Phillies Opening Day outlook

Phillies Opening Day outlook

With the exception of David Bell's annual back injury, the Phillies made it through Spring Training intact and begin the quest for their first playoff appearance since 1993.

Philadelphia finished with a winning record in the Grapefruit League, something it hasn't done since 1993. Perhaps that's an omen.

As he did last season, manager Charlie Manuel kept his club loose while getting it ready for the grind that is the regular season. Newcomers Aaron Rowand, Tom Gordon, Arthur Rhodes and Sal Fasano have quickly acclimated to their new teammates.

1. Jimmy Rollins, SS:
The switch-hitter enters the season with a 36-game hitting streak, the ninth-longest streak in Major League history. He's expected to continue being the lifeblood of the offense and the team's ignition switch.

2. Abraham Nunez, 3B:
Nunez will be asked to fill the unselfish role of No. 2 hitter, moving runners along and building on the success he found as a Cardinals regular. A switch-hitter with occasional pop, he'll share third base with Alex Gonzalez, and either could wind up batting second.

3. Bobby Abreu, RF:
What more can you say about the Phillies' most consistent player? The two-time All-Star has batted .305 in eight seasons with Philadelphia and averaged 23 homers and 94 RBIs. Injuries caught up with him in September, leading to a .250 average and two homers. Abreu is consistently among the league leaders in pitches seen per at-bat.

4. Chase Utley, 2B:
Utley has drawn comparisons to Jeff Kent for years -- and he fully deserves to be in that company. Utley's 28 homers and 105 RBIs were the most by a Phillies second baseman since Juan Samuel's 1987 season -- though two of Utley's homers and eight of his RBIs came while playing either first base or designated hitter. The lefty will drop to fifth against southpaws, but he should be a major producer in the lineup.

5. Pat Burrell, LF:
Burrell shook off concerns about a 2004 wrist injury and finished second in the league with 117 RBIs, while pounding 32 homers. His right-handed bat is desperately needed to balance a lefty-laden lineup.

6. Ryan Howard, 1B:
The reigning National League Rookie of the Year seems poised to carry his success over a full season. The powerful Howard has already launched enough incredible shots in Grapefruit League games to think he's got this Major League thing pretty well figured out. His only flaw is hitting against lefties.

7. Aaron Rowand, CF:
Rowand brings World Series champion credentials and a reputation for running through walls and hustling, regardless of the situation. He attributed his slow spring on trying too hard to impress his teammates and not staying within himself. His defense in center field alone makes the Phillies a better team, but he'll provide some pop as well.

8. Mike Lieberthal, C:
Many want to write off Lieberthal as a catcher whose skills are declining, and that's a fair assessment, but the veteran is still one of the hardest-working players on the team. He hit .321 in August and September while the Phillies were making their playoff push.

1. Jon Lieber, RHP:
The veteran made it through his first full season since 2001 with 17 wins, his most since that same year. He went 5-1 with a 2.06 ERA in his final seven starts and provided leadership throughout the year. His Opening Day start on Monday will be the seventh of his career.

2. Brett Myers, RHP:
The right-hander established himself as one of baseball's top young pitchers, setting career bests in innings, strikeouts and ERA. His maturity allowed him to reach greater heights, and there's no telling how much better he can be.

3. Cory Lidle, RHP:
Lidle is the definition of durable innings-eater and won 13 games for the Phillies, though he was slowed by a left oblique strain last season. He can be counted on for 11-15 wins, and a 4.50 ERA over at least 185 innings.

4. Ryan Madson, RHP:
The wild card of the rotation, but only because he's never been a full-time starter in the big leagues. The righty went 28-12 in his final two Minor League seasons, compiling a 3.40 ERA, then spent two seasons pitching effectively in relief for the Phillies.

5. Gavin Floyd, RHP:
Floyd's inclusion in the rotation is a major victory for the right hander, who was barely a blip on the radar when camp started. He was coming off a rough season at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, but he dazzled in the Grapefruit League, compiling a 2.08 ERA. A strong performance over his final three starts cemented his position.

He won't replace closer Billy Wagner, but Tom Gordon brings closing and playoff experience, and a mental toughness required of a late-inning pitcher. The concern is how much he has left at 38, and how he'll handle returning to the job full-time for the first time since 2001. Another sore spot is the lack of a backup plan, especially with Ryan Madson in the rotation. Arthur Rhodes is a highly capable setup man, but has said he doesn't want to return to closing. Ryan Franklin returns to the bullpen to fill the seventh-inning role. Aaron Fultz and Rheal Cormier must be counted on as reliable as parts of the bullpen, and Geoff Geary, Julio Santana and Ricardo Rodriguez must hold down the middle innings. Detractors have identified the bullpen as a potential weakness, and the season will determine if they are correct.

Bell's back acted up again, forcing him from Grapefruit League action. He's been playing in Minor League games, but he still isn't expected to be ready by Opening Day. With Gonzalez and Nunez capable replacements, the Phillies are in no rush for Bell to return.

There's no question the Phillies are going to score runs this season, so the main area of concern rests on pitching. There are potential shortcomings in the bullpen, but they will be irrelevant if the starters can't keep the Phillies in games. Only Myers had an ERA below 4.00, but that has to be considered normal for hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park. The reworked left-field fence also can't hurt. Lieber, Myers and Lidle combined for 43 wins in 2005, and Madson is capable of providing effective innings. It's a baseball cliché, but Philadelphia's hopes truly lie on the pitchers.

"You can learn from losing, as in what mistakes you made. I believe winning is an attitude. You're trying to get your work done, there's no doubt, but getting the winning attitude in Spring Training can help you. Winning helps the mental side of the game." -- Rowand

Ken Mandel is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.