MLB Betting: Phillies Underdogs to Repeat
by Trevor Whenham - 03/05/2009
The Philadelphia Phillies are the defending World Series Champions, they looked very good doing it, and most of their players have returned from last year. The only core player who is gone is Pat Burrell, and you could easily argue that they have upgraded left field by bringing in Raul Ibanez in his place. So the Phillies should be able to repeat, right? Not so fast. They aren't even favored to win their division, never mind the World Series. So do they have what it takes, or should we look elsewhere for the eventual winner? Here's a look:
Pitching - Cole Hamels is as good as it gets. I'm not convinced that the rotation behind him is championship caliber, though. Jamie Moyer has shown no signs of aging, but sooner or later he is going to have to. Brett Myers is wildly inconsistent. When he's good, like he was at the end of last season, he's very good. When he's bad, like he was for the first half of the season, he's terrible. Joe Blanton was strong when he arrived in Philly from Oakland, but he was terrible in the AL, and might not be as effective this year on his second trip through the NL. Beyond that you have guys like Kyle Kendrick and Chan Ho Park - hardly World Series contenders. The pitching worked well enough last year, but it's hard to believe that it will hold up for another year unless a whole lot of things align just perfectly.
Hitting - No problems here. Four guys have MVP potential, and they have impressive depth. They can hit as well as anyone - they were Top 10 in most key offensive categories last year, and there is no reason to believe that they won't be there again.
Coaching - I'm not convinced that Charlie Manuel is the kind of manager that can lead a team to back-to-back wins. Of course, I wasn't at all convinced that he was the kind of manager who could lead a team to one World Series. The combination of his health and his temperament aren't ideal. If Manuel was the sole factor to consider then I would comfortably bet against a repeat.
Losses and gains - As I said earlier, the only real key change to the lineup is the exchange of Burrell for Ibanez. The guys each have their strengths - Ibanez was better in batting average and RBI, while Burrell had more home runs and a better slugging percentage. Ibanez is older, but has very similar fielding stats. In most ways the guys are entirely interchangeable. As long as Ibanez fits in well with his team there shouldn't be any reasons to worry.
Bumps and bruises - Chase Utley isn't healthy. He has a bad hip, and is no lock to be ready for the start of the season. Key bullpen member J.C. Romero is suspended for the first 50 games of the year for a positive drug test. Depth fielder Jayson Werth is fighting a shoulder injury. None of these situations are dire by themselves, but they could be problematic if they mount up - especially among the pitchers.
Division - This is where it gets tough. The Phillies have managed to keep their team together, but they haven't gotten any better. The Mets, on the other hand, most certainly have. The biggest change is their bullpen - it was a disaster last year, but with the addition of Francisco Rodriguez and J.J. Putz it's now as good as any in the league. The rotation has been shuffled and probably improved as well. There are concerns - they are short one established, solid outfielder, and they have to rely on a lot of aging fragile bats for power. Still, the Mets would have won the division the last two years if not for monumental collapses both times, and they are clearly and rightly the favorites to win it this year. On top of that, the Braves and the Marlins both look to be improved, so divisional wins could be tougher to come across this year. The Phillies may have to rely on the wild card to punch their ticket.
League - The wild card won't be a breeze. The National League will be tough - the Dodgers have Manny Ramirez all year, and the Diamondbacks and Giants are both much improved. The Cubs have a clear advantage in the NL Central, but the Cardinals and Brewers are relevant, too. You need to make the playoffs to win the playoffs, and the Phillies will have to be at their best to do that.
Difficulty of repeating - Since free agency made it so much harder to maintain a competitive advantage, just two teams have managed to repeat as World Series champs - the Yankees and the Blue Jays. Neither of those teams won more games the year they repeated than they did in the previous year. Philadelphia only won 92 games last year, so they wouldn't have much of a cushion if their win total were to drop.