Phillies Up the Ante; Road Gets Tougher for Fish

Reports are that Cliff Lee isn’t going to the Yankees or staying in storybook Dallas with the Rangers, but instead is going back to Philadelphia. Apparently, he loves it there and misses the clubhouse that he joined to get to the World Series in 2009.

How did the Phillies show their love? They traded him.

This means the NL East just got a bit thicker at the top. Cliff Lee will join what looks to be the best starting rotation in the bigs in a long time. Rounding out the rotation is Roy Holladay, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamel, and Mr. Anonymous (does it matter at this point?). Now, the Big Four will reign in that tiny ball park for the Phillies, but is it a sure bet to give the Phillies the pennant?

Many will cite an aging offense that just lost Jayson Werth (which, I don’t think was worth all that much despite the numbers and the money he is getting paid to play with the Nationals). Comparisons with those great Braves staffs anchored by John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, and Greg Maddux (throw in Steve Avery, and whomever else was the #4 guy of the day) are apt here. But so are comparisons to those Mets staffs like David Cone, Ron Darling, and Sid Fernandez. There have been talented pitching staffs that haven’t worked out, too.

That aside, we shouldn’t bank on this one failing. They will be good enough to pitch their teams to wins in every game they take the mound. The offense may struggle, but all the more reason why this team will win with pitching and defense. And last we checked, that is a pretty good formula – the Giants just won a title doing just that. They have a pretty formidable pitching staff, too.

The question is, as far as Marlins fans are concerned, does this mean they will be vying for a wild card spot? The Nationals are loading up (just signed Werth) and the Braves are too (they acquired Dan Uggla). So, it seems the trend right now is either get bigger bats or go small ball and get better pitching. The Marlins are more closely aligned to the Phillies here.

Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco, Javier Vazquez, Chris Volstad, and Anibal Sanchez set up as a strong 4. Throw in the potential of a Sean West or Alex Sanabia and you might have a more consistent starting 5. The Marlins are also looking to cut down on strikeouts and errors – a formula that worked for them as recent as 2003 when they won their last title.

The Marlins still have to address the bullpen, something that cost them a shot at the playoffs last year. If they can shore up their relievers, and find a consistent closer (ahem, I’ve been saying Hensley and NOT Nunez!!) they may get the edge. Let’s face it, Brad Lidge is on borrowed time at this point. He got shot out of Houston because of his struggles and the clock is ticking on his Phillie implosion. Sure, we can’t bank on it, but nothing is guranteed from one year to the next. If there is a weak part of the Phillies team, it could be their bullpen.