Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Team To Beat Is....?

Despite the bad news up the turnpike the sun came up this morning in Philadelphia, or at least it would have if not for the rain.

The Johan Santana signing certainly isn't good news for Phillies fans but it isn't the end of the world either. The most surprising detail was how little the Mets surrendered to acquire his services, but that is a topic Twins' bloggers can lament on their time.

Does the trade make the Mets the team to beat in the NL East? Probably. But before we start imagining ticker-tape parades down Broadway, let's not forget New York still has plenty of question marks. Pedro is 38 years old. Billy Wagner is in decline. So is Carlos Delgado. Jose Reyes, once the most exciting and dangerous player in the Mets lineup if not the entire league, utterly collapsed in the second half of 2007. The rest of the Mets starting rotation is not the second coming of the the Orioles' starting foursome in 1979. So let's not start tearing our hair out yet.

If Santana is on his game, and his second half in 2007 wasn't so fabulous either, he replaces Tom Glavine in the rotation and can be expected to add roughly six or seven more wins. Yes, that would have put the Mets over the top last season despite their legendary collapse at the end and begs the larger question in these parts as to whether or not the Phillies have improved themselves in the off-season as well.

The Pedro Feliz signing has impressed at least one Phillie, Jimmy Rollins, who apparently can vividly recall being robbed of a few extra base hits by Feliz. Memories of earlier signings at third base -- David Bell in particular -- are still fresh wounds in these parts. Can Feliz deliver at the plate? Very hard to say, of course. But he is an upgrade over last year's rotation at the hot corner.

Shane Victorino is a better centerfielder than Aaron Rowand and, frankly, plays as hard and with the same reckless abandon. Until last year, Rowand didn't exactly tear things up at the plate, so there is no reason to expect the changeover diminishes the Phils. Jason Werth and Geoff Jenkins should more than adequately handle right field.

The key is pitching and the keys to pitching are Brad Lidge, Brett Myers and Kyle Kendrick. If Lidge recovers his confidence at his new address, Myers matures into the kind of person let alone pitcher we've been waiting for, and Kendrick can continue to develop into the kind of ground-ball pitcher who can thrive in Citizens Bank Park, the Phillies chances are good, Johan Santana notwithstanding.


SirAlden said...

We have upgraded two positions to
Gold Glove, Centerfield and Thirdbase.

A month more of Utley, Howard, Hamels, and Victorino.

If the pitching gets better, (hard to get worse) we will have a great 3 way race this summer.

David said...

The first thought I had when I saw Santana was going to the Mets was: what's the over/under for number of strikeouts Ryan Howard will amass against him? Acquiring a top lefty starter is a huge coup for the Mets for many reasons, but this is not the least of them: it gives them a true weapon against the middle of the Phillies' order. I don't think Pedro scares anyone anymore, but Santana absolutely gives the Mets an edge over the Phillies if he's healthy and performs according to his track record.

The Phillies, on the other hand, are probably better off themselves coming into this season, largely so for having finally gotten over the hump and into the post-season last year. I honestly believe that experience will help fend off another April disaster. If the Phillies break out of the gate in winning form, they will be a top team in the league all season, regardless of what the Mets do or don't do.

I like the Feliz signing. Not that Feliz is any kind of game-breaker, but it at least indicates that the Phillies are trying to make the team better and not crossing their fingers for a Wes Helms revival. Feliz is simply a far better option at third base than Helms, and Greg Dobbs gives the team a viable left-handed alternative. Moreover, Feliz replaces a good deal of Aaron Rowand's conspicuously missing right-handed power. Yes, we'll see him make a ton of first-pitch outs and ground into innumerable double-plays, but at least he can field nicely *and* get the ball out of the infield. I don't think the Phillies' offense will slip an ounce from its formidable showing last season - and that much was certainly in question the day Rowand rode off into the sunset.