Can the Phillies win the East?
Yes, they can.
They are nearly good enough now, but Pat Gillick will make them better as the season begins. This prediction, therefore, is based on faith in the general manager to make a trade or two, either now, or as we get close to the trading deadline of July 31. Or both.
If we still had fast Eddie, I’d put the Fightens third, behind the Braves and Mets.
The bullpen appears shaky, but there are some key components that could come through. Ryan Madson, Geoff Geary, Matt Smith, Antonio Alfonseca, and Tom Gordon make up the core of the Phillies’ bull pen. Gordon, the closer, 40, is prone to injury and may not last the season. Smith is the unproven rookie in a key role as the bull pen’s only lefthander. Then add in soon to be 37 year-old Jon Lieber, who is currently on loan.
Gillick must add one or two arms, including a closer--in case Gordon goes down--to bolster the bull pen.
The starting rotation can carry the Phillies into the playoffs, barring injuries.
The offense is strong, with key additions in Wes Helms at third, and Rod Barajas behind the plate. They have speed at the top of the order. The combination of Ryan Howard and Chase Utley will provide plenty of excitement.
Pat Burrell must get his numbers, at least to equal to last season. If not, he could be an overt weakness in the offense. If his spring training numbers are an indication, the boos my begin to haunt him early. Let’s hope Burrell’s spring numbers were an aberration, and he jumps off to a good start.
The bench appears good enough, too: Jayson Werth, Greg Dobbs, Abraham Nunez, Karim Garcia, with Chris Coste to appear either sooner or later. Gillick may do something to shore up the bench as well, perhaps adding another lefthanded pinch hitter.
Defensively, the Phillies are weak on the left side, with Burrell backing up Helms at third. A ball hit down the line between Helms and the bag could spell trouble for Burrell and the Phillies.
So three ingredients are needed to make the Phillies winners of the NL East: A potent offensive attack, check; a good starting rotation, barring injuries, check; and Pat Gillick making the necessary moves to add to the bull pen and bench, check on hold. Last year the Fightins won 85 games. To win the East in 2007, they’ll need to add six more wins.
As I see it: Phillies, Braves, Mets, Nationals, and Marlins...with one check on hold.