Can the Phillies win a title without a great Roy Halladay?

Posted: March 24, 2013

SARASOTA, Fla. - Just before the start of spring training, a baseball scout was asked to handicap the National League East.

"Roy Halladay is far and away the most important player in the division," the scout said. "Which guy we see will determine the Phillies' fate."

Scouts are wrong sometimes and the Phillies have to hope this is one of those times.

Halladay threw four innings against Toronto minor-leaguers Saturday and he didn't throw up or feel lethargic. He just didn't throw well, according to most observers. Not enough velocity and too much contact were the problems he encountered, a foreign experience for a guy who has stuffed hitters in his hip pocket for more than a decade.

During a spring in which every Halladay pitch has been scrutinized, it can safely be said that the pitcher general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. acquired from the Blue Jays in December of 2009 no longer exists.

We have entered the Doc Lite era and only time will tell if Halladay can make his less equal enough to remain a successful big-league pitcher.

It's been done before. See Jamie Moyer, Part II (the 40ish years).

Moyer won with brains and strikes. Halladay is every bit as cerebral and still has better stuff.

In the meantime, the Phillies have to get ready for 2013 knowing that they are no longer a team that can live by its arms alone.

Because of the way Ruben Amaro Jr. built the Phillies after he replaced Pat Gillick as general manager, it's easy to forget how this team won in the infancy of its five-year divisional dominance.

Look back at 2007 and you'll see an inferior pitching staff to the one the Phillies have now regardless of what Halladay gives them. Look back at 2007, in fact, and you'll see an inferior pitching staff to almost every team in the National League.

And still the Phillies won 89 games and the division.

The 2007 staff had two starters - Cole Hamels and Kyle Kendrick - and two relievers - J.C. Romero and Ryan Madson - with ERAs below 4.00. The team ERA was 4.73, the fourth worst in the National League.

That team, of course, also had thunder throughout its lineup. The Phillies led the league in runs, on-base percentage and OPS. They had five hitters with at least 20 home runs, including Ryan Howard's 47, and five players with at least 89 RBIs.

The Phillies lineup remained among the best in the National League right through the 2010 season, finishing first or second in runs scored each year and no lower than fourth in team OPS.

Those numbers have dipped significantly in the last two years - the Phillies were seventh in runs scored and OPS in 2011 and eighth in both categories last season - but this spring training has left the impression that the offense will be closer to the 2007 through 2010 models than the ones that have sputtered in recent seasons.

Howard hit his sixth Grapefruit League home run Sunday against Baltimore, his highest total since he slugged 10 in 2009.

Domonic Brown hit his seventh home run of the spring and is playing with extreme confidence.

Chase Utley hit two home runs and his batting stroke has gained momentum as the season draws near. Ben Revere, Jimmy Rollins and Michael Young have all had solid springs.

The position players are going to have to play a more significant role in 2013 if the Phillies are to compete with the Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves for the division title and there is reason to believe that will happen.

With Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels at the front of the rotation and Kyle Kendrick and John Lannan at the back, the rotation is still considerably better than it was in 2007 and even in 2008 and 2009.

Still, the baseball scout has not changed his opinion as spring training heads into its final week.

"I don't think the Phillies can compete unless they have the 2010 edition of Roy Halladay," he said.

Contact staff writer Bob Brookover at Follow on Twitter @brookob.

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