Philadelphia Phillies Preview

The Philadelphia Phillies remained right on the Braves heels for most of the 2005 season thanks to a potent batting order that included 2nd basemen Chase Utley (.291 28 105), and outfielder's Pat Burrell (.281 32 117) and Bobby Abreu (.

286 24 102). Shortstop Jimmy Rollins (.290 12 54) and veteran catcher Mike Lieberthal (.

263 12 47) also contributed to provide the Phillies with a well-balanced lineup. Perhaps the biggest offensive surprise was the emergence of rookie 1st baseman Ryan Howard (.288 22 63) who stepped in to replace the inured power hitting Jim Thome. Howard hit an impressive .298 mark after the all star break, launching 19 homeruns while playing in 67 games.

His .323 batting average against righties helped keep the Phillies close and landed Howard National League Rookie of the Year. The Phillies ended the 2005 season with a respectable 88-74 record, finishing 2 games behind the Eastern Division leading Atlanta Braves. Philadelphia finished second in the National League with a team batting average of .

270 (eighth in MLB).

The Phillies 2005 pitching was led by newly acquired Jon Lieber (17-13 4.20) who was picked up from the Yankees in the 2004 off season. Lieber posted only an 8-8 record prior to the all star break but rebounded nicely with a 9-5 record in the second half of the season and a 3.28 ERA.

Joining Lieber in the rotation were starters Brett Myers (13-8 3.72), Randy Wolf (6-4 4.39), Vicente Padilla (9-12 4.71 and rookie pitcher Robinson Tejeda (4-3 3.57). Workhorse closer Billy Wagner (4-3 1.

51 38 saves in 41 save opportunities) appeared in 75 games posting a microscopic 0.74 ERA in 36.1 innings pitched after the all star break.

Off Season Moves:

The Phillies acquired veteran reliever Arthur Rhodes (3-1 2.08) from the Indians for outfielder Jason Michaels to help their 2006 bullpen.

Philadelphia also moved often injured 1st baseman Jim Thome (.207 7 30 RBI in 59 games) to make room for rookie sensation Ryan Howard. Aaron Rowand (.270 13 69) was picked up from the White Sox in the trade for Thome.

Vicente Padilla was also moved for relief pitcher Ricardo Rodriguez (2-3 5.53) while starters Ryan Franklin (8-15 5.10) and journeyman reliever Tom Gordon (5-4 2.57) were acquired via free agency.

2006 Analysis:

The Phillies will enter the 2006 season with a potent lineup. Picking up Rowand in exchange for Thome will add to an already stacked batting order.

Rowand is slated to replace free agent outfielder Kenny Lofton in centerfield. The Phillies will also be looking to build on Chase Utley and Ryan Howard's breakout seasons. Abreu was included in the trade rumor mill all off-season but it appears he will be staying in Philadelphia. Abreu is a steady often-underrated competitor, playing in all 162 games last year.

Expect the offense to be even better in 2006 with Howard playing a full season.

The Phillies are most concerned about their pitching. The team lost free agent closer Billy Wagner to the Mets, and reliever Terry Adams to Pittsburgh. Vincente Padilla was also traded to Texas and it appears Urbina may not be pitching at all in 2006.

Lieber, Lidle and Myers should continue their 2005 form in 2006 although the 4th and 5th starters are very weak. Reliever Tom Gordon has some very big shoes to fill with the departure of Wagner. Gordon hasn't managed to hold down the closer role since 2001 with the Chicago Cubs. Expect the Phillies lineup to dominate the NL and the top 3 pitchers to do well.

The bullpen is shaky, but Philadelphia should contend for the East with a strong offensive attack.

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