Eye of the Tiger - Phillies

The Phillies don’t have a lot of time to win another World Series with this current crop of players.  The roster is aging, which means more players have been susceptible to injuries.  They are also in the process of trying to restock the roster with younger players, allowing Raul Ibanez, Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson and Roy Oswalt to leave via free agency.  They will be challenged by three of the teams in the National League East who are younger and hungrier to knock them from the top of the hill.

General Overview: It was a bad way to end the season.  Ryan Howard making the last out, unable to run to first because of a torn Achilles tendon, crumpling to the ground as the Cardinals win game five 1-0.  They supposedly had a pitching staff that couldn’t be beat and was built for the playoffs, with four pitchers who could be considered aces on other team’s staff.  Roy Halladay was outpitched by Chris Carpenter in the Division Finals 1-0.  After their World series championship in 2008, the team has lost a World Series to the Yankees in 2009, a conference championship to the Giants in 2010 and now a division series to the Cardinals last year.  The next step down is missing the playoffs altogether.  On the bright side their winning percnetage has increased each year since they won the championship in 2008.  They just haven’t been able to carry the winning into the playoffs.

Why They Will Win: The pitching staff may not be four deep as it was last year, but it is three deep with Roy Hallady, Cliff Lee and Cole HamelsVance Worley had a sweet year last year, but rookie pitchers have a tendency to struggle their sophmore year as hitters adjust.  They still have a pretty potent lineup with Hunter Pence in right, Chase Utley at second and Jimmie Rollins who they resigned for short.  They may try to platoon Jim Thome and Ty Wigginton at first base until Ryan Howard is ready to get back into the lineup in May.  Carlos Ruiz is about as steady of a catcher as there is.  He doesn’t produce a ton of offense but he handles the pitching staff well, which is all a team can ask.  Shane Victorino is still solid in center, but he can be expected to miss significant time in center.

Why They Won’t Win: Without Ryan Howard in their lineup the offense looks a bit weak.  It is unclear whether Jim Thome’s back issues will allow him to start many games at first base while Howard is out.  The alternative is Ty Wigginton and he is a much bigger come down at the position than Jim Thome.  Placido Polanco may lose playing time to Ty Wigginton after Howard gets back.  At 36 his days are numbered as the starting third baseman of the Phillies.  John Mayberry will be given an opportunity to start in left field after hitting 15 homeruns last year playing for injured Shane Victorino and Ryan Howard. Jonathan Papelbon will be an improvement over last year’s closers, but Papelbon has lost his elite status at that position. Last year Vance Worley filled the fifth spot in the rotation. This year he moves up to the fourth spot leaving Joe Blanton and Kyle Kendrick to fight for that fifth spot. Myworld is not enamored with their bullpen options to get them to Papelbon. They may regret losing both Brad Lidge and Ryan Madson, leaving only Antonio Bastardo to set up. Myworld would love to be the announcer when Antonio trots in from the bullpen to pitch.

Prospects to Make the Roster: The Phillies may see both Joe Savery and Justin DeFratus make the roster as bullpen options if they have good springs. Both were September callups and pitched well. Savery throws from the left side, which gives him an advantage. If one of those does not make the roster a bullpen spot could open up for Phillippe Aumont. Most of the other prospects are too low a level in the minor leagues to jump up three levels to make the major league roster.

Long Range Prospects - Freddy Galvis is bound to get time, either at second base if Utley is injured or shortstop if Rollins goes down for any significant time. Harold Garcia is another option at second. Trevor May is their top prospect and will probably start the season in AA. It won’t take a lot to promote him to the majors if an injury calls for it. Julio Rodriguez is a bit of a soft tosser, but if he replicates the 16-7 mark he had in AA he should at least get a September callup. Dominik Brown has too many at bats to be considered a prospect, but he will start the season in the minors and don’t be surprised if he is playing left field for the Phillies by July.

Significant Transactions: The Phillies didn’t show a whole lot of confidence in John Mayberry for their left field spot, signing Juan Pierre.  Juan is a good lefthanded bat with speed. They also made an astute signing with Joel Pinero, who could compete for a fifth spot in the rotation. He is only a couple years removed from a 15 win season with St. Louis. Jim Thome was an interesting signing, since most feel that his playing days as a position player are over.  Phillies management are talking about playing him at first a couple days a week while Howard is on the disabled list. Jonathan Papelbon will replace Ryan Madson as their closer. There is some dispute that they had originally agreed to a contract with Madson, then reneged on it once they learned Papelbon was available. They acquired Ty Wigginton from the Rockies to fill the corner infield positions to rest Placido Polanco and to occupy the first base spot while Howard is on the disabled list. They have made no major trades.

Expected Finish: They will just barely escape with the division title, their winning percentage falling for the first time since 2008. This year they will make the playoffs, only to lose to the Albert Pujols improved Angels.

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