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2011 MLB World Series Favorites: Philadelphia Phillies with Cliff Lee

The final post in a three-part series written by Alan Hull who is previewing the teams favored to win the 2011 MLB World Series.

Philadelphia Phillies

After reaching the World Series two years in a row, the Phillies fell short of their goal in 2010 when they lost to the San Francisco Giants in the NLCS. The Giants will have most of their players back next season, but it doesn’t stop us from making the Phillies one of our favorites to reach the Fall Classic in the upcoming season.

Off-season Moves: The Phillies had an outstanding off-season, re-signing J.C. Romero and backup catcher Brian Schneider, and those were not their only moves. Most notably, they signed the best pitcher in baseball who wasn’t already on their team, Cliff Lee. They also made the easiest decision of the off-season, not paying Jayson Werth $126 million.

Strengths: Their rotation is historically good. With four Hall of Fame-caliber pitchers (not that they all will make the Hall or that any beyond Roy Halladay will, but that they are in their primes and perform at a HOF level), this team will win A LOT of ball games and will be very exciting to watch in the playoffs, if they all stay healthy. They also have a balanced offense (power/speed), are well-coached and play well as a unit. They should be serviceable defensively at every position except for left field and probably first base.

Weaknesses: Raul Ibanez. Their bullpen is good, not great. Brad Lidge is an every-other-year guy, so expect about a 8.50 ERA from him and 15 blown saves. They could really use bounce-back, offensive seasons from Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Placido Polanco and Ibanez (Rollins and Ibanez are in contract years, so…).

Summary: Cliff Lee, bitches.

Also see Thursday W.S. favorite: Boston Red Sox
Friday W.S. favorite: New York Yankees

Cliff Lee to the Phillies Puts Them Into Greatest Rotation of All Time Conversation

The Philadelphia Phillies have been one of the best teams in baseball over the past three seasons, reaching the NLCS three times, the World Series twice, and putting on one big fat ring.

This past season they were the favorites to emerge from the National League for the third straight year, but ran into a destined Giants team that dominated them from a pitching standpoint. The Giants had a very mediocre offense, but their superb pitching was able to get them over the hump. The Phillies clearly took note.

With the addition of Cliff Lee to a staff that already includes Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels, Philadelphia has now constructed a pitching staff that is better than San Francisco. It is crazy good. One NL GM summed it up pretty simply: “Oh … my … God.”

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Cliff Lee Says Phillies Fans ‘Don’t Need Teleprompter’ to Know When to Cheer

The Philadelphia Phillies reintroduced their big free agent acquisition today — one that Phillies fans grew fond of during a World Series run two years ago.  Cliff Lee appeared relieved to be back in Philly after being bounced all across the United States over the past two seasons.  Lee, who will wear No. 33 now that Roy Halladay has taken over his old No. 34, spoke about the opportunity to join a rotation that could be “historic,” as he termed it.  He also praised the fans in Philadelphia and cited them as one of the main reasons he chose to return.

The Yankees needed to get Lee and they couldn’t pull it off, leaving Brian Cashman with a rotation that is full of holes.  Lee will likely be praised for leaving money on the table by signing with Philadelphia, but the lefty said it best when he told reporters that “enough is enough” when you hit a certain point.  He turned out to be the Yankees worst nightmare in free agency — a guy who actually cares that fans spit on his wife when he visited Yankee stadium as the opposition more than he cares about a longer, more lucrative deal.

Fans in Texas and/or Seattle might be a little offended by one of the more humorous moments of Lee’s introductory press conference, when he alluded to the fact that Philly fans “don’t need a teleprompter to tell them to cheer.”  If that’s a shot at Texas, Rangers fans will likely take offense.  If it’s a shot at the Mariners, fans will probably be confused and asking themselves what they could have possibly had to cheer for last season.

As far as the money is concerned, Lee will make more per year for the next five than he would have in New York.  The truth of the matter is he probably knows he isn’t going to pitch until he’s 40 so a contract that’s loaded with dollars in its final years wouldn’t really be beneficial.  However you want to analyze it, the Phillies rotation will be one of the scariest baseball has ever seen.

Phillies Are Rightful World Series Favorites

From the moment the postseason odds were listed up until right before the beginning of the playoffs, the Philadelphia Phillies have been favored to win the World Series. Currently, the Braves, Reds, Rangers, and Twins all have the longest odds of winning the thing (though nobody is worse than 12:1 underdogs when it comes to sports betting). The Phillies are nearly a 2:1 favorite to win it all, while the Yankees and Rays are generally a 3:1 or 4:1 favorite. The Giants are the one team in between; because of their stellar pitching (best in MLB), they’re around a 7 or 8:1 favorite.

