There are several interesting storylines heading into the 2011 major league season. Among them:
* Albert Pujols, with free agency looming at the end of the campaign, playing out the final year of his current contract with the Cardinals.
* The arrival of 2009 AL Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke to the National League after the Brewers acquired him from the Royals last September.
* The Giants' attempt to become the first team to defend a world championship since the Yankees in 2000.
But I think the most compelling storyline of the upcoming season will be whether the Phillies' starting rotation of Roy Halladay (21-10, 2.44 ERA in 2010), Cliff Lee (12-9, 3.18), Roy Oswalt (13-13, 2.76), Cole Hamels (12-11, 3.06), and Joe Blanton (9-6, 4.82) will live up to the hype and become one of the strongest starting rotations of the live ball era.
Expectations are high with Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins guaranteeing a 100-win season.
Much like Bobby Cox had to do with the great Braves rotation of the 1990s, Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel will have to deal with egos of three and perhaps four ace-caliber pitchers.
It's interesting to note that a strong starting rotation does not necessarily guarantee a World Series championship.
In The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, the author identified the best starting rotations in the final eight decades of the 20th century - the 1922 Yankees, 1931
Athletics, 1954 Indians, 1963 Yankees, 1966 Dodgers, 1970 Cubs, 1971 Orioles, 1985 Royals, and 1997 Braves. The 1970 Cubs failed to reach the postseason. Of the other eight teams, only the 1985 Royals claimed a world title and the combined postseason record of the remaining seven was an abysmal 11-28.
Likewise, the Phillies may not be a lock. Even if the rotation performs as well as expected, Philadelphia will need better production from a bullpen that has been inconsistent the past two seasons and a way to replace the offensive production of departed left fielder Jayson Werth.