Greetings... wrapping things up team-wise with the hated Phillies...
C - Carlos Ruiz
1B - Ryan Howard* (injured), Ty Wigginton, Jim Thome
2B - Chase Utley* (injured), Ty Wigginton, Freddy Galvis
SS - Jimmy Rollins
3B - Placido Polanco
LF - John Mayberry Jr., Juan Pierre/Laynce Nix
CF - Shane Victorino
RF - Hunter Pence
Not the best installment of this lineup at the moment (and that warms my heart). The traditional "big three" for the Phillies has been Howard/Utley/Rollins, but with Howard recovering from a torn achilles (and declining in skill anyway), and Utley out for the opener, at least, with a degenerative knee condition, Rollins is the only one standing. I think we can pencil in Ryan Howard for his typical numbers post-injury, hitting .245-.265 with nice power, and absolutely no productivity vs. lefties, and Utley always hits and is a fantastic baserunner, but that's a lot to replace. Rollins isn't the former MVP that he used to be, but still posted 16 homers with solid splits and 30 steals last year. The two actual best offensive players on this team reside in the outfield with Victorino and Pence. Victorino had the best year of his career last year, hitting 16 homers, swiping 19 bags, and posting an .847 OPS with good outfield defense, while Pence mashed to the tune of 11 homers in 54 games with Philly (.954 OPS) and 22 homers with an .871 OPS for the year combined. Mayberry is a key to this team for me as a guy who really, really hit last year in limited ABs (15 homers in under 300 ABs), but who is poised for everyday playing time for the first time at age 27. Carlos Ruiz is an above-average catcher at this point, and Polanco, while dreadful last year, still sports a lifetime average north of .300. The depth behind Utley and Howard is key early. Ty Wigginton has shown that he's got big-time major-league power in previous years, but he's a minus defensively at 1st and he's horrendous at 2B, while Thome can still mash righties, but hasn't played defense in YEARS and would be better off as a pure bench bat in a non-DH league. This lineup isn't what gets them this prediction.
1 - Roy Halladay
2 - Cliff Lee
3 - Cole Hamels
4 - Vance Worley
5 - Joe Blanton/Kyle Kendrick
The single reason why I'm picking the Phillies to win the NL East is the triumvirate of pitching. Roy Halladay is still the pitcher I'd most like to have on my staff (with apologies to Verlander and Kershaw) because of his insane consistency. He's posted a sub-3.00 ERA in each of the past 4 seasons, 220+ innings in the last 6 straight seasons, and easily has the highest pitcher WAR over that timeframe. The best in the business. After that, things don't slow down much. Cliff Lee has been ridiculous since 2008, culminating in last year's 2.40 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 9.2 K-rate season that was somehow overshadowed by Halladay. Lee is an elite guy in his own right, and should be treated as such. Oh, and if Cole Hamels is your #3, you're in pretty darn good shape. Hamels put up a career-best 2.79 ERA in 32 starts last year with a sub-1.00 WHIP and 216 innings. Beast-mode. After that (mercifully) it gets a little more dicey. Vance Worley had tremendous numbers as a rookie (3.01 ERA in 131 innings) but the underlying numbers suggest there's big-time regression coming, and the only question is how much. The 5th spot is a battle between older/mediocre/consistent in Joe Blanton (5.01 ERA in 11 starts last year, 4.32 career) and younger/better stuff/wildly inconsistent in Kyle Kendrick who actually had a good year last year when he posted a 3.22 ERA, but much of that was from the bullpen, and he's always capable of a blow-up (see his 4.73 ERA from the previous year). At any rate, this is an elite staff simply because the top-3 are better than everyone else's, even when you include top staffs like San Francisco or LA Anaheim.
The single most puzzling signing of the off-season to me was Jonathan Papelbon's $50 million deal with the Phillies. That's twice in 3 years that they've done the "most inexplicable" item when you remember the ludicrous Ryan Howard deal, but if we look at it purely baseball-wise, Papelbon is a nice closer. He had 31 saves with a sub-3.00 ERA and sub-1.00 WHIP while pitching in the AL East last year, and should be an above-average option, at least in year one. Antonio Bastardo was dominant last year in a set-up role and he returns to anchor that role once again. After that, it gets kind of ugly in a hurry with guys like Michael Stutes, Chad Qualls, and the ageless wonder that is Jose Contreras. If they can win a title with Brad Lidge, anything's possible.
91-71, 1st in NL East