The Phillies hit 2011 Spring Training amidst huge expectations and with a Four Aces starting rotation.
Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and lefthanders Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee provide the Phils with perhaps the most potent and mind-boggling starting rotation in Major League Baseball in nearly 40 years, since the phenomenal Baltimore Orioles of the early 1970s. Together with 5th starter Joe Blanton, the sheer awesomeness of this starting tandem has risen fan expectations nearly to the heavens.
But going into spring training, there are still some big questions regarding the Phillies offense. Will 1st baseman Ryan Howard put injuries behind him while bulking up his offensive stats and severely cutting his strikeouts? Will shortstop Jimmy Rollins and 2nd baseman Chase Utley be injury-free and put injury-plagued, sub-par offensive production seasons behind them and re-emerge as in 2008? Will Rollins produce big numbers in his free agency year, as he did in 2007 as the Phils began their rise to NL East pre- eminence?
Who will be regular rightfielder, or will there be a platoon system replacing Jayson Werth? And will there be the prerequisite offensive production to take up the slack for Werth’s moving on to Washington? Will highly-heralded prospect Domonic Brown move in and take over Werth’s offensive and defensive legacy in rightfield? Or will it fall to Brown, Ben Francisco, John Mayberry Jr. and Ross Gload to all alternate in right as manager Charlie Manuel works hard to coax offense out of the position? The answers to these questions, as well as bullpen queries concerning closer Brad Lidge and the supporting bullpen cast, will go a long way toward determining if mile-high fan expectations for 2011 will actuate.
Will Lidge be injury-free in 2011 and perform closer to either his standout year of 2008 — 48 saves, no blown ones, or to his performance in 2010 in-between injuries? Or will the dogs of 2009 again plague him? While Ryan Madson seems primed for another standout year in middle and set-up slots in the bullpen, will the loss of Chad Durbin leave gaps in the ‘pen? Will Jose Contreras reprise his 2010 performance, will lefthander J.C. Romero pitch to 2008 levels and how will Kyle Kendrick take to a relief roll?
A second 97 win season, 100 or 100 plus wins are a real possibility if the the lionshare of these questions materialize affirmatively.
But these are all open questions as spring training begins with the specter of a 2011 season with the Atlanta Braves and the Florida Marlins in hot pursuit hoping that the Phils falter, and looking to spoil the sky-high hopes of the Phils and their fans.
The exhibition season gets into high gear as the Phils oppose the Yankees on Saturday and Sunday — away
and at home in Clearwater, followed by Toronto on Monday, Detroit on Tuesday and Baltimore on Wednesday.