You can find your Philadelphia Phillies tickets for the 2011 season on SeatGeek.

Justin Klugh is the Lead Writer for Fansided’s Philadelphia Phillies blog, That Balls Outta Here.  You can follow Justin on Twitter @TBOHblog.

Philadelphia Phillies 2011 Season Preview

I’m a clip junkie.  I’ve watched Shane Victorino nail Gregor Blanco at the plate as empire crumbled around me.  I missed most of Christmas dinner watching Utley’s deke with tears in my eyes.  And “…Stairs rips one into the night!” is the only phrase Joe Buck has ever said that doesn’t make me want to hurl a brick through his windshield.

But maybe I’d find less pink slips in my inbox if I focused more on the present.

As a new season looms, we look at what we’re working with, and as is its been for the past few years, we’re monsters.  We could win it all.  Or, as we witnessed in 2010, we couldn’t.  All I’m really looking for is the next hit of sweet, sweet Phils clips to bring me that all natural high.

And also 162 straight wins.  I’m also looking for that.

THE PHILLIES LINEUP

The consensus seems to be that the Phillies’ lineup crossed a line somewhere and became a gaggle of hitless old farts.  While its true the power’s gone out a few times when it wouldn’t have in 2007, we are in the middle of changing our team persona.  We’re no longer a hitting team with pitching issues; we’re almost the exact opposite.  Most of these guys are on the plus side of 30, but not so far gone (except for Raul) that they’re sitting out with the garbage.  They’re still plenty capable, threatening, and powerful; but it’s probably good that there will be times when they won’t have to be.

That said, it’s early enough to hope that last year’s numbers were flukes, flops, and screw-ups, rather than the new norm.  But we’ll have to wait until they’re playing baseball to see whose malfunctioning in what way.

Ryan Howard

The last image you have of Ryan sucks the life out of you.  He’s standing there, holding his bat by the barrel with his mouth gaped open like a teenager being denied the keys on a Saturday night.  Behind him, Buster Posey, almost an actual teenager, rushes to embrace Brian Wilson and the Phillies’ crumble right out of the playoffs.

As you can recall easily, because it is never too far from your thoughts, Ryan’s been locked up for five more years and $125 million; a deal that scares most people as he enters his thirties.  The deal kept a perennial fan favorite with sometimes questionable swing-judgment here, but it also made Bobby Cox say “…if Howard is worth $25 million a year, then Pujols is worth $50 million,” as several members of the Cardinals’ front office mouthed “WTF?!” at him from across the room.

Meanwhile, it wasn’t Christmas yet, and Ryan was in the batting cage at CBP with Greg Gross.  What people forget in their assumptions of a Ryan Howard decline is that he is working to try and stave it off for as long as possible.  Don’t start writing off Ryan just yet.

You can’t bounce back if you don’t hurl yourself to at the wall first.  Or something.

Chase Utley

When the scattered disappointment of the NLCS began reassembling into a more focused breed of rage, it seemed to find itself pointed at Chase.  His fielding wasn’t as sharp.  His hitting wasn’t as clutch.  His three year reign as NL HBP-leader came to a screeching halt.

The rational conclusion, then, would be to trade him, and trade him hard, for 137 prospects.  Just get him out of here.

People who thought this way were idiots.  Chase’s numbers tanked after coming back from his thumb injury, but he’s still Chase Utley. He may no longer be the highest paid second baseman in the game, but it would take a horrendous 2011 season—without the haze of injury still blanketing his numbers and play—to convince me that Chase is in fact declining.

Jimmy Rollins

Any qualms you have about Jimmy becoming an injury-prone player shouldn’t matter in 2011.  Not because he won’t get hurt, but because he can’t let it matter.  He’s playing for his contractual life this season, so if he’s got to walk a thin line of protecting himself while still giving his all.  And that barely makes sense, so… good luck, Jimmy.  The sad reality is that this could be the final time Jimmy comes smiling and winking into Clearwater; and his is an absence that would be gut wrenchingly apparent.

Part of the rebound being expected/demanded of Jimmy will be his speed; though with Davey Lopes gone, you’ve got to wonder if he sees his green lights take a hit from the more conservative Sam Perlozzo, or he just sort of has the leash off from day one.

Jimmy’s response to his situation is to train harder, and start taking yoga lessons from his wife.  He even threatened to meet Ryan Howard at the gym this month.  Obviously, he’s aware of his situation, and while he may be cocky, he’s not ignorant.  He knows what he has to do.

