10 Bold Second-Half Predictions for Phillies Offense with Howard, Utley Back

Alec Snyder@@alec_snyder62Contributor IIIJuly 12, 2012

10 Bold Second-Half Predictions for Phillies Offense with Howard, Utley Back

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    Things have not gone in the Philadelphia Phillies' favor this season, to say the least. Ryan Howard and Chase Utley both sat out the season until recently, and the team's ace of aces, Roy Halladay, has been on the DL for quite some time now with a lat strain.

    Fortunately, barring any setbacks, Halladay will return next Tuesday to face the Los Angeles Dodgers. But like Howard and Utley, will his return have come too late?

    In the cases of Utley and Howard, the heart of the Phillies' lineup, it was expected that the return of the team's two biggest impact hitters would bring some more offensive success and narrow the gap between them and the NL East-leading Washington Nationals.

    And as has been the case with most everything else this year, the opposite happened. While Utley and Howard's returns both started off with a bang—Utley homered in his first at-bat back, while Howard doubled on the second pitch thrown to him—both their success and the team's have diminished. Since Utley returned, the Phils have gone 1-10 leading up to the All-Star Break. At least Cliff Lee got his win.

    So, with the All-Star festivities behind us, all that's left is one more day of waiting before baseball recommences tomorrow night. For the Phillies, that comes against the Colorado Rockies, who also dwell in the cellar of their division, the NL West.

    But what's going to happen now that there's been some time to think, to recuperate after the team's devastating stretch since the return of their former All-Star second baseman and former MVP first baseman?

    Through the rest of the season, here are 10 predictions for the Phils' offense now that Utley and Howard are here to stay—one for each member of the lineup, and a couple of overall offensive predictions at the end.

Jimmy Rollins Will Start out Hot, but Will Cool off for the Home Stretch

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    The 2012 season has been a puzzling one for Jimmy Rollins. He's hitting just .256 on the year with a .713 OPS, and also has eight homers and 32 RBI. However, that doesn't fully describe how J-Roll's season has played out.

    Although it wasn't always the case in the past, this season Rollins has been an extremely streaky player. In April, he hit just .235, and May wasn't much better at .241.

    That changed in June, though, as Rollins was one of baseball's hottest players for a majority of the month. He ended June with a .303 average, .936 OPS, and hit six home runs, four of which came in the span of five days.

    Yet thus far in July, Rollins is batting poorly, hitting just .179 thus far.

    As baseball picks up again for the month of July, though, I think Rollins will pick it up once more and end up hitting .270-.280 for the month of July.

    Will it be an effort to prevent guys like his good friend Shane Victorino from being traded? Or will it just be an effort to bring this team back into contention? Who knows. But after that, I think Rollins' earlier woes will strike for the final time this year, but will persist for the rest of the season.

    At this point, J-Roll just isn't an impact player anymore, let alone a leadoff-type hitter. Charlie Manuel needs to understand that and move him out of the top spot of the lineup if he wants any chance at Rollins hitting again.

Juan Pierre Will Be Traded; Domonic Brown Will Take Over, but Will Struggle

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    Juan Pierre has been one of the Phillies' biggest surprises this season. Signed to just a minor league deal this offseason, not only did Pierre crack the opening day roster as a bench bat, he's since taken over the starting job from the underwhelming John Mayberry, Jr.

    On the season, Pierre's second on the team in hitting among qualified players with a .307 average. He's been a guy who's not necessarily been the one to win the game for the Phillies (not that they've had many chances for that), but he's kept an inning going by slapping a single into the outfield.

    Due to his success and his ability to hit leadoff in the lineup, Pierre's drawn some trade interest already from a few teams, including the Cincinnati Reds. Since he's making just $800,000 on the season and will have even less owed to him for the last two months of the season, he'll be a nice trade target for a team looking for an outfielder and leadoff hitter.

    Pierre will be traded. That's my gut. And at that point, assuming he's healthy, we'll see Domonic Brown again.

