Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay

Running down the rosters: Philadelphia Phillies

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The Phillies still look like the class of the NL, but while their win totals have increased five years running, it hasn’t resulted in playoff success the last couple of years.

Rotation
Roy Halladay – R
Cliff Lee – L
Cole Hamels – L
Vance Worley – R
Joe Blanton – R

Bullpen
Jonathan Papelbon – R
Antonio Bastardo – L
Jose Contreras – R
Kyle Kendrick – R
Chad Qualls – R
Michael Stutes – R
Dontrelle Willis – L

SP next in line: Joel Pineiro (R), Kendrick (R), Dave Bush (R) Pat Misch (L)
RP next in line: David Herndon (R), Brian Sanches (R), Michael Schwimer (R), David Purcey (L), Phillippe Aumont (R), Justin De Fratus (R)

The rotation doesn’t look quite so impressive on paper with Worley plugged into Roy Oswalt’s old spot, but then, Worley was quite a bit better than Oswalt last season. The Phillies also have some nice insurance in case Blanton’s arm lets him down again. Pineiro would have been a decent bet as a $3 million-$4 million fourth starter somewhere, so he was a phenomenal pickup on a minor league deal. Kendrick had a 3.14 ERA in his 15 starts last season.

In the bullpen, the Phillies overpaid for Papelbon, but he should be terrific at the end of games. If Contreras is healthy, then there will be just one spot for Willis or Herndon. Herndon had a 3.32 ERA in 57 innings last year, but the Phillies are looking to Willis to give them a second lefty in the pen.

Lineup
SS Jimmy Rollins – S
3B Placido Polanco – R
2B Chase Utley – L
RF Hunter Pence – R
CF Shane Victorino – S
LF John Mayberry Jr. – R
1B Ty Wigginton – R
C Carlos Ruiz – R

Bench
C Brian Schneider – L
1B Jim Thome – L
INF-OF Michael Martinez – S
OF Laynce Nix – L
OF Juan Pierre – L

Disabled list: 1B Ryan Howard (L)
Next in line: C Erik Kratz (R), SS Freddy Galviz (S), INF Kevin Frandsen (R), INF Hector Luna (R), INF Pete Orr (L), OF Domonic Brown (L), OF Scott Podsednik (L), OF Lou Montanez (R)

So much for that typically lefty-heavy Phillies lineup: with Raul Ibanez gone and Howard set to miss the first month or two rehabbing a torn Achilles’ tendon, Utley will be the only lefty playing regularly initially.

The bench, on the other hand, will be dominated by lefties. Nix figures to start against some righties in left field and perhaps at first base. It’s unclear whether it will be Mayberry or Nix who slides between left field and first. Mayberry is the better outfielder of the two, so it’d be best if he’s out there pretty regularly. However, he’s also quite a bit more familiar with first base than Nix is.

Even with Howard out of the mix initially, this year’s offense should be a bit better than last year’s. A full season of Pence will help. Utley and Polanco could be healthier and more productive, though at their ages, it’s far from assured. Mayberry will top Ibanez’s numbers.

The pitching can’t be quite so good again. While none of the trio seems due for a deep decline, Halladay, Lee and Hamels won’t all rate among the NL’s top five starters. No, the Phillies will probably have to settle for just two or the top five or maybe even one. Papelbon may prove to be the NL’s best closer, but he’s replacing a guy in Ryan Madson who had a 2.37 ERA in 60 2/3 innings last year.

It seems safe to pencil the Phillies back into the postseason. Unfortunately, though, that simply isn’t enough. The Phillies are turning into the NL’s version of the Yankees, at least so far as in each year can be summed up as World Series or bust. And I can’t help but get the feeling that one more “bust” might cost Charlie Manuel his job.

Edwin Encarnacion: “I think [the Blue Jays] got too hasty in making their decision.”

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 19:  Edwin Encarnacion #10 of the Toronto Blue Jays reacts in the fifth inning against the Cleveland Indians during game five of the American League Championship Series at Rogers Centre on October 19, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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1B/DH Edwin Encarnacion signed a three-year, $60 million contract with the Indians early last month. The 34-year-old had spent the last seven and a half seasons with the Blue Jays, but his future elsewhere appeared to be written on the wall when the Jays signed Kendrys Morales in November to essentially occupy Encarnacion’s role.

Encarnacion spoke about testing free agency for the first time in his career and the situation that led to him leaving Toronto for Cleveland. Via Jorge L. Ortiz of USA TODAY:

“Toronto was always my first option, but I had never been a free agent, and anybody who gets to free agency wants to find out what’s out there,’’ he said. “I think they got too hasty in making their decision, but now I’m with Cleveland and I’m happy to be here.’’

Encarnacion last season hit .263/.357/.529 with 42 home runs and an AL-best 127 RBI. He’s now on the team that defeated his Blue Jays in the ALCS to advance to the World Series. Encarnacion effectively replaces Mike Napoli, who returned to the Rangers.

Sammy Sosa compares himself to Jesus Christ

Sammy Sosa
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I’m on record saying that Sammy Sosa has been rather hosed by baseball history.

The guy did amazing things. Unheard-of things. He was truly astounding at this peak and was incredibly important to both his franchise and Major League Baseball as a whole. His repayment: he’s a pariah. His club won’t claim him and his greatness, by any measure, has not just been overlooked but denied by most who even bother to consider him.

Yes, he had PED associations, but they were extraordinarily vague ones. He’s in the same boat as David Ortiz as far as documented PED evidence against him, but Ortiz will be a first ballot Hall of Famer while Sosa barely clings to the ballot. He hit homers at the same cartoonish rate as Mark McGwire, but while Big Mac has been embraced by baseball and has coached for years, Sosa can’t get into Wrigley Field unless he buys a ticket and even then the Cubs might try to hustle him out of sight. The man has been treated poorly by any measure.

Yet, it’s still possible to overstate the case. Like Sosa did in this interview with Chuck Wasserstrom:

It’s like Jesus Christ when he came to Jerusalem,” Sosa told chuckbloggerstrom.com. “Everybody thought Jesus Christ was a witch (laughing) — and he was our savior. So if they talk (bleep) about Jesus Christ, what about me? Are you kidding me?”

At least he was basically joking about it. Still, it’s a totally unfair and almost offensive comparison.

I mean, anyone who watched Sosa’s career knows that he had trouble laying off breaking stuff low and away. In contrast . . .