Thursday, March 31, 2011
Chase Utley is hurt and out for god knows how long. Brad Lidge is out 3 to 6 weeks with shoulder problems. Placido Polanco is banged up, his elbow still bothering him. Shane Victorino has been hobbled at times. Raul Ibanez is another year older. So is Jimmy Rollins, who's battled injuries the past few seasons himself, something he never dealt with prior. Ryan Howard is coming off his least productive season at the plate. Domonic Brown is injured and not even on the roster. And Jayson Werth now resides a couple hours down I-95, leaving some big shoes for Ben Francisco to fill.
All of these things are reasons to be concerned about the 2011 Philadelphia Phillies' chances at getting back to their third World Series in four years and trying to win their second in that span. Yet here we are, on MLB's opening day and less than 24 hours away from the Phillies' first pitch, and I'm not overly concerned. I should be, I know. But I'm really not. Why? Because I honestly believe that the Phillies starting five will keep this team alive.
Never in my lifetime has a starting rotation had this much pressure and such high expectations. That includes the Maddux-Smoltz-Glavine Braves that saw the fourth guy rotate: Steve Avery, Denny Neagle, Kevin Millwood, Mike Hampton, etc. This team has four legitimate aces and arguably the best fifth starter in the game. Roy Halladay is the defending National League Cy Young Award winner, the second Cy Young to his name. Cliff Lee won the 2008 2008 American League Cy Young and has continued to dominate ever since, pitching in two straight World Series (2009 and 2010). Roy Oswalt is a former 20-game winner who for years was the staff ace of the Astros, pitching in a World Series himself. Cole Hamels is an NLCS and World Series MVP. And all Joe Blanton does is win, going undefeated in the 2008 postseason to help the Phillies become World Fucking Champions, hitting a home run in the World Series for good measure.
If any pitching staff can take pressure of an injured and uncertain offense, it's these guys. Yes, that means the pressure is squarely on their shoulders, but I think it's safe to say these guys thrive under pressure. Roy Halladay threw a no-hitter in his first career playoff start, then refused to let the Phillies be eliminated in the NLCS despite having a pulled groin. Cliff Lee is simply the greatest man who ever lived, completely and utterly dominating every team he has ever faced in the postseason minus one bad outing against the Giants last year. Roy Oswalt is a cool customer who gets the job done and will even play left field for you if you ask him to.
Cole Hamels became a king in 2008 and truly started letting the bad things roll off of him last season. And Joe Blanton has never really shown any evidence of succumbing to pressure. He just goes out there, gets his 6-plus innings of work in and keeps the game close, giving the Phils a chance to win.
There is ice water in all five guys' veins. They want to be the best, and they compete with each other to be the best. That's only going to elevate their games even more, trying to one-up each other day in and day out.
That doesn't mean the Phillies are a lock to get back to the World Series or even win the division for a fifth straight year, but it does give them something no other team in baseball has: Four legitimate aces, and a fifth guy that would be damn near anyone's three or four.
These five will keep the Phillies alive as they find their way offensively and adjust to their new roles. I just have a feeling.
Age and injury and production are all valid concerns, things that very well could do this team in. But with a bona fide ace trotting out 4 out of every 5 games and an extremely dependable starter out there to take the other, you still have to love the Phillies' chances. Frankly, I cannot wait until the umpire points to Roy Halladay tomorrow afternoon and yells, "Play ball!"
Finally, we'll get to see what this potentially historic rotation can do.