Buster Olney of ESPN has produced a pretty fun series of articles this week. Day by day, Olney has posted on his Insider blog Top 10 lists for infield, outfield, rotation, line-ups, and Top 10 overall teams. Olney’s rankings are comprehensive but can be confusing; for instance, the teams with the two highest ranked line-ups, the Angels and Brewers, are not in the overall Top 10, and the Rangers, who have the top infield and fourth best line-up according to Olney, meet the same fate. Eight of the Top 10 overall were playoff teams in 2012, with the exceptions being the number six Dodgers and number eight Blue Jays.
The Phillies appear on only one of the lists; Olney ranks them as having the fourth best rotation in baseball, behind the Tigers, Nationals, and Dodgers, in that order. I would personally drop the Dodgers out of the list and bump up the ninth and tenth teams, Oakland and San Francisco, above the Phillies. Olney seemingly considered putting them higher: “But Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels still might be the best trio of starters in the majors, and each is fully capable of winning the Cy Young Award. The Phillies led the majors in starting pitcher innings and strikeouts last season despite a miserable year that seemed to fall apart early.” Olney sites Halladay as the linchpin of the group, stating the club’s, yet alone the rotation’s, success depends on him.
What is particularly troubling, but not surprising, is not the lack of Phillies on the Top 10s but their M.I.A. status in the honorable mentions. Despite a near a career year from Carlos Ruiz and a near-career year from Jimmy Rollins in 2012 and Chase Utley and Ryan Howard expected to contribute at a much higher level than 2012, the Phillies do not appear in the Top 10 or the Next Best section, effectively placing them at 13 at best but possibly lower than that.
The infield was possibly the only other shot the Phillies had at being included in a Top 10 list and would have been their ticket, in turn, to being listed in the Top 10 line-up discussions. For the first time, I truly believe that many, many other teams have line-ups better than the Phillies. It is obvious that even with unexpected contributions, Darin Ruf, Ben Revere, and Domonic Brown probably won’t strike fear into too many opposing fans, which makes the importance of pitching in 2013 just as or even more important this year than last.
In 2006, 2007, 2008, and even 2009, it often felt like the Phillies got snubbed as a contender. In 2010 and 2011, it felt like the commentators were giving them the appropriate amount of coverage, while in 2012, there were giant question marks. This year, unfortunately, feels as just an appropriate assessment as 2010 and 2011 did. My question to everyone: are you worried? Has the fear set in that this team might not compete in 2013. Olney’s articles have set that tone for me.