BY NICK STAFFIERI, Contributor
As the 2010 edition of the Philadelphia Phillies begins their annual winter trek to Clearwater FL, many fans have questions resulting from the disappointing (and must I say stomach curling) loss in last year’s World Series to the New York Yankees. There were certainly some deficiencies with the 2009 team that became exposed in that series. The question on every fan’s mind is, have those deficiencies been properly addressed during this off-season? Here is a list of seven questions for this Spring Training followed by my answers.
Question: Who will emerge from Spring Training as the Phillies fifth starter in the starting rotation?
Answer: The position is currently Jamie Moyer’s to lose. But at age 47, can he still be consistently effective in that role? Kyle Kendrick will once again fight to be on the roster as a starter in the rotation. The Phillies coaching staff still believe that he has great potential if he can keep his sinker under control. Antonio Bastardo, who showed some promise in a few starts in 2009, will also get a chance at winning that fifth spot. Top prospect Phillippe Aumont, who was acquired in the Cliff Lee trade and replaced Kyle Drabek on the list of minor league pitching prospects for the Phillies, will be at Spring Training but is expected to start his season in Double A. In my opinion, unless Kendrick can step up this spring, Moyer will be in the rotation.
Question: Will Cole Hamels have a positive spring to prove to himself, and everyone else, that he is the pitcher he was in 2008?
Answer: A good spring for Cole will give him the confidence entering the season. If he struggles through spring training, too many questions will begin to surface about how good he really is. And let’s not forget what will surface right behind: the name Cliff Lee. Cole knows how much is riding on his success as a starter this year. Perhaps with the addition of Roy Halladay, he won’t have as much pressure to produce as the ace of the staff. Look for a good start with a bit of struggle towards the end of Spring Training as he gets anxious to start the season. After that, he should be okay.
Question: What effect will Placido Polanco have on the offense this year?
Answer: As if the offense needed a lot of help anyway. Charlie Manuel keeps discussing Polanco’s ability to put the ball in play. There have been speculations that he will place Polanco second in the lineup behind Rollins and slide Victorino to seventh. This makes sense if you want to utilize Jimmy’s speed on the base paths. Victorino is not the most technical hitter, or the most selfless, when it comes to moving runners and playing hit-and-run. Polanco is a much better contact hitter and has the potential to lead this team in batting average. If Polanco is in the number two spot, look for Utley and Howard to put up monster RBI totals this year.
Question: Will Brad Lidge be ready to dominate the ninth inning when the season starts as he did back in 2008?
Answer: Lidge’s career has been quite a roller coaster ride. Looking at the numbers, he has had a bad year after a good year and back to a bad year again. Following that trend, this should be the good year. But more than just predicting from a trend, Lidge knows he has the stuff to be a dominant closer. If he gets healthy and stays healthy, he will revert back to his 2008 form. Lidge should be ready for Spring Training after surgery on his arm this past off-season. I don’t predict another perfect season, but Lidge should have a fine year closing out games for the Phillies unless he is hampered by more injuries.
Question: Did this team improve their bullpen?
Answer: This is a tough call. Danys Baez is a good addition to the bullpen and should give Charlie Manuel quality innings. Madson and Lidge will continue to close out games from the eighth inning on while Chad Durbin will continue to play the middle relief role. With Chan Ho Park gone, it will be Baez’s role to be as effective as Park was last year. Sergio Escalona should be the situational left-hander complimented by the return of left-handed JC Romero. The quality of the bullpen in 2010 really relies on the quality years from Phillies veterans such as Madson, Lidge, and Romero. If they don’t have good years, the new faces don’t mean much.
Question: Did this team improve their bench?
Answer: On paper, Yes. The Phillies totally restocked their bench for 2010 in an attempt to get more offensive production as well as rest for weary starters down the stretch runs of September. They gave up power hitter Matt Stairs and replaced him with solid contribution from the bench in players like Ross Gload and Juan Castro. Ben Francisco and Greg Dobbs remain from 2009 and should continue to contribute. Add John Mayberry and you have a group of players who all can make contact with the bat and be effective in their given roles. Overall, the bench should be able to rise to the occasion as the collective group did in 2008.
Question: Can this team win a World Series in 2010?
Answer: This is the question that everyone really wants answered. The 2009 Phillies team was clearly the best in the National League, but struggled against the Yankees in the World Series. The Dodgers, Cardinals and Cubs are probably the biggest threats to unseat the Phillies for National League supremacy. Ruben Amaro clearly has made attempts to improve this team in areas that were weak last year. The bullpen, the bench, and starting pitching were exposed in the World Series against the Yankees. With these areas addressed in the off-season, Amaro gets an A grade. As good as the 2009 team was, the 2010 team has the potential to be slightly better. And that means that they are good enough to win another National League pennant. As we have seen in 2008, this core group of players have the talent, the drive and the leadership to be champions. I will not go as far as predicting a World Series victory for them in 2010. But if you ask me if they have what it takes to win, my answer would be yes.
See you in October.