The Phillies are favored to win it all for four reasons: they finished the year strongly and wound up with the best record in baseball, they have the consensus best 1-2-3 pitching punch, the competition in the NL is easier than the AL, and they’ll have homefield advantage throughout the postseason (including the World Series). They have the best combination of pitching and hitting in baseball and will likely make it to their third straight World Series.

After running through a stretch mid-season when the offensive was in a collective slump, the bats started to pick it up in the second half. Ryan Howard OPS’d .977 in September, Chase Utley did .967, Raul Ibanez went .962, Carlos Ruiz had a .925 line, Jayson Werth went .920, and Shane Victorino was .823. Almost their entire lineup was on fire the entire final month of the season. Plus, you know Placido Polanco and Jimmy Rollins can come up big in the postseason too.

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Roy Halladay Finally Gets a Shot at Pitching in October

There has never been a pitcher in Major League Baseball history that deserves a shot at taking the mound in the postseason more than Roy Hallday.  For years, Halladay was one of the best arms in the American League.  As luck would have it, he was stuck pitching for the Toronto Blue Jays.

The Jays have not been to the playoffs since 1993.  The last time they were there, they went on to win a title by defeating — get this — the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series.  For almost 20 years, Toronto has been stuck behind the Red Sox, Yankees, and more recently the Rays.  They’re a franchise that just hasn’t managed to get back on track since winning back-to-back titles in the early 90s.

Yet, Halladay never complained.  Anyone who knows anything about baseball saw a perennial Cy Young contender wasting away in a city where baseball fans have become an endangered species.  All Toronto’s ace did during his 12-year stay was take the mound and pitch.  More often than not, he did his job better than any other starter in the AL during that tenure.

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Roy Oswalt a Solid Addition for Phillies

According to Yahoo! Sports, via the AP, Roy Oswalt has approved a trade to the Philadelphia Phillies and will be sent there from Houston in exchange for Phillies pitcher J.A. Happ and two prospects, pending a physical.  With the Phillies amidst a seven-game winning streak after stumbling for the better part of 2010, they’re about to make a great deal.  More importantly, it’s safe to say Steve Phillips would love it.

Never have my emotions been more mixed about a deal then they were when Philadelphia unloaded Cliff Lee to make room for Roy Halladay.  The younger Lee was coming off a dominant postseason and looked — and still looks — to be one of the best left-handers in Major League Baseball.  Yes, Roy Halladay dominated the AL so it was only assumed that he’d roast the weaker NL and yes, we entertained the idea of Halladay winning 25 games with the Phillies.  Oh yeah, and Doc also threw a perfect game this season and is still very much in the Cy Young discussion with a 12-8 record to accompany a 2.21 ERA.

However, it seemed like the Phillies were playing with fire when they made the Lee-Halladay trade.  They were dealing one great pitcher for another who is slightly more seasoned and dominant, but take into account the ages of the two and it almost seemed like a wash.  How much stronger can your rotation possibly get when you’re giving up a Cliff Lee and not bringing in two pitchers to replace him?  Philadelphia waited half a season, but they’re about to bring in that second arm.

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Phillies Make Howard Second Highest Paid in MLB

The Philadelphia Phillies took another step toward preserving the longevity of their National League dominance today when they gave first basemen Ryan Howard a 5-year, $125 million dollar extension.  Howard is already under team control through 2012, so the new deal keeps him in a Phillies uniform through 2016 with a team option for 2017.  The average annual salary of $25 million makes the left-handed slugger the second highest paid player in baseball — behind Alex Rodriguez, of course.

By locking up the 2006 NL MVP for six or seven more seasons, the Phillies have put together a solid core of players for years to come.  Roy Halladay — who has been dominating thus far in his first season in the NL — is under team control through 2013 with an option for 2014.  All-star second baseman chase Utley is also signed through 2013.  Howard and Utley alone give Philadelphia one of the most powerful infields in the game.  The team also can keep Jimmy Rollins through next season by exercising his 2011 option.

Howard’s contract situation had gotten a bit shady lately as his arbitration number has skyrocketed with each passing season.  There were even some rumblings earlier this season that the Phillies were entertaining trade offers, which were quickly squashed.  I like this move a lot for Philadelphia.  It may not attract as much attention as bringing in a free agent superstar would, but resigning your own players — especially when they’re a perennial MVP candidate who has helped you reach the world series the past two years — is always a smart move.  The Phillies are taking all the right steps to remaining a dominant force atop the NL East for years to come.

Source:
Phillies sign Howard through 2016 [ESPN]
Contract Info: Cot’s Baseball Contracts