The Phillies are older and have some injury problems. So now a lot of baseball pundits think, "I'll be a contrarian and pick the Braves to win the NL East. And if I'm wrong, nobody will remember in 6 months anyway." Dave Sheinin of the Washington Post is another recent example. Look, I get it. It's boring to pick the Phillies to win the NL East. Just like it's boring to pick the Patriots to win the AFC East or the Lakers to win the Pacific Division every season. Boring…and usually correct.
As a fan it doesn't bother me that so many writers seem to be picking against the Phillies lately. I don't get my Hanes in a bunch about it. And there are some valid arguments to make in support of the prediction that the Phillies will not win the division, in spite of being the heavy favorite since the re-acquisition of Cliff Lee in December. It's just now it's become the trendy thing to do, and the bandwagon effect is occurring.
This trend has gotten so out of hand that Mike Vaccaro of the NY Post, obviously felt he needed to go even further, so he saw us the 2nd place prediction and raised us a 3rd place prediction, behind the Braves and, get this, the Mets. That is so ridiculous it doesn't even merit a response.
But back to Sheinin, here are a few of his reasons:
Well, the "injury problem" right now is affecting exactly 3 players who were in their plans: Chase Utley, Brad Lidge, and Domonic Brown. With the spring Ben Francisco just had, he was likely going to win the job over Brown anyway. And they may have decided to keep an extra infielder with Utley out and have Brown start the season in Triple-A, if that was the case. Lidge and Utley are certainly concerns. But the Lidge injury (or "Lidgjury"?) becomes less significant if Madson, Contreras, and the rest of the bullpen do their jobs, as expected.
And in 2010 they had many significant injuries - their original starting 8 played about 20 games together, their entire lineup basically stopped hitting for about 6 weeks, and they still managed to win 97 games and clinched the division with just under a week to go in the season. Adding Oswalt and Lee to that equation for an entire season should, at least on paper, makeup for any shortfalls elsewhere.
The worst news concerns second baseman Chase Utley (knee), the Phillies’ most indispensable player. Their offense already had holes before Utley came down lame. Without him, they’re a mess. What’s more, closer Brad Lidge will start the season on the disabled list because of shoulder soreness.
Wow, "a mess"? Really? I agree, the injury to Utley is the biggest concern, but he being the "Phillies' most indispensable player" is a bit of an overstatement, especially when they had a better record without him in 2010. One of the strengths of the Phillies is that with the Four Aces, 2 former MVPs, and other solid pennant race-tested players throughout the roster, they may not have a single "indispensable player", with the possible exceptions, given the team's current makeup, of Ryan Howard and Roy Halladay.
This team has overcome every injury hurdle thrown in front of them the last several seasons. And with arguably the best rotation in modern baseball history, there is no reason to believe they won't be able to overcome whatever obstacles they face in 2011. But I guess just picking the team with the best rotation, and by the way a pretty good roster overall, isn't exciting.