JIMMY ROLLINS andShane Victorino were enjoying a leisurely snorkel a few months ago off thecoast of Kona in Victorino's home state of Hawaii, when Rollins noticed amassive, shadowy figure coming at them, and coming fast. "Your eyes getbig, and you're just like, What is it? What is it?" recalls Rollins, thereigning NL MVP and a self-proclaimed National Geographic Channel junkie."You can't run. You can't get out. There's nothing you can do."
The beast turnedout to be a harmless manta ray, which flapped away before it got too close.Rollins, though, can be forgiven for feeling as if he's being hunted thesedays; the Mets are seeking vengeance after the Phillies surged past them fromseven games back with 17 to play last September to snatch the NL East title. Tothat end New York acquired an ace in Johan Santana, while Philadelphia'soff-season acquisitions were more modest. They included former Brewersoutfielder Geoff Jenkins (20 or more homers in seven of his nine full seasons)and ex--Giants third baseman Pedro Feliz, who's averaged 21 homers over thepast four seasons and who G.M. Pat Gillick believes can slug 30 playing in thebandbox that is Citizens Bank Park.
The most importantnewcomer is former All-Star closer Brad Lidge, who was acquired from the Astrosin a five-player deal in November. The 31-year-old righthander has pitchederratically since Albert Pujols turned a two-out, ninth-inning slider into agame-winning three-run blast in the 2005 NLCS—he had a combined 4.37 ERA with51 saves in '06 and '07, versus a 2.07 ERA with 71 saves in '04 and '05.Gillick, though, says his scouts saw flashes of Lidge's old dominance lastSeptember. Indeed, his strikeout rate (roughly 12 per nine innings in each ofthe last two seasons) suggests that his pure stuff remains overpowering, ifinconsistent. "Our reports from the last 30 days of the season were that hehad been throwing as well as he has the past couple years," says Gillick."There had been a rumor around the league that he was tipping his pitches,and that was part of the problem. I don't know whether that was the case ornot. He has the kind of stuff that whether he tips his pitches or not, whenhe's on, he's pretty unhittable."
Lidge wasunhittable this spring, but that's only because his exhibition season was cutshort after one batting-practice pitch, during which he caught his spike on themound and tore the meniscus in his right knee. Still, he could return fromarthroscopic surgery as soon as late next week, and his presence has allowedmanager Charlie Manuel to move Brett Myers, who started the '07 opener but made48 of his 50 subsequent appearances from the bullpen (21 saves in 24opportunities), back to the top of the rotation, where he's sorely needed.Phillies starters ranked 12th in the NL with a 4.91 ERA last season."Anything I can do to help the team, man," says Myers. "If theyneed me to play third base, I'll do that."
The Phillies won'trequire the offensive services of Myers, a .126 career hitter, as their lineupled the league with 892 runs scored in '07 and still features a trio ofperennial MVP candidates—Rollins, first baseman Ryan Howard (nine homers beforeMay 31, 38 thereafter) and second baseman Chase Utley. Even the most powerfulof offenses can be slowed, however, as Philadelphia's was when it scored atotal of eight runs in a three-game NL Division Series sweep by Colorado inOctober. Solid pitching, on the other hand, is generally a constant. If Lidgeregains his All-Star form, and if the three starters behind Myers and buddingace Cole Hamels (the soft-tossing trio of second-year man Kyle Kendrick,45-year-old Jamie Moyer and journeyman Adam Eaton) are merely league average,Philadelphia should again battle the Mets for the NL East crown into lateSeptember. And if the staff doesn't come through? A repeat of last season'ssuccess will be dead in the water.
PROJECTED ROSTER WITH 2007 STATISTICS
MANAGER CHARLIEMANUEL FOURTH SEASON WITH PHILADELPHIA
Brad Lidge (New acquisition)
New acquisitionB-T: Bats-throws
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 62)
a modest proposal...
Before the startof last season the Phillies signed a free-agent third baseman with the hope offilling a void that has existed since the Scott Rolen trade in 2002. Wes Helms,it turned out, wasn't the answer (five home runs in 280 at bats, a sub-.300OBP), so Philadelphia went back to the market this winter and picked up PedroFeliz, formerly of the Giants. While his glove will help a pitching staff thatputs the ball in play, Feliz's execrable OBP (.288 career, no seasons above.300 since 2004) is a drain on an offense that will be fighting to equal themonster output of last season's lineup. Using lefty-swinging Greg Dobbs in aplatoon with Feliz (left)—Dobbs hit .277 with a .335 OBP and .473 sluggingpercentage against righties last year—will better sustain a Phils offense thathas to offset a lack of pitching depth.
Percentage of thePhillies' steal attempts that were successful last season, a major leaguerecord. Even after trading Michael Bourn, who stole 18 bases in 19 tries(94.7%), to Houston in the off-season, the Phils should remain among theleague's most efficient base stealers. Their top three threats—Jimmy Rollins,Shane Victorino and Chase Utley—combined for 87 steals in 98 tries (88.8%) in2007.
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MARCH 14, 1983
ROSE ON THIRD,Morgan on first and Perez standing in the batter's box. "You've seen thisbefore, Doggie," Rose calls to Perez. Haven't we all? Of course, nobody hasseen this situation for more than six years, not since Pete Rose, Joe Morganand Tony Perez were mainstays of the world champion Cincinnati Reds. But thescene was played once again last Saturday at the Philadelphia Phillies' springtraining complex in Clearwater, Fla.
Free access to allPhillies stories and photographs from the SI archive, plus video clips.
SUMMER RERUN From the monster lineup to the iffy pitching, this year has the look of '07 for Rollins and the Phils. Will the finish be different?
CHUCK SOLOMON (FELIZ)
WALTER IOOSS JR. (COVER)