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This is the beginning of a series of articles analyzing the NL East. Naturally starting with last year’s division leader, let’s take a look at the Phillies in 2008.

We’ll look at five categories - offense, defense, starting pitching, relief pitching, and coaching.  At the end of the series we’ll have a predictions article, where we’ll rank each of the five categories and draw some conclusions about the division.

Offense:  The Phillies had one of the most potent offenses in baseball in 2007.  They ranked 1st in runs, slugging percentage, and OPS, 2nd in  stolen bases and on-base-percentage, and fifth in batting average.  Since then they’ve lost Aaron Rowand and replaced him with Geoff Jenkins, who is not quite as potent at the plate.  Pat Burrell and So Taguchi round out the outfield.  The Phillies’ infield features Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and the current weak spot, Wes Helms.  I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that these guys are retaining most of their potency from the offensive side of the ball - but we may see a slight drop from last season.

Defense: in 2007 the Phillies had 89 errors.  Jenkins brings less range than Rowand had, and has a history of making a few more errors.  Otherwise we’ll see pretty much the same defense we saw last season.  The Phillies overall are pretty solid defensively, the one weak spot last year was Pat Burrell, but we have to assume he’ll bounce back to normal in 2008.

Starting Pitching:  The Phillies have had some struggles with pitching ever since moving to their new ballpark, in which infield fly balls turn into home runs.  Last year they paid Freddy Garcia $10 million and got one win in return before the guy had season-ending surgery.  Overall as a staff the Phils ranked pretty much at the middle of the pack in ERA, Batting Average Against, WHIP, and OPS.  In order for the Phillies to be a dominant ballclub, pitching has to be a first priority this year.  Cole Hamels is a great young pitcher, but the rest of their staff is aging somewhat.  The acquisition of Brad Lidge allows Brett Myers to move back to the starting rotation - which will pump some air into the rotation.  Unless some more blockbuster trades are pulled, we’ll see another decent staff in 2008.

Relief Pitching: There are four key elements to the Phillies’ bullpen.  First and foremost is Brad Lidge - if he can return to form as a closer, he’ll be one of the best in the game.  Antonio Alfonseca, Tom Gordon, and J.C. Romero are the heart of the setup men, with 51 holds between them last year.  But none of them are youngsters.  If the Phillies can find another decent year out of the three setup men, and Lidge returns to form, their bullpen will be in good shape.  But in my opinion, that’s a big load to put on these three setup guys.

Coaching: Charlie Manuel is at the helm once again for the Phillies, and he’s had success in the regular season in the past.  However, he is only 2-6 in the post-season and needs to figure out how to win there if he wants to remain in charge in Philadelphia.  There are going to be some major expectations for Manuel to improve on last year’s 89-73 record and make a push into the post-season.

Recap: Offense is one of the most potent in all of baseball.  Defensively the Phillies are a good team.  Their rotation needs a boost in addition to Brett Myers jumping back in, and their bullpen looks poised for a decent year if Lidge can return to 2004-2005 form.

More coming soon - also available at BravesBlast.com

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