So. Do it, Jimmy.

Placido Polanco

Polly has had a “busy” off season; he’s been nominated for meaningless awards, compared to certain Royals prospects, and received a second, even more meaningless award.

Polly was the most flirtatious hitter with .300 this season; he was a great pickup/upgrade, and he fit right in, mentally and talent-wise.  Like pretty much everyone in this death march, he suffered due to injuries in 2010.  But at least that’s an easily identifiable reason to under-perform, instead of just inexplicably crumbling to dust right in front of everyone, a la Greg Dobbs.

He’s a staunch defender and a definitive two-hole hitter; notable for his inability to strike out all of the time.  If he stays healthy, he should be one of those rare Phillies who isn’t expected to have a comeback year because he didn’t fall apart entirely during the last one.

Raul Ibanez

Raul’s off season may have been a bit tense, what with the inquiries about a trade and the blood curdling screams of his wife.  It’s hard to ignore a guy’s age when it keeps going up, and Raul Ibanez is clearly guilty of this awful, awful crime.  Fortunately, no one is ignoring it.  In fact, we’re not ignoring it pretty loudly.

Raul is usually the first name fired out there every time the notion of trading, or even just dropping, a player comes up; however, Ruben is always quick to crush these statements in his bare hands.

Abandoning him at this point would leave us with two corner outfield spots without players in them.  You can’t just kick him out like he’s surplus supplies on the Oregon Trail, and eat $10 million in the process, so assume you will be looking at Raul run as fast he (and half as fast as a beached octopus) can this season.

He’s streaky, but his OPS danced with .800.  He’s injury prone, but he made sure to not get hit by any pitches.  He’s slow, but he didn’t even have the least amount of stolen bases on the team in 2010.  He can still contribute, and he’s our left fielder.  Let’s squeeze all the blood we can out of him.

Shane Victorino

It’s kind of universally muttered that Shane could be more effective leading off than Jimmy, who has shouted quite publicly that he doesn’t plan on abandoning the spot without security dragging him out.

So what we have here is a speedy center fielder, probably relegated to the seven or eight hole, but also possibly hitting second and if Jimmy’s hurt, first.  This is probably why Charlie had him bouncing all over the lineup card this past season.

He was hurt for a time, but the amount of games he played in this year was only nine fewer than 2009, so his numbers reflect more of a bum year.  And he still won a Gold Glove, but so did Derek Jeter, so, you know.  Whatever that means.

It was pointed out that in some veins, namely home runs and triples, Shane is comparable to Carl Crawford.  There’s not much standing in the way of Shane finishing 2011 with a batting average back where it should be.

And how can you not back a guy so determined to save humanity?

TBD

You’d have to be a pretty lazy Phillies blogger to not theorize who you think will play right field this year.  Your jumping off point is Ben Francisco with some Ross Gload speculation coming from the whispers of Ruben Amaro.  Then there’s the clear favorite, Dom Brown, who people may become furious with when it is discovered that he can’t be immediately the greatest thing they’ve ever seen.

And let’s not forget that fourth thing they talked about, bringing in somebody else on the cheap, while expecting mediocre-at-best things from them.  Aaron Rowand?  Jermaine Dye?  Hell, we just picked up Delwyn Young for some reason.

It’s smart to leave the position open to guesses, as it will make Spring Training a more definitive filter through which the eventual starter will leap.  Benny Fresh is a likely choice to tag team with the jarringly less-than-30 Dom Brown, he just needs to start being able to hit a left hander.  And Dom has to start channeling his youthful exuberance through some patience before he gets too Ryan Howard-ish to pull out of the fire.

Carlos Ruiz

Watching Chooch walk off the field with his injury this year was especially heartbreaking, as he was in mid-terrorizing of National League pitching.  Pitchers won’t stop complimenting the guy, and he was catching for three of the best pitchers in the league—and now a fourth.

His job will be strategic and time consuming enough without demanding offensive production, but he’ll give it to us.  His graduation from eight-hole eye roll to legitimate threat was timely and explosive, and combined with his innate skill at calling a game for some of the league’s best pitchers, he’s a hell of a commodity.

THE PHILLIES PITCHING ROTATION

Roy Halladay

What am I really going to sit here and type about Roy Halladay?

