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Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Updated: April 2, 7:02 PM ET
Phillies have tough task ahead in quest for repeat

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The addition of Francisco Rodriguez might make the Mets the team to beat in the NL East.

TROUBLE LURKING FOR PHILLIES

By Orel Hershiser, ESPN

The Phillies have a lot going for them this year in their effort to repeat as World Series champions, but another title is far from a lock.

At first glance, their defense is improved with Raul Ibanez in left field in place of Pat Burrell. Defense has become a more important part of baseball now that the sport is turning the page on the steroids era. We all saw what a great defense did for Tampa Bay last year in the American League.

I think Jimmy Rollins will have a big year. Even though he didn't have as much success as he would have liked last year, he never whined through what could only be considered a rough year for him. I really enjoyed watching the way he carried himself.

His talent is obvious, but because of his intangibles, he's an integral part of the team even when he doesn't succeed. He showed that last year. Philadelphia didn't move him in the batting order or bench him. Even as he was struggling statistically (he scored a career-low 76 runs), he was a leader.

And, of course, there is Chase Utley. He is like the rising sun. He's always going to be there. He is just amazing.

The Phillies' big problem this year is probably their starting pitching. It could be vulnerable, and it is worth keeping a close eye on. Everyone is worried about Cole Hamels' elbow, and Brett Myers definitely has been exceptional at times but certainly has not been consistent. The Phillies need him to emerge as a real workhorse. He can come through for them, but he also can disappoint at times. He just doesn't project the image of a guy you can really count on to go deep every start.

Jamie Moyer is also important. I don't think he is ever going to just fall flat on his face. I don't think we need to worry about him taking the mound with diminished tools. It's not as though you have to be worried that his fastball has dropped off tremendously or the nasty bite on his curveball is gone, because he's been finding a way to get people out even as he gets older and older. With Moyer, the one thing you would need to worry about would be if he ever lost his command. And the only thing that might cause an aging pitcher to lose his command is a nagging injury. A stiff back or a tender elbow that doesn't allow him to finish his pitches or hit his spots is something that could be a problem.

In addition to the health concerns of their starting pitching, the Phillies face an external obstacle in the New York Mets. In fact, I think the Mets will win the National League East in 2009 because of the additions of Francisco Rodriguez and J.J. Putz. Their bullpen has been such an issue for them, but it finally seems settled. So the Phillies will need to win the wild card to defend their title, and I don't think it's a guarantee that wild-card spot will come out of their division.

But this is a veteran team that knows how to string together big years. Ryan Howard, Utley, Rollins and Ibanez all know how to repeat a big year, whereas younger teams and players can struggle with early success at times. I expect the Phillies to make the playoffs; at that point, anything can happen.

Past Baseball Tonight Clubhouses: March 31 | March 30 | March 29 | March 26 | March 25

BEST OF THE BLOGS

Each day, ESPN.com's contributors offer a wide array of thoughts and analysis in their blogs. The Royals are getting plenty of love this season from experts who think they can make some noise in the AL Central. Buster Olney thinks Mark Teahen is one of the reasons why:

Mark Teahen's transition to second base began on a Little League field in Peoria, Ariz., in December. He went there with his brother and girlfriend to take grounders, and really, it would've made no difference, as he got his work in that day whether he was standing at third base or at second base.

But Teahen had thought about the way the Royals' roster was shaping up in the aftermath of Kansas City's trade for Coco Crisp, and he recognized that he was probably going to be bumped out of a starting spot in the outfield. So he decided that maybe it was in his best interests to start thinking about playing some second base. So that day, when his brother started hitting him grounders, he jogged in that direction.

A few weeks later, he went to Texas. There, Hillman approached him with a thought: You might get some work in at second base.

That is where Teahen has played the most in what has been an outstanding spring training for him. It's also been a great spring for the Royals. "I feel like I could handle [second base], the way that I feel right now," he said Tuesday evening.

For the rest of this entry from Buster Olney's blog, click here.


Umpires are about to be viewed by a new eye in the sky. Rob Neyer has some thoughts on whether umpires should be worried by the new technology:

Wave goodbye to QuesTec. As Alan Schwarz reports, there's a new tool in town.

Anyone care to argue with that?

Someone, maybe. The umpires, maybe …

For the rest of this entry from Rob Neyer's blog, click here.

BBTN ON THE AIR: THURSDAY

TIME WHO'S ON?
3:30 p.m. ET
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Host: Karl Ravech
Analyst: Tim Kurkjian
12 a.m. ET
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Host: Steve Berthiaume
Analyst: Tim Kurkjian

BBTN MINUTE: TAKING A LOOK AT THE NL

BASEBALL TONIGHT MAILBAG

Inside EdgeHave a question for one of our analysts? Ever wonder what it's like behind the scenes at "Baseball Tonight"? Curious about a player or a team or an executive?

Well, ask away here, at the Baseball Tonight Clubhouse mailbag. Each week, our experts will answer your questions.

WEDNESDAY'S BEST AND WORST

BEST
Ben Francisco• The Indians and Mariners each scored 14 runs in one of those famous spring training ties, so there are plenty of nice offensive lines. The best, though, came from Ben Francisco, who went 4-for-6, homered, drove home four runs and scored four.
WORST
Sidney PonsonJeremy Guthrie's start against the Marlins didn't go all that well Wednesday. He lasted four innings, gave up 10 hits and eight runs in a 13-2 loss against the Marlins. Over his past two starts, Guthrie has watched his spring ERA go from 5.40 to 10.57.

BBTN'S AL EAST PREVIEW

NUMBERS TO KNOW

The Detroit Tigers missed the playoffs for the second consecutive season last year after appearing in the World Series in 2006. The club announced Wednesday that 2007 first-round pick Rick Porcello will start the season in the rotation. The Tigers hope he'll provide an impact arm at the back of the rotation and help bolster the pitching staff, which allowed 5.3 runs a game last season, third-worst in the AL. Here's a look at where the staff had its biggest issues last year:

Detroit Tigers pitching
2008 AL rank
Walks/9 IP 4.0 13
Strikeouts/9 IP 6.2 11
Swing-miss pct 18.8 T-10
SLG against .437 13

-- ESPN Stats and Information

FANTASY FOCUS

FANTASY BASEBALL

Fantasy Have questions about how to build your roster? Whom you should choose early or late in your draft? Which catcher you want? We have the answers. Draft Kit

NATHAN READY FOR SEASON TO START

ESPN INSIDER

Insider Which young arms will make an impact in 2009? Which won't? BP Daily takes a look. BP Daily

For more, check out ESPN Insider.