With spring training rapidly approaching, and the bullpen and pitching rotation pretty much in place, it makes sense to take a look at what will make or break the 2004 Phillies; the lineup.
Sure the positions are set but in what order can we expect to see Thome, Abreu, Burrell, and the like striding to the plate in beautiful new Citizens Bank Ballpark. Let's look at last year. Ideally, this is the lineup Manager Larry Bowa wanted to pencil in at least five times a week during 2003.
- Jimmy Rollins SS
- Placido Polanco 2B
- Jim Thome 1B
- Pat Burrell LF
- Bobby Abreu RF
- Mike Lieberthal C
- David Bell 3B
- Marlon Byrd CF
As we all know the struggles of Burrell, the injury of Bell, and the inability of Rollins to put the ball on the ground kept this lineup from seeing the field more than a few times in ‘03.
Let's assume that Bell is back to '02 form and his back can take 140-150 starts allowing Polanco to stay at second and keeping rising star Chase Utley on the bench, at least for now. Taking that into consideration, it is conceivable that Bowa may roll out the same lineup he yearned for last year. However, it is likely that Byrd, who emerged as a reliable leadoff man, will find his way to the top of Bowa's lineup leaving Rollins to camp out in the seven or seven hole for much of the year. As we all know, the leadoff spot was such a concern last year that Abreu found his name at the top of the lineup and was probably the most effective leadoff man last season. The leadoff spot is by far the weakest slot in this otherwise potent lineup so the Phillies offense in 2004 may only go as far as Marlon Byrd can take them.
The two hole might be the most pivotal in the lineup. Moving runners over will be key so the middle of the order can drive them in. Polanco seems a lock for this position with his bat control and ability to push the ball through the hole on the right side created by an occupied first base.
Thome will start the season batting third, who knows how long that will last but come April the most productive Phillie since Mike Schmidt won't be batting cleanup. Conventional wisdom then puts Burrell cleanup to break up Thome and a fifth batting Abreu. Lieberathal then slides into the six slot followed by Rollins and Bell, probably in that order.
This is all contingent on the need of Burrell to recover from a horrendous 2003 campaign. If Byrd and Burrell can be productive, things should go quite well. However, while many agree that the Burrell in 2003 was not Burrell but a mere shadow of what he could be. That being said, I don't think he is ready to be a cleanup hitter on a contending team. I am also against this notion that Abreu and Thome have to be split up. Both have proven they can hit left handed pitching and with Billy Wagner now in a Phillies uniform, there is one less flame throwing left handed reliever to deal with in the late innings in the National League. Taking this into consideration, here is my lineup:
Thome has to be fourth, while his batting average will likely climb to around .280 this year, that is still not high enough for a three hitter in my opinion. I put Lieberthal in the five position because I think he is poised for a career year and is completely healthy for the first time in three seasons. Lieby has proven he can handle the middle of the order and 2004 should be no different. Burrell moves to the sixth spot where he spent much of the second half of last season to take some pressure off a talented hitter who has more problems mentally than physically at this stage in his career. Although Rollins in the eighth hole negates some of his speed, it does allow him to move to second quickly on bunt attempts by pitchers. In a perfect world, Rollins is the leadoff hitter and one that can swipe upwards of 40 bases if asked. Sadly, he has proven he can't handle all that the leadoff position entails. For now Byrd seems to be the logical choice.
There is a caveat of course. If Burrell returns to form quickly he needs to be inserted in the cleanup spot, which he is expected to call home for years to come. If Burrell does produce and can provide some security for Thome, this Phillies lineup could be lethal, putting up scary numbers especially in power categories such as doubles, homeruns, and most importantly, runs batted in. IF Burrell fails to recover from last season, Byrd can't handle the leadoff spot, or god forbid Thome gets injured, the wheels could come off and the Phillies will be home again in October. Only time will tell.