Behind a young core led by reigning National League Rookie of the Year Bryce Harper and superstar pitcher Stephen Strasburg, the Nationals are the class of the National League East once again and are clearly the team to beat.
If the games were played on paper, the Phillies shouldn’t even bother showing up but, as Phillies fans learned in 2010, 2011, and 2012, the games are played on the field. How might the Phillies fare this year?
Injuries kept Howard and Utley out of the lineup until the end of June which forced Rollins to should the bulk of the load.
When they returned to the lineup, neither Utley nor Howard were the game-changers they had once been.
The Phillies are hoping that changes this season. For the first time in years, Utley got consistent at-bats in spring training while Howard participated in all spring activities for the first time since 2011.
Utley was 19-for-71 (.268) with five homeruns and 17 RBI in 24 spring games this year. He also played solid defense in the field and stole two bases.
Ryan Howard swung the bat very consistently in Clearwater smashing seven homeruns, driving in 17 RBI, and going 28-for-87 (.322) in 28 spring games.
In addition to the mainstays of the Phillies infield, they added veteran infielder Michael Young to man the hot corner this season.
Shoot any gold glove aspirations down right now. Young was not brought in to flash the leather, he was brought in to hit and not make mistakes in the field.
He is coming off of a down year .277/.312/.370 with eight homeruns and 67 RBI. However, in 2011, Young had a career year hitting .338/.380/.474 with 213 hits, 11 homeruns and 106 RBI. This spring Young hit .269/.306/.372 with 21 hits, a homerun, and 16 RBI. He is a career .301/.347/.444 hitter.
Laynce Nix returns as does John Mayberry Jr. Both are figured to platoon in rightfield as the lefthanded hitting Nix will likely play more often against right handers and the right handed hitting Mayberry will play against lefties.
Mayberry is expected to start in right field for the Phillies opener.
The Phillies also looked outside the organization for help in their outfield. In a trade that sent Vance Worley and Trevor May to Minnesota, the Phillies acquire speedy outfielder Ben Revere to patrol centerfield.
One thing that Revere, 5’9” 170 lbs., has always done well is hit the ball. He never hit below .303 in the minors. In 2011, his first full season in the Majors, he hit .267/.310/.309 with no homeruns, 30 RBI, and 34 stolen bases.
He improved his bat in 2012 hitting .294/.333/.342 with no homeruns, 32 RBI, and 40 stolen bases. He strung together a 21 game hit streak in 2012. Revere went 29-for-89 (.326) in Clearwater this spring.
Revere is naturally suited to hit leadoff and it would ebenfit the Phillies lineup immensely. It remains to be seen whether manager Charlie Manuel will take Rollins out of the leadoff spot. Revere’s 34 and 40 stolen bases in his first two seasons lend itself to Revere’s biggest strength: his speed. His speed would cause havoc at the top of the Phillies order and he flashed it in spring training swiping 10 bases in 27 games.
Revere can absolutely fly both on the base paths and in the field. Revere’s range in centerfield is almost unmatched as he tracks down balls way out of normal range. He won the MLB Gibby Award for Play of the Year in 2011 as he robbed Vladimir Guerrero of an extra base hit.
One criticism of Revere is his throwing arm. He does not have a strong arm in centerfield but what he costs you with his arm, he more than makes up for with his range.
In addition to Revere, the Phillies surprisingly signed reigning ALCS MVP Delmon Young to a one-year, $750,000 deal. Last year he hit .267/.296/.411 with 18 homeruns and 74 RBI. He came up big for Detroit in the American League Championship Series against the New York Yankees when he hit .353 with two homeruns and six RBI mostly as a designated hitter.
One thing that the Young will have to get used to when playing for the Phillies is playing the field again. He has not played right field since 2007 and, when he played left field for the Tigers last season, he was frightening defensively.
Another issue that limits Young defensively is his weight. The Phillies even added an incentive clause into his contract that could earn him another $600k. He will be randomly weighed six different times throughout the season. If he is under 230 lbs. the first three weigh-ins, he will earn $100k for each weigh-in he is under 230 lbs. If he is less than 235 lbs. for the next three weigh-ins, he will earn $100k for each weigh-in that he is less than 235 lbs.
Weight has been an issue for Young and it doesn’t help that he had surgery to remove bone spurs in November and likely will start the season on the disabled list.
