Philadelphia Phillies 2011 Season Preview

Leading up to the start of the 2011 Regular Season, Diamond Hoggers will preview each of MLB’s 30 teams . Today’s preview features the Philadelphia Phillies. Stay tuned as Diamond Hoggers previews every team division by division until the start of the regular season.

People who know that I write about baseball and know that I’m a certified addict for the game of baseball often ask me the question “Which team do you hate the most?”

It’s not an easy answer. Quickly my mind spans through teams in which you can really have possible hate for. I’m sure everyone has their reasons, but there are few people who hate the Seattle Mariners or Kansas City Royals. They’re often not in the equation when you’re talking in terms of actual hate.

I don’t hate the Boston Red Sox most nor do I hate the New York Yankees. I don’t like them, but I respect the organization and I wish the team I followed could be modeled the same way. I wish things were different, but things are the way they are and I don’t hate either of them at all; let alone most.

Then my mind quickly cycles through the NL Central where I’ve spent my life wishing the Reds could play a faster form of catch-up with their foes. Not with the Pirates. The Cubs fans are obnoxious, have a sense of entitlement, and are annoying when they roll into town. But I don’t hate them either. They’ve never really been that big of a threat. They’re right where we’re at really.

The Cardinals I really have respect for. It’s a great baseball town and they’ve gotten by doing things the correct way. That sea of Red that swarms  their park every warm summer afternoon really signifies class in my mind. The Brewers are lovable losers. I wouldn’t care if they went out and beat the Reds for a division title this summer and they very well might. Good for them.

The Astros? Yea, I kind of hate them. From the time I was young with Eric Yelding charged the mound and slugged Rob Dibble wearing his ugly looking cream-colored uniform I knew that this team was just no fun to watch. First it was Biggio and Bagwell. Then Mike Hampton and his whole crew. Then Lance Berkman abused the Reds poor pitching staff for a decade. I just hate the Astros with the best of them.

But I think you see where I’m going with this. Phillies fans, I hate your town. I hate your team. And I hate you. I hate the Phillies the most. And yes it makes me a hater, I’ll admit it. What has happened this past off-season really extends this for me. Every night this season, I’ll pull for the Reds and I’ll pull for whoever is playing the Phillies.

You want to act like the greatest sports city in America. You couldn’t be further from it. It’s easy to be a Phillies fan right now. Sure there is plenty of blue-collar that you can respect about the Philadelphia culture. There has been losing seasons like every team endures. But what about any of that makes you the greatest fans in sports or so deserving of the current run of success?

I got news for you Phillies fan; you are rude, you aren’t particularly all that more knowledgeable than the next guy and when the losses out total the wins–you aren’t heard from. This goes for the Eagles, the 76ers, the Flyers and yes; especially your first son the Phillies.

I’ve been to the city several times. I’ve seen your cracked bell and ordered a cheese-steak from Geno’s and across the street from Jim’s. Did you think that when I ordered it incorrectly (by asking for toppings instead of wit or wit-out onions) and you got snotty with me that I would be like “man this is great, I’m being treated rudely because I’m in Philly and it’s part of their culture!”. Is that what you thought tough guy? Give me my damn sandwich how I like it. If I want tomatoes, lettuce, and peppers on the sandwich along with that other shit you always pour on it; run across town and buy the veggies, dickhead.

I don’t give a rats ass if Mike Schmidt signed your menu that you have framed from 1980 or if Joe Morgan stopped by to compliment your crab fries. Your whole act is a tired one and your city isn’t all that impressive in any of the four seasons. It couldn’t hold Seattle’s jock; and when I went out there the nice Asian man went out of his way to make my California rolls just how I wanted them. He didn’t act so tough.

Screw you, and your four aces. I hope this all comes crashing down soon enough.

The Four Aces

This has already become one of the biggest off-season story lines with the Phillies signing of Cliff Lee, and already owning three nasty top of the rotation starters in Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels. Halladay cemented himself as the best pitcher of the present day with his perfect game of course coming against my team in the NLDS last season. That was sheer Hell to watch unfold and I knew he had it by like the 6th inning; I really did.

Oswalt is 33 and Halladay is 34. They’ve got some years left but things happen when you’re that age. If these guys were in their mid-20’s, this team would roll for a decade. Instead, they have about half that in terms of a window to win title after title; and that’s only if they decide not to go out and add a 5th ace which really they still could. Joe Blanton is a turd anyways, let’s be honest with ourselves. There’s a reason he’s not allowed in pictures with the other four. No one is walking into Citizens Bank wearing a Blanton t-shirt jersey and if they are it was on clearance.