I feel most bad for him, actually, because he came here to win trophies and we didn’t get him one instantly.  If anybody deserves to show up in a new town and be immediately handed awards, it’s Doc.  He’s probably been sleeping at the Bright House Complex since the day after Thanksgiving.  Watching him compete with the rest of these snipers is going to be a terror-show.

Cliff Lee

What am I really going to sit here and type about Cliff Lee?

I never thought I’d be telling you how I believed Cliff would do for the Phillies in 2011, and neither did you.  The worst thing people can say about the Roy-Cliff 1-2 punch is that they are over 30 years old.  The best thing they can say is that they are still clearly dominant, two of the best in the game, and their 1-2 punch is followed by two more punches, making this rotation a felony assault charge.

Roy Oswalt

This is the part of most rotations where you start digesting the less recognizable names, but as I’m sure you’ve forgotten by now, the Phillies have four legitimate aces! I’ll allow a small intermission here for girlish squeals of excitement.

*Intermission*

Okay, that’s out of my system for the next 20 minutes.

What are people expecting from RoyO this year?  He’s been relegated to  the third name mentioned when people describe the rotation.  7-1 with a 1.74 ERA for the Phillies was a pretty dandy stretch, and unless he’s suffered some comically debilitating injury, we can most likely look forward to a further dominant Roy Oswalt letting the walls of CBP echo the screams of his enemies.

Cole Hamels

When this rotation was assembled, our enemies panicked.  When they could not rationalize away its awesomeness, they began scurrying to find reasons why these four together were not as scary as people thought.  The first thing to come up was their age.  When that wasn’t enough, they realized that maybe they would just have to suffer through the age of R2C2 (still can’t believe that’s where we landed nickname-wise) and win merely by surviving.

So, how could it be over the quickest?

That’s up to Cole and RoyO, who are both only signed through 2011.  After that, Cole’s got arbitration and Roy’s got a mutual option.

Cole is a beast, and he knows he’s a beast; which is why he puts way too much pressure on himself.  2009 was a lesson learned.  Cole went out and tried to throw perfect games, he was the reigning World Series MVP, and lo and behold they didn’t just happen because he wanted them to.  A humble winter with Rich Dubee led him into 2010, where he returned to a more dominant model primed for the post season.

We’re watching Cole grow up right in front of us, and hopefully, with three other aces on the staff, he won’t feel as pressured to start shattering baseball records every time they give him the ball.  Some run support and a bit better luck, and his numbers will actually be indicative of his pitching.

Joe Blanton

You prepare yourself for your childhood pet to die, and then they’re dying, and then suddenly the vet bursts back through the doors with Chauncey bounding and leaping behind him, full of life.

At this moment, Joe Blanton is on the Phillies 2011 rotation, despite what seemed like an inevitable departure for Boston.  You can’t ask much more from a number five starter—Joe throws strikes, he digs deep, and on a staff with those four in front of him, he’s got great influences floating around him.

The only real shock is that he’s still here.

THE PHILLIES BULLPEN

You can’t just assume the bullpen will be a nonfactor this year, even if the starters go consistently deep into games.  We are going to need these guys, badly at times, which puts all the more pressure on them to be great.  Which they are not.

Brad Lidge and Ryan Madson proved to be reliable, though they both have all too apparent weaknesses—Brad’s is self-confidence, Ryan’s is a lifelong prejudice against folding chairs.  Of course, they’re both up for free agency at year’s end, so one of them could be wearing a new uniform by the trade deadline.

Brad Lidge

Apparently, Brad and Charlie Manuel have infrequent phone conversations about how cool the starting rotation is.  Brad also chimes in with assurances that his knee feels great, better than ever, in fact.  We’ll never not be afraid of 2009 Brad Lidge, but we’ll always be kept warm by 2008 Brad Lidge, so let’s just recognize how solid 2010 Brad Lidge turned out to be and assume that’s who we’ll be seeing end our nail-biters in 2011.

End them with a win.  Sorry.  Forgot to specify.

Ryan Madson

Ryan was remarkably stoic during the NLCS, except for that time he gave up the home run to Juan Uribe that eventually won it for the Giants.  He can flamethrow, he can get three outs, he can hold a lead before Brad or whoever comes trotting out to close it.  As a set up man, those are three keys to doing his job correctly.

