PHILADELPHIA -- Pitchers and catchers don't report to spring
training for another three weeks and exhibition games are still
more than a month away. The Philadelphia Phillies already are
talking about the postseason.
"I think we are the team to beat in the NL East -- finally."
-- Jimmy Rollins
"I think we are the team to beat in the NL East -- finally,"
shortstop Jimmy Rollins said Tuesday. "But, that's only on
The New York Mets cruised to the division title last season,
finishing 12 games ahead of the Phillies. But Philadelphia overcame
a poor start and a midseason roster purge to take the lead in the
NL wild-card standings with only one week remaining in the regular
season, only to fall short for the second straight year.
Now, the Phillies are quite confident they'll make the playoffs
for the first time since 1993.
General manager Pat Gillick strengthened an already-solid
starting rotation by adding Freddy Garcia and Adam Eaton in the
offseason, and made minor moves to bolster an offense that led the
league in runs scored.
"For the first time since I've been here, I can say I know we
have the pitching to get us there," said Rollins, a three-time
All-Star in six seasons in the majors. "Our offense has been
productive the last couple years, but it's tough when it's 6-0 in
the third inning."
Garcia was 17-9 with the Chicago White Sox last year and has won
at least 16 games four times in his eight-year career. Eaton is a
two-time 11-game winner with a higher upside if he avoids injuries
that have plagued him in recent years.
Brett Myers (12-7, 3.91 ERA) and Cole Hamels (9-8, 4.08) might
be the 1-2 punch atop the rotation while veteran Jamie Moyer
(11-14, 4.30 with the Phillies and Seattle) rounds it out. The
Phillies also have Jon Lieber (9-11, 4.93) as insurance should
someone get hurt, though he could be traded for relief help.
"I feel we're a better team than we were this time last year
because the top of the rotation is better," manager Charlie Manuel
The five starters entering last season were Lieber, Myers, Cory
Lidle, Randy Wolf and Gavin Floyd. Strong pitching should take some
pressure off the offense, though the bullpen still needs
Gillick failed in his quest to lure free agent Alfonso Soriano
to Philadelphia, but NL MVP Ryan Howard, All-Star Chase Utley and
Rollins give the Phillies one of the most formidable lineups in the
Inconsistent slugger Pat Burrell is back to play left field
along with his hefty contract ($27 million owed over next two
seasons). New third baseman Wes Helms provides more pop than
Abraham Nunez, center fielder Aaron Rowand should produce better
numbers if he stays healthy and right fielder Shane Victorino is an
ideal No. 2 hitter.
"When you have good starting pitching, it makes your job a lot
easier," said Howard, who had 58 homers and 149 RBIs last year.
Since last July, Gillick has changed the face of the franchise.
Gone are Bobby Abreu, Mike Lieberthal, David Bell and Wolf. The
laid-back personalities who dominated the clubhouse for years have
been replaced by high-energy, fiery leaders like Utley, Rollins and
"Talk is cheap," Rowand said. "I can't tell you if we're
better than the Mets. All I know is we're going to go out and play
with heart every single game."