Is The Phillies Rotation Good Enough To Win?

With the signing of Jon Lieber, the Phillies think that they added a key piece to their starting rotation. The question though is whether or not it's enough of an addition to make the Phillies winners in the National League East. Last season, the starters were supposed to carry the team and there are definite question marks with the 2005 version of the starting rotation.

The Phillies rotation going into spring training is set.

The question is whether it's good enough for the Phillies to compete in the National League East.

A year ago, it wasn't far-fetched to suggest that the team had five starters - Kevin Millwood, Randy Wolf, Vicente Padilla, Eric Milton, Brett Myers - who were each capable of pitching 200 innings and winning 15 games.

That didn't happen, of course. Millwood and Milton are gone after not being offered arbitration and have been replaced by Jon Lieber and Cory Lidle.

And all three returning starters are coming off poor seasons.

"I like our rotation," general manager Ed Wade declared after signing Lieber. "We began last season with four All-Stars (Millwood, Milton, Wolf, Padilla), and this year we'll have three (Lieber, Wolf, Padilla)."

Wade's calculations are correct. But his logic is subject to debate.

A year ago, Wolf was coming off a season in which he'd won 16 games and made the NL All-Star team. In 2004 he won five games and was plagued by elbow problems.

Padilla had 14 wins and a 3.62 earned run average two years ago. Last season he also had elbow problems, won just seven games and had an ERA (4.53) almost a full run higher.

Myers won 14 games in 2003, his first full big-league season, and was just 23 years old. His career was on the upswing. Last year he took a giant step backward, going 11-11 with a 5.52 ERA.

"Obviously, we need Wolf to come back (healthy) and for Padilla and Myers to pitch like they can," Wade said. "But I think that if you look at these five pitchers, if healthy, they have the ability to get us deep into games."

The Phillies still don't appear to have the ace they need. Manager Charlie Manuel was enthusiastic about the Lieber signing but stopped short of endorsing him as the number one starter.

"I'm excited," he said. "I've always liked him. That's definitely a good addition. He's a 2 or a 3, and if our pitchers pitch to their capabilities, we can win a lot of games. Plus, don't forget about our bullpen. I think it's going to be one of the best in baseball."

But is the rotation good enough to keep the Phillies competitive? That's the $93 million question heading into next season.

The Numbers Game: .348 - Batting average of left-handed hitters against Jon Lieber in 2004.

Arbitration Notes:

Jason Michaels, Vicente Padilla, Jimmy Rollins, Amaury Telemaco and Lou Collier are all eligible for arbitration.

Rollins, coming off his best season yet, could be rewarded with his first long term contract. Padilla has electric stuff, but that hasn't translated into consistent success. Since he's in his second year of eligibility and coming off an injury-interrupted season, this could be a bitterly contested negotiation. Micahels and Telemaco are considered valuable role players but not at any price.


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