Let's face it, at this stage of the offseason, 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 Roy Halladay, Cy Young Award winner Lee, 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 a paucity of miracles, 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 like Steve Avery, Denny Neagle and Kevin Millwood throughout the 1990s and beyond. Bobby Cox's team 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 and Mike Garcia, were swept in that year's World Series by the New York Giants.

The 1966 Dodgers, with three Hall of Famers in their rotation - Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and Don Sutton - plus Claude Osteen also were 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 jaw-dropping.

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 some of the other rotations that could make a case for the title of best rotation ever:

The '98 Braves

Maddux (18-9, 2.27), 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 this 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 '71 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 '54 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 '66 Dodgers

Not many opponents enjoyed playing the Dodgers, whose success, with an anemic lineup, was as much a byproduct 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 but Koufax, 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 '27 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 all great pitchers or were they aided by the Yanks' Murderers' Row lineup? It's always 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 A's

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.

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