So I enter 2011 with the utmost confidence in Ryan.  He seems to lock up and malfunction when dropped into a ninth inning situation, but at home in the eighth, he’s precise and effective.  If we need a closer to stagger onto, we’ve got Jose Conteras.

Jose Contreras

Jose had some rough patches, but the Phillies obviously believe in their relationship with him, because they’re giving it another chance.  In fact, they doubled their offer from last year—length wise, anyway—and locked down Jose for the next two.  He’s pushing 40, but the idea seems to be that it’s worth it to have a late-inning guy to fall back on, especially if he’s already proven himself capable in such a scenario.

J.C. Romero

They tried to change the Phillies bullpen, but it seems to be a self-aware, sentient being, unwilling to alter itself.  They even signed a new lefty, until he was rejected and the familiar, oft-screaming face of J.C. Romero was brought back in.  Management doesn’t have enough confidence in Antonio Bastardo to leave him as the only LOOGY option, so J.C. is filling a necessary role on a limited budget—but his legs have slowly been folding out from under him since 2008.  Let’s just see how this goes.

Danys Baez

No thank you.

Kyle Kendrick

You know, I forgot they even used KK in the bullpen before.  Maybe this will be good for him, if he winds up there.  Maybe it will be terrible.  With Kyle, you just sort of drop him in there and hope he’s smart and lucky enough to find his way out.

THE PHILLIES BENCH

Ross Gload

I’m not truly an advocate for Ross to be a large chunk of any platooning duties in right field.  I like him where he is; as sort of a Matt Stairs, Jr. kind of deal:  We bring him in as a strong, reliable bat off the bench, something we slowly lost in Greg Dobbs.  Besides, he’s part of the weirdly huge left-handed majority of the Phillies clubhouse, so you can’t even make the “right handed bat” argument.

Brian Schneider

Schneider’s job was to hope off the bench every few days and do as good a job as Carlos Ruiz.  This got considerably more difficult in 2010, when Chooch torched the league, having a great season and leading the team in BA and OBP.  Pitchers can’t say enough nice things about him, and coming from our rotation, that means a lot.  So if Charlie is trying to work in a strategy where Brian starts games against righties, he’s got to consider the growing disparity between his starter and backup.  Not that Brian isn’t a quality player, it’s just more apparent than ever that he’s not Chooch.

Wilson Valdez

This bench saw a lot more action in 2010.  Charlie swore he’d give the starters more time off so they’d be rested for September; then everybody got hurt anyway, so that sort of happened more than he intended.  Wilson was forced to take on multiple roles, and while his bat only caught fire in short bursts, his glove and arm were remarkably suitable while taking the reins from J-Roll, Polly, and Chase.  He’s proven himself to be valuable, and going into 2011, the Phillies should be looking to keep guys that can fill in at any second, as 2010’s carnival of horrors proved we are not immune to the injury bug.

TBD

Again, we’re pretty early on in this process, and the bench isn’t even filled out.  You could be looking at anyone from newly acquired cheap free agents sitting here to Matt Rizzotti and his bat-without-a-country.  The Phillies are going to gauge what their starting roster looks like at the end of the pre season and back them up with adequate role-fillers.  It’s a different lineup and may present fresh challenges, so hold onto your butts.

CONCLUSION

Unlike most of the internet, I’m not going to tell you that the Phillies are or aren’t definitely 2011 World Series champions.  Using the rotation as a jumping off point for assumptions far and wide is incredibly short-sighted.  The rotation was built to destroy, and there’s no indication that they won’t be blowing our doors off for a few months.  The most definite I can say is that we are contenders.  Before even one of them even grips a splitter, we can confidently say that.  But we are by no means a foregone conclusion.

Okay, there.  I said it.  That was your precursor to this.

OMFG WE HAVE CLIFF LEE BACK AND ROY HALLDAY AND ROY OSWALT AND COLE HAMELS.  DO YOU REALIZE THAT WAS NOTHING MORE THAN TEAR-STAINED WISHFUL THINKING JUST A FEW MONTHS AGO.  NO ONE CAN SIT THERE AND SAY THIS ISN’T INCREDIBLE BECAUSE IT IS JUST THE AWESOMEST THING THAT COULD HAVE HAPPENED TO THIS CITY OTHER THAN COMPETENCE IN SNOW REMOVAL OR SIDNEY CROSBY’S HEAD EXPLODING.

And if nothing else, there will assuredly be some video clips to come from all of this, so what do I care?  My addiction will be fed.