The Philadelphia Phillies led MLB in wins in 2011 with a franchise record 102. They have sold out a team record 204 consecutive games, and that record doesn't look like it's going to end any time soon.
The Phillies have the best pitching staff in baseball, and they backed up that claim last season when they finished with the lowest ERA in MLB. They were the odds on favorite to win the National League and bring home another World Series trophy.
They came out on fire in Game 1 of the NLDS, scoring 11 in one game, but their offense again fluttered in the postseason. They only managed 10 total runs in the next four games.
Charlie Manuel and GM Ruben Amaro have spoken at length this offseason about a new approach and mindset to the Phillies offense. Well, the offense hasn't exactly been firing on all cylinders (albeit without Chase Utley and Ryan Howard) but are we really to assume that all is well with the Phillies lineup when the "Big Piece" returns?
Here is where Phillies Nation can look for help if Ryan Howard is a non-factor in 2012.
The thing that has put the biggest smile on my face during spring training is when the Washington Nationals manager claimed that his team has a better rotation than the Philadelphia Phillies (via AOL). “Their top three versus our top three, stuff-wise, we match up as good."
Hold your horses, Davey.
The second best thing that's happened this spring is that Joe Blanton looks to be healthy (look at the arm, not the stomach) and has pitched scoreless ball thus far. The Phillies have a plethora of pitching and Kyle Kendrick can certainly be a serviceable fifth starter.
Pitching is always at a premium, and Ruben Amaro needs to work his magic and find a team that is willing to take on Joe Blanton's contract. The Phillies would most likely have to eat a portion of the contract but they'd still be able to free up a few million to add another bat.
An $8 million price tag for Joe Blanton? No thanks, I'll spend my money elsewhere.
A move that went quietly under the radar across MLB was the Philadelphia Phillies signing free agent Laynce Nix. Nix will provide pop off the bench and can platoon in LF with John Mayberry Jr. against tough RH pitching.
Nix has been a pretty effective hitter against righties when he gets regular playing time. Last year, for example, he got 320 plate appearances against righties and he hit .263/.306/.475 with 16 homers.
Those are serious power numbers that will bode well if Ryan Howard isn't healthy in 2012.
John Mayberry Jr. became the type of power hitter that many people across the organization thought he'd be. In 2010 and 2011 combined, Mayberry has gotten 309 plate appearances with the Phillies.
How has he done you may ask? How about a .276 average, 17 doubles, one triple and 17 HR. More than 45.45 percent of his hits over the past two years have gone for extra bases.
There is some serious potential for power in John Mayberry Jr., folks. The platoon of Mayberry and Laynce Nix will be huge for the Phillies in 2012.
Yes I'm serious when I say Domonic Brown. I already mentioned how effective Laynce Nix can be against RH pitching, but what if Ryan Howard's injury forces him out of the lineup for a significant amount of time?
Ty Wigginton and John Mayberry Jr. have struggled against RH pitching during their careers. Domonic Brown is the best option against RH pitching. Most projections from sites like FanGraphs suggest that Brown will be the most effective against righties.
It's almost guaranteed that Brown will start the season in the minors (after all, he can't catch a fly ball) but a trio of Wigginton, Nix and Mayberry will largely struggle against RH pitching.
Domonic Brown has always been able to hit RH pitching and he will be an option for the Phillies in 2012.
We need the Chase Utley that was the premier 2B in all of MLB. The same guy who hit at least 25 HR in four out of five seasons and 100 RBI in the same span.
Okay, Chase Utley probably will never be the same player that he once was due to his degenerative knee and hip issues, but the Phillies are paying him to be an elite hitter for their club. While Utley may not have the power that he used to, he still can hit for average and be the clutch hitter we know and love.
If you stop and think about it, Philadelphia has been spoiled by a 2B who can hit 30 HR and 100 RBI every season. Those types are few and far between, but the Phillies need Utley in the lineup and they need him to hit for a high average.
Utley needs to be the Phillies leading hitter with RISP in 2012 if Ryan Howard is a non-factor.
Or Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Joe Blanton and Vance Worley can continue to pop homers...either scenario works for me.
The biggest difference between the 2011 Philadelphia Phillies and version 2012 is that they have two-time All-Star RF Hunter Pence for an entire season. The instantaneous fan favorite had the best season of his career, posting a 22 HR, 97 RBI and .314 average.
Pence has been a very productive player for the lowly Houston Astros his entire career. Now he is playing in a stadium that has sold out 204 consecutive games by the most ravenous fans in MLB.
Pence is now the cornerstone of the Phillies lineup, regardless of how much money Ryan Howard makes. Look for another All-Star nod in 2012 with Pence breaking the 100 RBI barrier for the first time in his career.