For the first time in nearly a decade, prognosticators and Philadelphia Phillies fans alike are both approaching Opening Day with little to no hope as an aging Phillies squad gears up for another season. After five straight years of winning records and increasing win totals from 2007-2011, last year’s Philadelphia squad managed just 73 wins after posting 81 victories in 2012 and a whopping 102 in 2011. Despite the grumbling of the fans, the Phillies management has decided to pretty much stand pat this off-season and hope that the abundance of talent well over 30 years of age can stay healthy and return the club to 2011 form.
Management: Ruben Amaro Jr., general manager of the Phillies since the beginning of the 2009 season, definitely has his fair share of critics. Inheriting a Philadelphia team that won the World Series a year earlier, Amaro has proven that he can supplement a team that has a solid core with necessary pieces such as starting pitching. He has not been able to prove, however, that he can plan for an aging roster and build for the future. Even with all of the older veterans still holding starting jobs for the Phillies, the club’s farm system is still weak.
As for the Phillies’ manager, Hall of Fame inductee Ryne Sandberg took over this position last August and posted a 20-22 record. Sandberg got the opportunity with Philadelphia, his first in the major leagues, after successful coaching stints in the Cubs’ and Phillies’ farm systems. Amaro hopes that Sandberg’s relatively new voice can hold the attention of his aging club.
Catcher: Carlos Ruiz
The 36-year-old slugger just signed a three year contract extension this past off-season despite only starting 83 games for the Phillies last season. The former All-Star hit .268 last season with five home runs and 37 runs batted in. Ruiz will be under the magnifying glass in Philadelphia following the signing, which Amaro said was for one year more than the team had wanted to commit to.
First Base: Ryan Howard
Howard has never had a problem hitting the baseball. He has, however, had issues that last couple years with staying on the field. He played just 80 games last season after appearing in 71 games in 2012. The left-handed 35-year-old slugger has a .271 career batting average with 311 home runs in 10 seasons with Philadelphia.
Second Base: Chase Utley
The 36-year-old infielder is looking to build on the strong comeback he had in 2013. After three years of nagging injuries, Utley rebounded last season by playing 131 games and hitting .284 with 18 home runs and 69 runs batted in. The four-time All-Star also has a .373 on base percentage in 11 years with the Phillies.
Shortstop: Jimmy Rollins
Rollins has been at the center of a hotbed of controversy this spring for Sandberg’s club. The 36-year-old three-time All-Star has been rumored to be traded by management and he was even benched three successive games in March for an undisclosed issue that Sandberg had with him. Despite his age, Rollins has been very dependable for the Phillies. Over the last three years he has appeared in at least 142 games, and in his 14 years with the club he has averaged 149 games per season.
Third Base: Cody Asche
Getting the opportunity to play full-time at the hot corner this season, the Phillies should be able to tell quickly what Asche will bring to the table. In just 50 games last year as a rookie the 23-year-old hit .235 with five home runs. The Phillies will need a bit more from him in 2014 if they are going to have a chance to contend.
Outfield: Ben Revere, Marlon Byrd, Domonic Brown
Amaro’s big free agent acquisition this winter was the hard hitting Byrd, who had a career year last year at 36 years of age. Byrd has always been a solid contact guy, posting a .280 career batting average, but last year he also found his power stroke, launching a career high 24 home runs.
Ben Revere, Philadelphia’s 25-year-old center fielder, is coming off of a disappointing year where he played in only 88 games because of a broken ankle. Even being hampered by the injury, he still hit .305 and swiped 22 bases. He is now fully recovered and looking to have a breakout season for the Phillies.
Domonic Brown, coming off his first season as the Phillies’ full-time left-fielder, hit .272 with 27 home runs and 83 runs batted in last season. The sure-handed outfielder committed just five errors last season in 134 games while also having a breakout year on the offensive side of the ball.
Projected Batting Order:
Starting Rotation: Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, A.J. Burnett, Kyle Kendrick, Roberto Hernandez
Lee went 14-8 with a lights out 2.22 earned run average last season on a team that won just 73 games. If he can retain that form this season it will bode well for the Phillies.
Hamels is trying to make his way back from biceps tendinitis. He pitched two innings in a minor league spring training game on March 27 and looks to join the staff after a 15-day stay on the disabled list. He had a solid 3.60 earned run average last season, but posted just an 8-14 record due in large part to little run support.
Burnett, the 37-year-old free agent acquisition from the Pittsburgh Pirates, looks to fill the No. 3 spot in the rotation with his 3.99 career earned run average and average of 145 strikeouts per year.
Kendrick, a seven-year starter for the Phillies, is 64-55 lifetime and coming off a 10-13 season.
Hernandez had a 4.67 career earned run average with Cleveland and Tampa before joining the Phillies this year. His best year was 2007 for the Indians when he went 19-8 with 137 strikeouts.
Projected Starting Rotation:
Bullpen: Jonathan Papelbon, Mike Adams, Antonio Bastardo, Jake Diekman, Justin Defratus, Brad Lincoln
Last year the Phillies bullpen caused the team a lot of headaches. Right now Papelbon is the projected closer only because no one else is stepping up to challenge him Bastardo is attempting to return from a 50-game suspension and Adams is a question mark following last season shoulder injury.
Outlook: Just like last season, Amaro and company are counting on everything to go just right to make a run at the post-season. Unfortunately, with more than half of the projected starting line-up over 35-years-old, injuries are bound to take their toll on this roster just like they did a season ago. That being said, when they are healthy, the Phillies have one of the most dangerous line-ups in the National League, so if they can stay on the field, then anything is possible.
Philadelphia Phillies Spring Training Preview Expected Finish: Fourth Place
Commentary by Jeremy Mika