Let’s not pencil the Phillies into the World Series just yet

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There’s no doubt that the Phillies’ rotation has a chance to be historically great, with two likely Cy Young candidates and two other starters that could rank among the NL’s 10 best, but this is still a team with issues.

– First, it’s no lock that Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels will live up to the sure sky-high expecations. Oswalt finished 8-6 with a 4.12 ERA in 30 starts for the Astros in 2009 and seemed on a pretty steady decline before bouncing back last year. Hamels was 10-11 with a 4.32 ERA in 2009.

– The team’s best position player is a 32-year-old second baseman, and second basemen have a track record for falling apart early. Ryne Sandberg had his last big year at 32. Roberto Alomar was 33. Craig Biggio hung around forever, but he was never the same after 32. Maybe Chase Utley has some Jeff Kent in him, but he did miss 47 games and finish about 80 points south of his usual OPS last year.

– Jimmy Rollins has been a bust in back-to-back years, hitting .250/.296/.423 in 2009 and .243/.320/.374 in 88 games last season.

– The outfield is a question mark, particularly if the Phillies are forced to dump as much of Raul Ibanez’s salary as anyone will take.  Top prospect Domonic Brown might not prove quite ready to step into right field, leaving Ben Francisco and maybe John Mayberry Jr. to hold down the fort for a spell.  Left field could be handed to a cheap free agent if Ibanez goes, maybe Austin Kearns or Marcus Thames.  

– Not one of those guys mentioned figures to approach Jayson Werth’s 921 OPS. 

– The bullpen has definite implosion potential.  Brad Lidge was plenty effective last season, but he’s continued to lose velocity off his fastball and he’s only getting outs with his slider at this point.  Ryan Madson is great in the eighth, but he’s melted down when asked to pitch the ninth, leaving Jose Contreras as the Phillies’ fallback in the closer role.

– Depth is a concern.   I like the Phillies’ strategy of loading up on stars and hoping for the best, but they’re going to have problems if injuries strikes.   The assumption is that Joe Blanton will be jettisoned to free up some cash for the Lee signing, leaving Kyle Kendrick as the probable fifth starter and Vance Worley next in line for a rotation spot.    Besides Brown and maybe reliever Scott Mathieson, no one else figures to graduate from the minor league system and play a role next year.

So, yeah, the Phillies have to be the favorites on paper.   A four-man rotation projected to finish with an ERA right around 3.00 guarantees that.   But I’d like to see a couple of shrewd moves from GM Ruben Amaro before I’d be confident making the pick.  Bringing in a live bullpen arm for Blanton and finding a cost effective replacement for Ibanez would be a nice start.  If he’s forced to simply give both away, then the 2011 Phillies will have merely traded Werth for Lee and seen a bunch of 30- to 33-year-old players get a year older.

Athletics score 21 runs, rout Angels

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After drubbing the Angels 10-0 on Wednesday, the Athletics stayed hot, scoring 21 runs to once again rout the Angels on Thursday afternoon. Edwin Jackson got the start, yielding two earned runs on three hits and three walks with seven strikeouts over 5 1/3 innings.

The offense started in the bottom of the third inning, when the A’s plated five runs. That featured a two-run double from Matt Chapman and a three-run home run from Stephen Piscotty. In the fourth, the A’s scored seven more on RBI singles from Jed Lowrie, Khris Davis, Matt Olson, and Stephen Piscotty, which were followed up with an RBI double from Ramon Laureano and an RBI single from Marcus Semien. In the sixth, the A’s bolstered their lead to 18-2 when Laureano hit a bases-loaded single, Semien hit a bases-clearing double, Josh Phegley hit an RBI single, and Franklin Barreto knocked in a run with a double play. The following inning, with position player Francisco Arcia pitching, Nick Martini hit a two-run homer and Chad Pinder made it back-to-back jacks with a solo shot of his own, pushing the score to 21-2.

Arcia hit a solo homer for the Angels in the top of the ninth to make it 21-3, then Kaleb Cowart popped out to end the game. It’s the sixth time a team has scored 20-plus runs this season and the first since the Mets won 24-4 over the Phillies on August 16. The other occurrences: Dodgers 21-5 over the Brewers on August 2, Nationals 25-4 over the Mets on July 31, Diamondbacks 20-5 over the Padres on July 7, and Phillies 20-1 over the Marlins on April 7.

Notables in the box score for the A’s: Martini had three hits and three runs scored, Piscotty had four RBI, Semien had three hits and five RBI, and Phegley had three hits with three runs scored.

With Thursday’s win, the A’s cut their deficit to 3.5 games behind the Astros in the AL West. They have a six-game lead over the Rays for the second Wild Card and trail the Yankees by two games for the first Wild Card. Nine games remain in the regular season for the A’s.