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Baseball preview: Philadelphia Phillies

Thanks to the New York Mets' historic breakdown at the end of last season, the Philadelphia Phillies won the National League East. They trailed the Mets by seven games on Sept. 12, but won 13 of their final 17 games and finished a game ahead of New York.

For the second consecutive season, a Philadelphia infielder won the NL MVP. Last year, shortstop Jimmy Rollins won the award after hitting .296 with 30 home runs, 94 RBIs and 41 stolen bases. He also led the league in triples (20) and runs scored (139). In 2006, first baseman Ryan Howard was the MVP after hitting .313 with 58 home runs and 149 RBIs.

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The Phillies will need to find someone to replace center fielder Aaron Rowand, who hit .309 with 27 home runs and 89 RBIs last season. Rowand signed with the San Francisco Giants in the offseason. Shane Victorino will take his spot in center field, but Philadelphia will need newly acquired Geoff Jenkins to provide additional offense.

Philadelphia Phillies

2007 record: 89-73 (1st in NL East)

Key additions: RHP Brad Lidge, RF Geoff Jenkins, 3B Pedro Feliz

Key losses: CF Aaron Rowand, OF Michael Bourn, 2B Tadahito Iguchi, RHP Kyle Lohse, RHP Geoff Geary

Most valuable fantasy performers:

1. Ryan Howard, 1B – Howard's batting average dropped from .313 in 2006 to .268 last season and he struck out 199 times. Although he'll likely be near the league leaders in strikeouts again, Howard will also be near the top in home runs. Therefore, he's still one of the best offensive first basemen in the majors and should be drafted in the first or second round. He'll have 45-50 home runs and 135-145 RBIs in 2008, so you won't even realize if he strikes out over 200 times.

2. Jimmy Rollins, SS – A lot of people feel that the reigning NL MVP is the third-best shortstop in his own division. New York's Jose Reyes and Florida's Hanley Ramirez will be picked before Rollins in a lot of fantasy leagues. However, Rollins should be drafted ahead of Reyes because he'll give you the rare blend of speed and power, while Reyes will only have 10-15 home runs. Ramirez has the ability to hit 25-30 home runs and steal 50-60 bases, so he has a little bit more value than Rollins. All three shortstops should be selected in the first round.

3. Chase Utley, 2B – Howard was the MVP in 2006 and Rollins won the award last season. Is it Utley's turn in 2008? He hit .332 with 22 home runs and 103 RBIs in 132 games last year. He'll likely have 25-30 home runs and 105-115 RBIs, which could be good enough to win the MVP. Utley probably won't win the award because he'll be overshadowed by Howard and Rollins, but those numbers will still help your fantasy team. He's the best second baseman available, so draft him at the end of the first round.

4. Cole Hamels, LHP – Last season Hamels was 15-5 with a 3.39 ERA in 28 starts. He could win 20 games this season and he'll be a top fantasy pitcher as long as the Philadelphia hitters continue to give him a lot of run support. It'd be good to draft him in the fourth or fifth round. Don't be afraid to draft him earlier if you think someone else will grab him ahead of you because he looks like one of the most likely breakout candidates of 2008.

5. Brett Myers, RHP – Myers won at least 11 games in four consecutive seasons before serving as the team's closer last season. The team acquired reliever Brad Lidge in the offseason, so Myers will return to the rotation in 2008. He'll likely win 10-15 games this season, so he should be drafted in the middle rounds of your draft. Myers could also have 190-200 strikeouts, which would increase his value substantially.

6. Pat Burrell, LF – His batting average is too low for Burrell to be a top fantasy outfielder, but he's consistently hit at least 20 home runs per season. Count on Burrell for 25-30 home runs and 90-100 RBIs in 2008. It's possible that he'll exceed both of those totals, but not likely. He should be available in the middle rounds of your draft.

Hidden gems:

1. Shane Victorino, CF – As I stated above, the Phillies need Victorino to step up and become a big part of the offense in 2008. He hit .281 with 12 home runs, 37 stolen bases and 78 runs scored last season. Victorino will be a solid option in the outfield if he is able to improve in all of those categories this season. Because a lot of people are overlooking him, you can probably get Victorino in the 15th or 16th round of your draft.

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2. Brad Lidge, RHP – Although he had 51 saves over the last two seasons, Lidge hasn't been the same dominant closer he was before suffering a meltdown in the 2005 postseason. Despite having knee surgery recently, Lidge plans on being available at the beginning of the season. Monitor his progress and pick him up in the later rounds if you think he's fully recovered. He'll likely save 30-40 games this season in Philadelphia.

3. Kyle Kendrick, RHP – The 23-year-old starter had an impressive rookie campaign last season. He was 10-4 with a 3.87 ERA in 20 starts. Look for him to win 12-15 games in 2008, but he'll need to strike out more hitters to increase his fantasy value. Still, Kendrick is a pitcher that can be grabbed with one of your final picks. Ideally, he'll exceed expectations and lead your team to a fantasy championship.

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