Here’s an excerpt of what I talked about to open this preview:

The Phillies sneaked in and plucked Lee off the free agent market when most had him pegged a Yankee. Within 24 hours of the signing, delirious Philadelphia fans bought 21,000 tickets — for games that already project as sellouts.

What’s the matter Philly fan? Three aces wasn’t enough to sell your tickets? In real baseball towns, two of these guys sell out the place every single night no questions asked. Just more Philly fans piling on the bandwagon. I mean how could you really be a Cliff Lee fan at this point? He’s been here once before, went elsewhere, and is a hired gun that went to the highest bidder. That’s the kind of guy I want to root for.

Being great doesn’t make you likable, and I still say that somewhere down the line this will show it’s ugly head for this bunch. Halladay and Oswalt won’t be around forever, and Hamels will have to step up and become the ace. The Phillies have guaranteed themselves a spot in the playoffs with this group and have guaranteed me and all of the other fans of baseball pulling for a slow start out of the gate and a rash of injuries.

This group is good–there isn’t a better rotation in all of baseball–but they just went out and bought them. What is so commendable or terrific about this?

Will the Phillies go to the World Series in 2011?

I’ll say this, they aren’t a lock. Everyone is penciling in the Red Sox vs. the Phillies in the fall classic already here in February. If it was truly that simple there would be no casinos the size of sky scrapers Las Vegas because the town would be bankrupt. Now, I can almost guarantee you that one of the two will be representing their league in the World Series. Not both. And I like Philadelphia better than I like Boston for a few reasons.

I think the Phillies will most likely make the World Series in 2011, but they need some strokes of luck to keep guys healthy. Ryan Howard and Chase Utley are part of that as well aside from their aging key players on the pitching staff.

What could keep them from it other than injuries? They have questions marks at the closer spot. Brad Lidge has been a game of Russian Roulette since Albert Pujols hit that Grand Slam in Houston over a half decade ago. They are also heavily counting on youngster Dominic Brown to replace Jayson Werth’s production. Werth didn’t reach his potential until his late 20’s. It’s not a given. Think Jose Contreras does what he did last season again? I don’t.

They’re going to be very good, no one is denying that. But you do not buy your way into the World Series. You still need a remarkable amount of luck to make it to where Phillies fans already have themselves headed. Just ask the Yankees. And thank God for all this–it’s what still makes baseball somewhat fair.

What I’m saying is, there are a lot of teams that spent money to get better. Spending the shit out of buying free agent acquisitions is just table stakes for a lot of the big market teams. You still have to play the games.

The lineup

I like the make up of this team a lot offensively. The architects that built this team know they’re good enough that they can let Jayson Werth walk and not miss a beat. Everyone knows about Howard but on the other corner is Placido Polanco, a really tough out who has turned into a perennial .300 hitter. Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley will be back to do their thing up the middle. They’re dominant talents in the prime of their career. One has won an MVP and one still will win one. Carlos Ruiz is the guy that Philly fans like to act like is ‘one of them’ since he has been a grinder to date in his MLB career. He’s 31 and behind the dish, so while he’s good; you might be able to enjoy that partnership for another season or two after this at most.

The only weakness in these guys is really their greatest strength. They are veteran hitters that have been through the wars and are very good at working pitch counts and pouncing on mistakes. They don’t get to your guy in the first four innings, they don’t panic or get into a funk easily. The Reds had a perfect game going against them last summer (Travis Wood) and the Phillies waited them out and took the game in the bottom of the 9th inning. They do that stuff a lot. These guys might not play in 160 games but for the 140 they are out there, it’s a really tough task to hang a loss on them.

The ballpark is a bandbox so you’re looking at a lot of guys 1 through 8 that can pop out at least 15 homers.

The outfield isn’t loaded. Raul Ibanez and Shane Victorino are in the mold of those guys I talked about above. With Rollins and Victorino 1 and 2 followed by Utley and Howard and the whole host of other guys down the line that can hurt you; you realize when you get into a series with these guys that if the top two guys in the lineup are causing problems for you that your opportunities to do much will be limited. They’ll chunk off innings with a run or two until they’re up 5. And with the pitching they have that is enough to get it done on most nights.

The Final Verdict

We’ve got them winning about 98 games. Good enough to win the NL East. I don’t think you should start charting your parade route just yet Phillies fans, and you definitely shouldn’t count on a triple digit win total like Jimmy Rollins said. Too many years on the roster, too much of a chance for guys to miss time; and mostly the National League has some really good teams this season. They’ll win the division and get to the NLCS we think. But there are teams who will take them deep into a series then when every inch and pitch matter dearly. And anything can happen at that moment.