Let's face it. At this stage of the off-season, the Phillies' rotation, lifted from intimidating to awe-inspiring by the unexpected return of Cliff Lee, looks like the mound version of Murderers' Row.

Cy Young Award winner Lee, Cy Young Award winner Roy Halladay, NL Championship Series MVP Roy Oswalt, and World Series MVP Cole Hamels are a formidable foursome no matter the identity of the rotation's fifth wheel.

Given good health and good fortune, it's already difficult to envision a scenario in which the '11 Phils don't advance to their fifth straight postseason and perhaps a second World Championship since 2008.

But when thinking about the Phils' four horses, it might be wise to hold yours.

After all, while pitching may be 90 percent of the game, great pitching doesn't always guarantee a championship parade.

Think about the Braves, who supplemented the terrific troika of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz with talents such as Steve Avery, Denny Neagle, and Kevin Millwood throughout the 1990s and beyond. Bobby Cox's teams won 14 consecutive division titles but just one World Series, in 1995.

The '54 Cleveland Indians, who won 111 games with a rotation of Bob Feller, Early Wynn, Bob Lemon (all Hall of Famers), and Mike Garcia were swept in that year's World Series by the New York Giants.

The 1966 Dodgers, who also had three Hall of Famers in their rotation - Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, and Don Sutton - plus Claude Osteen were also swept in the World Series, by the youthful Baltimore Orioles.

And the '71 Orioles, whose rotation featured a likely-never-to-be-duplicated four 20-game winners in Dave McNally, Jim Palmer, Mike Cuellar, and Pat Dobson, lost in a seven-game Series to the pitching-challenged Pittsburgh Pirates.

If nothing else, though, the Phils rotation at this point is a jaw-dropping collection of talent.

It's certainly, on paper anyway, one of the most star-studded in baseball history. Is it the best? Well, it's way to early to make that pitch. But here are a few of the other rotations that could make a case for the title of best rotation ever:

The 1998 Braves. Maddux (18-9, 2.27 ERA), Glavine (20-6, 2.47), Smoltz (17-3, 2.90), Neagle (16-11, 3.55), and Millwood (17-8, 4.08) combined for 88 victories, an astounding total in that age of overused bullpens. The first three are probable Hall of Famers. Pitching carried Atlanta to 106 victories and an 18-game margin over runner-up New York. They beat the Cubs in the NLDS but couldn't get past San Diego in a six-game NLCS.

The 1993 Braves. Basically the same as the '98 rotation but with Avery and Pete Smith instead of Neagle and Millwood. That year Maddux went 20-10, 2.36; Glavine, 22-6, 3.20; Smoltz, 15-11, 3.62; Avery, 18-6, 2.94; and Smith, 4-8, 4.37. Atlanta won 104 games, edged out the Giants in the NL West but lost to the Phils in a six-game NLCS.

The 1971 Orioles. We'll likely never again see four 20-game winners on the same staff. McNally won 21 and the other three 20 each. They threw 70 complete games and 12 shutouts. But in the Series they were outpitched by an unheralded Pirates staff that included Steve Blass, Nelson Briles, and Bruce Kison, and Baltimore fell in seven games.

The 1954 Indians. Wynn (23-11, 2.73), Garcia (19-8, 2.64), Lemon (23-7, 2.72), and Feller (13-3, 3.09) combined for 78 of their record 111 victories. But the Giants (remember Willie Mays' catch and Dusty Rhodes' homer?) swept them in four straight in the World Series.

The 1966 Dodgers. Not many opponents enjoyed playing the Dodgers, whose success, with an anemic lineup, was as much a by-product of their pitching as any club in history. Koufax (27-9, 1.73) threw 100 m.p.h. Drysdale (13-16, 3.42) threw at you. Osteen (17-14, 2.85) threw as well as any NL lefty, and Sutton (12-12, 2.96) threw whatever he thought he could get away with. Heavily favored against the inexperienced Orioles in the Series, they somehow were swept in what would be Koufax's final season.

The 1927 Yankees. Waite Hoyt (22-7, 2.63), Urban Shocker (18-6, 2.84), Herb Pennock (19-8, 3.00), and Dutch Reuther (13-6 3.38). Were they great pitchers? Or were they aided by the Yanks' Murderers' Row lineup? It's often hard to make that distinction. But unlike most of the other rotations in this list, they got the Yankees a world championship that year.

The 1910 Athletics. Back then, Connie Mack's club needed only an eight-man pitching staff and a truncated rotation. But the A's top four starters were pretty darn good. None had an ERA above 2.01. Jack Coombs went 31-9 with a 1.30 ERA. Chief Bender was 23-5, 1.58. Eddie Plank went 16-10, 2.01. And Cy Morgan was 18-12, 1.55. Plank and Bender would be Hall of Famers. Philadelphia went 102-48 and beat the Cubs for the franchise's - and the city's - first world championship.

The 1916 Red Sox. Any rotation led by Babe Ruth has to get some consideration. Ruth (23-12, 1.75 ERA) was followed by Ernie Shore (16-10, 2.63), Carl Mays (18-13, 2.36), and Dutch Leonard (18-12, 2.36). Boston went on to beat Brooklyn in five games in the World Series.

The 1973 Athletics. Ken Holtzman (21-13, 2.97), Vida Blue (20-9, 3.28), and Catfish Hunter (21-5, 3.34) were mainstays of the A's three straight world championships, '72-'74. But in '73, the fourth and fifth starters, Blue Moon Odom (5-12, 4.49) and Dave Hamilton (6-4, 4.39) weren't much.

The 1969 Mets. This rotation looks better on paper. That's because its biggest name historically, Nolan Ryan, was just an erratic spot-starter and reliever that year. The regular rotation was Tom Seaver (25-7, 2.21), Jerry Koosman (17-9, 2.28), Gary Gentry (13-12, 3.43), and a couple of journeymen, Don Cardwell (8-10, 3.01) and Jim McAndrew (6-7, 3.47). The Mets rode that pitching to their first world championship, beating the favored Orioles in five games.

The 2003 Athletics. This staff would soon be victimized by the financial necessities of Money Ball. Young and talented, they were more promising than widely known that season. But in retrospect, it's an intriguing rotation: Tim Hudson (16-7, 2.70), Barry Zito (14-12, 3.30), Mark Mulder (15-9, 3.13), Ted Lily (12-10, 4.34), and Rich Harden (5-4, 4.46). The A's won 96 games and the AL West but lost to the Red Sox in the ALDS.

Contact staff writer Frank Fitzpatrick at 215-854-5068 or at ffitzpatrick@ph8illynews.com.