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Phillies Opening Day outlook

Phillies Opening Day outlook

It was a much looser Spring Training for the Phillies, who accomplished a major goal last season by securing a playoff berth for the first time in 14 years, and won the National League East.

Manager Charlie Manuel's message to the team for 2008 is that it shouldn't settle for a division title when so much more work is to be done.

Manuel isn't worried about his offense, which has proven its potency for the past two seasons. He is, however, concerned about the starting rotation and the durability of the bullpen. Though the Phillies took a huge bite out of the playoff apple last year, the players are starving for another shot, and are eager to start that ball rolling.

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Calling card
The Phillies didn't lead the National League in runs scored by accident. Though their core players are a year older, this team will punish bad pitching at will. Replacing Aaron Rowand's offense with Geoff Jenkins and Pedro Feliz will turn out to be no worse than a wash. A threat to score 900 runs, there's little reason to think Philadelphia's lineup -- led by reigning MVP Jimmy Rollins, and studs Chase Utley and Ryan Howard -- won't be an offensive juggernaut once again in 2008.

Projected starting lineup
1. SS Jimmy Rollins
2. CF Shane Victorino
3. 2B Chase Utley
4. 1B Ryan Howard
5. LF Pat Burrell
6. RF Geoff Jenkins
7. 3B Pedro Feliz
8. C Carlos Ruiz
Projected rotation
1. RHP Brett Myers
2. LHP Cole Hamels
3. LHP Jaime Moyer
4. RHP Kyle Kendrick
5. RHP Adam Eaton
Projected bullpen
Closer: RHP Brad Lidge
Setup: RHP Tom Gordon
Setup: LHP J.C. Romero
Middle: RHP Ryan Madson
Middle: RHP Chad Durbin
Middle: RHP Travis Blackley
Long: TBA
Achilles' Heel
The Phillies' biggest question is who's going to record the outs? Starters Cole Hamels and Brett Myers provide a one-two punch at the top of the rotation, but 45-year-old Jamie Moyer compiled a 5.01 ERA while going 14-12 last season. Still, the veteran lefty performed in big games at the end of the season. Despite winning 10 games as a rookie, Kyle Kendrick has much to prove, and Adam Eaton needs to forget his 6.29 nightmare ERA of a year ago.

You'll know they're rollin' if...

Hamels

Hamels and Myers perform as expected, Moyer makes all his starts and consistently keeps his team in games, the bullpen holds up, and the tri-MVPs (Rollins, Utley and Howard) stay on the field and lead the Phillies to a second straight postseason berth.

You'll know they're in trouble if...
The Triple-A Lehigh Valley shuttle remains gassed and ready to roll and the Phillies are constantly figuring out who to call up. Or if Hamels' left elbow or back flare up at the wrong time, taking the most important piece out of an already suspect rotation. And though a poor April hasn't killed this team yet, it won't be easy to stomach for the manager or organization.

Testing, testing
They might as well get their biggest challanges out of the way early. The Phillies don't have to wait long for their first test against the rival Mets, visiting Shea Stadium for a three-game series April 8-10. After a six-game swing against NL Central opponents Chicago and Houston, the Phillies will host the Mets in a three-game series.

Interleague Play
The Phillies host the defending World Series champion Red Sox on June 16-18, and also welcome the Blue Jays (May 16-18) and Angels (June 20-22). The club will travel to Oakland (June 24-26) and Texas (June 27-29). The Phillies held up against the American League last season, going 8-7 against Toronto, Chicago, Kansas City, Detroit and Cleveland.

The Bottom Line
Despite their deadly offense, the Phillies are tied to their pitching. They'll score enough to bash bad teams, but they'll have to overcome arguably the division's most balanced staff, with the Mets boasting Johan Santana, Pedro Martinez and John Maine at the top of their rotation.

Finishing second in the NL East doesn't guarantee a postseason appearance. Retiring general manager Pat Gillick would love to add another World Series title to his long legacy of success.

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

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