On Friday when the weather was 65 degrees and sunny I thought we were in the clear. I thought spring had hit and it was time to start really thinking about baseball. Then Monday and Tuesday rolled around along with a new coating of 5 inches of snow. Will it ever end?! Even with the snow on the ground it is closing in on the end of February and March will soon be upon us. Games will begin to be played and after reports this week of a sore arm for Cliff Lee, Phillie's fans will pray to get to April with everyone ready to go. The starting rotation will be the story line this season, but the reason we win maybe the return to form of the line up. After coming off of the 2009 season with four guys in the 30 home run column, the Phillie's seemed ready for an encore in 2010, but it turned out to be a rough season due to injuries and run production fell off. I see 2011 as a return to 2009 and here is why via the line up order I would use.
1. A healthy Jimmy Rollins. J-Roll only played in 88 games last season. He was not very impressive in those games hitting only .243, some were calling for a J-Roll benching and Wilson Valdez start. I would have to agree last season that may have been the better option. Valdez did hit .306, but when J-Roll is healthy, he is the guy that makes the line up go. He may not be your ideal lead off hitter with a career average below .300 but he is a spark. He can hit for power and he is a nightmare for the opposing team to deal with when he does get on base, not to mention he may be the best defensive short stop in baseball.
2. Shane Victorino: Shane was moved up and down the line up last season depending on who was healthy and who was not. His .259 average left a lot to be desired, but he is a better hitter then that. If J-Roll stays healthy and Shane can settle into the second spot he will have a much better season offensively.
3. A healthy Chase Utley. Utley is a guy that you love to root for. He plays hard, he plays hurt. But sometimes that warrior mentality can hurt a team. When Chase is injured you can see it at the plate. His swing is slower and off. Chase was injured not only part of last season but the season before, this is a big year for him to prove he can stay healthy. I think he will and I expect a big year.
4. Ryan Howard signed a mega deal that now pays him 25 million a season. Is he worth that kind of coin? Yeah, I think so. Behind Albert Pujols, he has become the second best offensive first baseman in the NL. Howard will never hit .300, but I think he will get closer to that mark this year. In 145 games Howard hit .276 down from .279 in 2009. He looked like he took a step back last season, but I view it as a learning experience. He now has to live up to the 25 million dollar salary, and I see a return to 40+ home runs this year. One lighter note from last season, Howard did improve on the defensive side.
5. I love Placido Polanco in this spot. He hits for average and would allow Ryan Howard to see more hittable pitches. Polanco was the Phillie's best hitter all of last season. He hit .298 in an injury plagued line up. If the Phillie's put him behind a guy like Howard his average should be well above .300.
6. Carlos Ruiz is another guy you love to root for. Putting a .302 hitter behind Polanco should only increase Polanco's production. Chooch may not give you a lot of power, but hitting for average at the bottom of the line up last season proves to me that he should be moved up a bit to the 6 spot.
7. Raul Ibanez has been steady. He goes on his hot streaks of 50 or so games then levels off. Last season, like the rest of the line up was a little rough. He struggled in the beginning of the season which makes the .275 average at the end not look all that bad. Let's just hope he goes on another 50 plus game tear and puts up numbers like he did in 2009. If not, there is some young talent waiting to take over.
8. Domonic Brown / John Mayberry should be platooned until Brown is ready to be an everyday starter. Until he proves he can play everyday, this spot needs to be reserved for Brown. The Phillie's weakest link is only weak because he is unproven at the pro level. There is a ton of promise here and I hope it works out in the Phillie's favor. Mayberry will be a serviceable player but he should not be placed anywhere else in the line up on the days he starts.
All in all, if the Phillie's stay healthy this might be their most productive offensive year. Like I said the starting rotation will be all of the talk through spring training and the beginning of the season, but the Phillie's offense might steal the highlights every night. If the offense can return to form and the pitching staff lives up to the hype, this team should easily win 100 + games.