NL East Preview: Philadelphia Phillies
Last season, the Phillies' improbable ride to a World Series title featured many close calls, another New York Met collapse, and the emergence of baseball's best bullpen.
Entering the 2009 season, the team has not made many significant changes to the roster; but instead, hope to repeat with only some minor tweaking. Here's how the Phillies are shaping up this year, and what I think will happen:
Catcher: Carlos Ruiz, Chris Coste, and Lou Marson
The catching position is one of interest to the Phillies in 2009. Although Ruiz was solid in the playoffs and is emerging as one of the league's most valuable defensive catchers, his .219 average last season suggests he still has some offensively improving to do.
Backup Chris Coste struggled toward the end of last season and hardly saw any time during the playoff run. Marson remains a top prospect in the organization and looked good during spot duty in September.
What I think will happen: Although Ruiz will probably build off of a solid playoff run, I believe by midseason, he and Marson will be sharing the catching duties, which in the long run may make the Phillies a better team.
When the defense of Ruiz is combined with the offensive skill set of Marson, the Phils have the potential for a good duo. I believe Coste has played his last game for the Phillies and will not make it out of spring training on the major league roster.
First Base: Ryan Howard
Howard remains one of the cornerstones of this franchise. Although he once again struck out over 200 times, I'll take the 48 home runs and 130-plus RBI every time.
What I think will happen: Howard is primed for another huge season. He has proven that he can hit at least 30 home runs in his sleep, which is good enough to anchor this lineup in the cleanup spot for years to come.
Second Base: Chase Utley, Marcus Giles, and Jason Donald
Utley is coming off an up-and-down '09 season in which he put on an MVP-like performance up until the All-Star break. However, from July on, Utley struggled at the plate, much of which could potentially be drawn back to a hip injury he suffered earlier in the season. Utley still provided excellent leadership and improved defense last season.
What I think will happen: It remains to be seen as to whether or not Utley will be ready for the start of the '09 season. Just in case he is still on the pine, the Phillies went out and signed former Braves and Padres second baseman Marcus Giles to a minor-league deal.
More realistically, however, I expect top prospect Jason Donald to emerge as Utley's primary backup. Giles has not been good at all over the last three seasons, and he gives me no reason to think he will even make the team following spring training.
Look for Donald to start the season at second base, while Utley recovers, and then shift into a utility role once he returns.
Shortstop: Jimmy Rollins and Eric Bruntlett
Both Rollins and Bruntlett are coming off solid seasons. Although Rollins can sometimes frustrate fans by going through prolonged slumps and periods when he hits too many fly balls, his defense and leadership skills are unquestioned. His speed also made the Phillies very dangerous at the top of the order last season.
Bruntlett was one of the key moves made by the team last year. Not only did he fill in for both Rollins and Feliz when both went on the DL during the year, but he also served the club in a variety of ways as a super utility man.
What I think will happen- Look for Rollins to have another typical season. I would expect at least 30 stolen bases and a .280 average.
Bruntlett once again will have a key role as the No. 1 utility player on the club. I believe he will duplicate the solid defense and decent hitting he showed last season.
Third Base: Pedro Feliz and Gregg Dobbs
Feliz was a late January pickup last season but turned out to be solid for the Phils. Despite missing some time with an injury, Feliz provided excellent defense and decent pop for the team from the third base side.
Dobbs was the team's best reserve last season and also excelled when he started games. He set the Phillies all-time record for pinch hits last year.
What I think will happen: For two years, I have been saying that Dobbs should be the starter at third base. Many question his defense, but it's not as bad as people make it out to be.
When you compare it with Feliz's, yes they are on different levels, but I believe Dobbs' offense is more important than Feliz's defense.
Look for Pedro to continue sliding offensively this season. I would not expect more than 15 home runs and a .260 average from him. I think by midseason, he will be sharing time with Dobbs and/or Donald.
Left Field: Raul Ibanez
Ibanez is an ageless wonder who had a great year for a horrible Seattle team last season. He hit well in the clutch and actually improved his defense. He also provided consistent leadership to a team that was sorely lacking it last year.
