincinnati, Atlanta, San Fran or anyone, do you really think you can go to Philly, play games 1 & 2 against Halladay and Lee and get a split before coming home and facing Hamels and Oswalt? If you said yes then you’re a liar.
This staff was put together to intimidate and to win. One look at them and you walk into a clubhouse thinking please God let us get one hit. No other staff does that; no other team is like that.
Ever since Philly won the title in 2008, Ruben Amaro has made it a priority to stay on top and get back as much as possible. With the Lee acquisition to coincide with Halladay, Hamels and Oswalt, Amaro may have out done himself.
No matter the questions about the offense or the concern of the health of Brad Lidge, the Philadelphia Phillies are the World Series favorite backed by the baddest rotation in baseball. Miami might’ve gotten a lot of attention with their Big 3 but they got nothing on the Philly Phab Phour.