MLB NL East — 03 March 2011

The three-time defending NL East champion Philadelphia Phillies already boasted what may have been the league’s most formidable pitching rotation prior to the offseason, but, needless to say, the rich got richer. The Phils made the splash off the winter when they seemingly came out of nowhere to pluck former Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee away from the Texas Rangers and New York Yankees, solidifying their rotation as perhaps one of the best in Major League history.

They failed to make their third-consecutive trip to the World Series when they were unable to stop the rolling train that was the San Francisco Giants in the NLCS last season, and lost All-Star outfielder Jayson Werth to the Washington Nationals. For the first time it years, it seems as though the Phillies’ lineup will actually be their primary weakness.

Domonic Brown, one of their top prospects, is expected to step in and fill the void left by Werth. However, he struggled a bit in his limited time in the Majors last season, and has not been able to find himself at the plate so far early in Spring Training. Werth’s departure leaves Philadelphia with a trio of left-handed bats (Utley, Howard, Ibanez) right in the middle of the lineup.

Key Additions: Cliff Lee

Key Losses: Jayson Werth, Jamie Moyer, Pedro Feliz

Lineup:

C: Carlos Ruiz

1B: Ryan Howard

2B: Chase Utley

3B: Placido Polanco

SS: Jimmy Rollins

LF: Raul Ibanez

CF: Shane Victorino

RF: Domonic Brown

Rotation:

1. Roy Halladay

2. Cliff Lee

3. Roy Oswalt

4. Cole Hamels

5. Joe Blanton

CL: Brad Lidge

Players Critical to Success:

Jimmy Rollins: Rollins has been a rock in the Phillies lineup for years, but he’s suffered through two-consecutive subpar seasons now, and it has to be of some concern. His on-base percentage has not been anywhere close to where you want it to be for a leadoff hitter (.296 in ’09, .320 in ’10), and he’s not doing a good job of setting the table for the Phils’ powerful middle of the order. Rollins was even worse at the plate during the postseason, when he went just 7-for-34 with seven strikeouts. If he can find the fountain of youth, the Phillies’ offense will be in much better shape in 2011.

Brad Lidge: After an amazing season during his first year with the Phillies in 2008, Lidge has imploded, and is looking more and more like the player that flamed out so famously towards the end of his career in Houston. He struggled at the beginning of last season, but really got it together following the All-Star break, when he saved 21 games in 23 opportunities and posted a tidy 2.10 ERA. As we’ve seen, having a dominant closer is a huge weapon, and can be the difference between winning a World Series and missing the playoffs altogether. Lidge has been dominating in the past, and, if his slider really has regained that zip that was lacking during the 2009 season and beginning of last year, he’ll be extremely difficult to deal with.

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Taylor Smith

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