The wildcard in the group is Dom Brown. Brown was with the Phillies last year as he hit .235 with five homeruns and 26 RBI in 187 at-bats.
However, this spring Brown finally showed fans what made him the top prospect in baseball just a few years ago. He went 32-for-90 (.356) with seven homeruns, 17 RBI, 24 runs scored and seven walks. Brown’s work with assistant hitting coach Wally Joyner is what many believe sparked the resurgence.
Now Brown finds himself as a pillar the Phillies will rely on if they want to make a legitimate run at the postseason.
Halladay, who is not making an Opening Day start for the first time in a decade, has not pitched well at all this spring which is alarming. The soon-to-be 36 year is coming off of a year that he’d like to forget.
He had his highest ERA (4.49) since 2000 and went 11-8 in 25 starts. In addition to the bad numbers, Halladay also dealt with should issues which landed him on the disabled list in the middle of the summer.
Halladay had a rough spring going 2-1 with a 6.06 ERA over 16.1 innings. He allowed 21 hits, 11 runs, nine walks, and three homeruns while opponents hit .323 off of him. These are not typical numbers from the two-time Cy Young winner.
It wasn’t just that Halladay was getting hit but, rather, how he was getting it. Watching his Triple-A start against the Blue Jays last Saturday, it was clear that minor leaguers were not only able to catch up with Halladay, who only topped out at 88 mph, but were hitting him hard.
Outside of Halladay, the other two aces, Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee, look to hold down the bullpen. Lee has been throwing well and is looking to bounce back after a rough year in 2012 in which he received little run support.
Hamels, who gets his first Opening Day start of his career, had an incredible spring allowing two earned runs in 19 innings of work (0.95 ERA). He takes the ball for the Phillies on April 1st against Tim Hudson and the Braves.
Kyle Kendrick and newcomer John Lannan fill out the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation. The 28 year old Kendrick was spectacular last year going 11-12 with a 3.90 ERA but really pitching quality innings down the stretch for the Phillies.
Lannan joins the Phillies after spending his entire professional career with the Nationals. His best season came in 2011 when he was 10-13 with a 3.70 ERA and a 1.46 WHIP. He did not make the Nationals starting rotation out of spring training last year and was sent to Triple-A Syracuse. He split time between Washington and Syracuse which working on his mechanics.
The 28 year old lefty was 4-1 with a 4.13 ERA and a 1.44 WHIP in six starts. It marked the only time in his Major League career in which his win-loss record was above .500.
The bullpen returns all star closer Jonathan Papelbon. Papelbon went 5-6 with a 2.44 ERA, 38 saves, and four blown saves in 70 innings pitched in his first season in Philadelphia last year.
As good as Papelbon was, the rest of the bullpen was not. The Phillies eight inning was an absolute nightmare in 2012. They blew 13 leads in the eighth inning and compiled a putrid 4.39 ERA for the inning. Something needed to be done and the Phillies went out and addressed it.
Enter: Mike Adams. The righthander has been holding down the eighth inning for the Rangers and Padres at an All Star caliber level for years now. He appeared in 61 games last year for Texas and had a 3.21 ERA and a 1.40 WHIP and one save. In 2011, Adams had a 1.47 ERA with a 0.79 WHIP and two saves in 75 games. He was impressive in 2010 as well with a 1.76 ERA in 70 games with a 1.07 WHIP.
The Phillies are hoping he can return to the 2010/2011 form following October surgery for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. Adams had neck and shoulder pain in addition to tingling and numbness in his pitching hand which affected his grip on pitches.
The bullpen will also feature the likes Phillipe Aumont, Antonio Bastardo, Chad Durbin, and lefthanders Jeremy Horst and Raul Valdes.
As for the rest of the division, many people believe the NL East will have one of the two Wild Card spots with the other spot going to the second place team in the NL West. The Atlanta Braves are the consensus pick to be the second place team in the division as they spent in the offseason to add B.J. and Justin Upton. They lost Michael Bourn and Chipper Jones while giving up Martin Prado to get Justin Upton. The team improved in some areas while declining in others. It is important to note that while some say that this year’s Braves squad is not any better than last year’s, last year’s team won 94 games.
The Phillies are in for a dogfight if they are going to make the playoffs. They will have to have everything clicking to compete. I believe anywhere between 85-90 wins is a reasonable expectation but is 90 wins enough to make it to the postseason? We shall see but 88 wins was the winning number last year.
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