Let's start with the infield where all four starters have shown declining hitting skills over the past two seasons. Only Polanco cracked the .270 mark last season, and it was power-starved. Both Howard's and Utley's power stats have faded dramatically, and I doubt that Howard can come back as soon as the predicted May time frame. As a Northwestern University football fan, I watched their pre-season Heisman hopeful, Dan Persa, fail to return to top form from an achilles tendon injury after more than a year of recovery. Ryan Howard doesn't need the mobility of a quarterback, but his performance surely will be negatively affected. Chase Utley's physical issues have relegated him to average player status. Have they been resolved? If Polanco can avoid the injury bug, has he grown too long-of-tooth to hit .300?
Center field remains Victorino's to lose, but he has shown a tendency to fade in September. Is Mayberry ready to become the team's slugger in left field (and no doubt some first base) over a long season? Only Pence in right field seems solid.
The bench is completely new to the Phils. Does Thome have anything left in the tank? Can he play first base for two months and not not become the Phillies' latest Dr. Strangeglove?
The first three starting pitchers, on paper at least, still appear to be the best combo in baseball. But two of those starters are getting up in years, and it remains to be seen if Worley can repeat last year's performance that turned shaky in September. Can Blanton keep his ERA below 5.00? The bullpen seems solid, but Papelbon's arm has a lot of mileage on it, and he bombed in the clutch last September. They do have three lefties in the pen, a luxury that Charlie has never enjoyed, but Bastardo went from genius to klutz in a hurry last year. Who is the set-up man?
Over the past several seasons, the Phillies have feasted on division rivals, but ever other team except the Mets has improved in the off-season. Don't count on the Nationals being a doormat any more, and they could contend. The Braves have enough pitching to match the Phillies and a better bullpen, although their defense is not as good as the Phils'. The Marlins likewise have some good pitching, and their infield - if Ramirez and Reyes stay healthy and get along - has improved dramatically.
Last, I have been frustrated by Phillies' hitters continuing inability to hit according to situations. Only Utley can set up pitchers and take his walks. Howard and Rollins don't have a clue in that area, Victorino is almost as bad, and Polanco, for all his bat control, doesn't sport a great OBP. Unless they can up the team OBP and can get runners in from third with less than two out, they will lose many a game they should win.
Can they still win? Yes, but everyone will have to play their best. They are not a virtual sure thing this season.