What I think will happen: I personally feel the Phillies would have been better off resigning Pat Burrell. Not only would he have been cheaper (the Rays got him for two years and $10 million), but he is also younger then Ibanez.
This also changes the offensive dynamics and adds yet another left-handed hitter to a lineup full of lefties. I would look for a .260 average, about 35 home runs, and 90 RBI from Ibanez this year. I think this was the mistake that could prove costly in the Phillies quest for a repeat as World Champions.
Center Field: Shane Victorino
Victorino was a great catalyst for the Phillies last year and had a very solid season overall. Victorino plays great defense and also is a threat to steal on the base paths, which made him a headache for opposing pitchers in 2008.
What I think will happen: Look for another great season from Victorino. I believe he will actually steal more bases and will have a higher average then he did last season. His defense remains his best quality and there is no reason to think that it will not improve.
Right Field: Jason Werth and Geoff Jenkins
Werth had a breakout season for the Phillies last year, hitting 24 home runs and stealing 20 bases. Jenkins was a bit of a disappointment for the Phils, and like Coste, did not see much playing time during the playoffs. However, the team is paying him too much money to let him go after only one subpar year.
What I think will happen: Werth could make or break the Phillies this year. If he can improve his hitting against right-handed pitchers, he could be primed for a 35 home run and 100 RBI season.
If he does not improve, however, the Phillies could still be looking for a powerful right-handed batter to overcome the loss of Burrell. I don't expect much from Jenkins, but I do believe he will stick around for the entire season as an extra outfielder.
Rotation: Cole Hamels, Brett Myers, Joe Blanton, Jamie Moyer, Kyle Kendrick, Carlos Carrasco, Chan Ho Park, J.A. Happ, and Adam Eaton
The rotation was very solid for the Phillies down the stretch last season. Hamels is one of the league's best pitchers and gives the Phillies their first real ace, since a guy by the name of Schilling left town over 10 years ago.
Myers rebounded very nicely after looking horrible the first part of the season. The ageless Moyer continued to dial up 45 mph change-ups, and Blanton turned out to be a better acquisition than his old teammate Rich Harden was for the Cubs.
What I think will happen: Hamels is locked in for 15 wins this year. That being said, I feel mistake No. 2 that the team made this offseason was bringing Moyer back. He looked much worse over the second half of the year and in the playoffs. I feel this will be the beginning of the end for Moyer this year. I think the team will be lucky to get 10 wins out of him.
Blanton will probably be a decent No. 3 and will probably win 10 to 12 games. Myers should do the same. I feel he will always be too inconsistent to win more than 12 games.
Look for the fifth spot in the rotation to go to either Park or Happ. I love Happ and I feel that he is getting a raw deal here in Philadelphia. He has good stuff and great command who could be a solid No. 2 guy one day.
I have never been a big Park fan. I think he will only win six or seven games for the team this year. Kendrick and Eaton will disappear into the minor league abyss by the end of the year.
Bullpen: Scott Eyre, J.C. Romero, Ryan Madson, Chad Durbin, Clay Condrey, Chan Ho Park, and Brad Lidge
The bullpen was awesome last year. Madson finally emerged as a solid setup man, and Lidge was perfect all season.
Durbin struggled during the last few months of the season, but really carried the team for most of the year. Romero and Eyre were both very solid lefties.
What I think will happen: Who knows? Bullpens are so tough to predict but here it goes. The pen will not be nearly as good this year as it was last year. I think the Phillies will miss Romero and do not expect the same kind of years from either Durbin or Lidge. He will eventually blow a save or two this year.
Overall Prediction: I do not expect the Phillies to repeat this year as World Series champions. Although the team has a ton of talent with Howard, Utley, and Rollins, the lineup will be weaker with the loss of Burrell.
I think the Phillies will run into problems with the back-end of the pitching staff and also the middle of the bullpen—both of which I expect to be team issues that will have to be fixed during the year.
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