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News » Philadelphia Phillies Inside Pitch 2009-03-31

Philadelphia Phillies Inside Pitch 2009-03-31

Philadelphia Phillies Inside Pitch 2009-03-31
There wasn't much chance the Phillies were going to forget about winning the World Series last season. But, just in case, there were signs everywhere at their spring training complex to remind them.

Now, though, they must put October's excitement in the past.

"That almost doesn't matter anymore," 46-year-old pitcher (and first-time defending champion) Jamie Moyer said. "As individuals, we're going to have to try to get focused again."

It won't be easy.

No team has won back-to-back World Series since the New York Yankees claimed three in a row from 1998 through 2000. The last National League team to repeat as champs was the 1975-76 Cincinnati Reds. An NL team hasn't even won back-to-back pennants since the 1995-96 Atlanta Braves.

The Phillies will return nearly their entire World Series roster. Left fielder Raul Ibanez and right-hander Chan Ho Park are the only notable additions. Ibanez replaces Pat Burrell, while Park figures to give the Phillies some pitching depth.

Cole Hamels, MVP of both the NL Championship Series and World Series, leads a rotation that also includes streaky Brett Myers, ageless Moyer and durable Joe Blanton, while closer Brad Lidge was the anchor of the NL's best bullpen last season.

But if there's one area where the Phillies believe they can make significant improvements, it's the offense. They scored nearly 800 runs last season despite Jimmy Rollins' inconsistency, Ryan Howard's early-season slump and Chase Utley's late-season fade caused by a painful hip injury. The Phillies also think Ibanez will be a more consistent middle-of-the-order presence than Burrell.

More than anything, though, the Phillies must avoid the World Series hangover that plagues so many defending champions. In the past two seasons, they have required a September surge to win the NL East and reach the postseason. The division only got stronger during the offseason, so a slow start could put the Phillies in a hole too big to escape.

THE PHILLIES WILL CONTEND IF ...: RHP Brett Myers performs more as he did after the All-Star break last season when he was among the NL's best pitchers. But that only happened after he was so wretched during the first three months that he landed in the minors. Myers is the No. 2 starter behind ace LHP Cole Hamels, and he's in the final year of a three-year, $25.75 million contract. A strong season would help both the Phillies and Myers' bank account.

PRIMED FOR A BIG SEASON: 1B Ryan Howard dropped 20 pounds during the winter and declined an invitation to play in the World Baseball Classic to stay in camp and make sure he'd be ready to start the season. The plan was working. Howard led the Grapefruit League with seven home runs through March 27. He had a dreadful April last season and still wound up leading the majors with 48 home runs. How many might he hit if he gets off to a fast start?

ON THE DECLINE: 3B Pedro Feliz underwent surgery Nov. 20 to repair a herniated disk in his lower back. And after hobbling through the first few weeks of spring training, he struggled to find his timing at the plate.

Author:Fox Sports
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Added: March 31, 2009

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