    Brown, who hasn't seen major league action since July 29 of last year, was demoted upon the acquisition of Hunter Pence at the trade deadline and has struggled in the minors since. And just when his bat got hot again, Brown hit the DL with a knee injury.

    If all the above happens, Brown will close the book on whether he'll be able to succeed at the major league level or not. The simple answer is no.

Chase Utley Will Get Better by the Month

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    Chase Utley finally returned from the DL on June 27 after missing the entire season, including spring training, due to his tendinitis and chrondromalacia in his knees. He immediately started out the season on a positive note, hitting a home run in his first at-bat this season.

    And, of course, Carlos Ruiz followed it up with a home run of his own. Unfortunately, the team lost the game to the Pittsburgh Pirates and has only won one game since.

    Things haven't been fantastic for Utley since, though. He's hitting just .235 right now and has eight strikeouts already in only 34 at-bats. Will there be much hope for Utley this season?

    My gut is that while he'll never be anything close to the MVP-caliber player he once was, he'll still be serviceable. Knowing Utley, he'll work hard to see that he improves. And with the drive that he has, he'll do just that.

    Utley wants this team to win. While July is Utley's best month statistically throughout his career, one has to wonder if Utley will be treating this more like April. And in April, May and June, Utley's batting average is at least .299 for his career, if not higher.

    So what am I getting at here? Substitute April, May, June for July, August, September, and if Utley treats the second half of the season like it's the first, maybe we'll see some success in the .270s, maybe .280s at most, but that's a bit generous at this point.

Ryan Howard Will Not Be the Power Bat the Phillies Need This Season

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    The Big Piece is finally back. We've waited months for the team's best power threat to return, and now that he's back, things should get better. Right?

    Wrong. Well, maybe not that drastic. But not great.

    Howard returned to action last Friday and in eight at-bats in the Phillies' three-game series against the Atlanta Braves, Howard had two hits, both of them coming in the Friday game. The Phillies were swept in the series without Howard providing any game-changing hits.

    Not that it's all on Howard to do that. It's on the entire team to muster offense to hit in and score runs. It's why this team has struggled this year.

    However, two of Howard's outs were strikeouts, and if that trend continues, he's also got a 25-percent strikeout rate. Aside from his double in his first at-bat back, he hasn't shown any flashes of power just yet.

    It's more difficult with Howard because he hasn't been back for too long. I think he'll hit just fine. But home runs? I think we'll see someone else on this team hit more long balls than he will in the second half this year.

Carlos Ruiz Will Finish in the Top 5 in NL MVP Voting

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    Not only has Carlos Ruiz been the anchor of the Phillies' offense this season, he's been an MVP candidate.

    The best catcher in baseball this year, Chooch has hit .350 with a .995 OPS, 13 home runs and 46 RBI. He has more RBI than strikeouts (34). Add in that he's also got 21 doubles, and that's an impressive line.

    Chooch's talent, both at the plate and behind it, has finally gone recognized, as Ruiz was named to his first All-Star team this season. He caught four innings, including one for knuckleballer R.A. Dickey of the New York Mets.

    With the way Chooch has been hitting, there's no sign of him slowing down. I'll be the first to tell you I was waiting for him to start to regress. I wait no longer. It's simply not going to happen.

    With the way he's hitting, Chooch will garner some MVP attention and could even manage a good amount of votes. Unfortunately, with the way the Phillies are playing, I don't think Chooch will get enough to win the award, but he should place in the top five if all continues the way it's been going. And it's been the lone great thing to see this year.

Hunter Pence Will Be the Phillies' Second Half MVP

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    Hunter Pence hasn't exactly met expectations this season, yet as of late, he's been fantastic. He's got a .285 average, 16 home runs, 50 RBI and an .834 OPS. For a while, he was also leading the league in runs scored, though that's no longer the case. For the record, Pence has scored 58 times.

    The expectation for Pence this season was that he'd fill in as the team's power bat with Utley and Howard out of the lineup for the first half. And though he does lead the team in home runs, it was thought that he'd have hit more than 16. Maybe something more like 20. Yet was that reasonable to expect?

    It was also thought that Pence would hit over .300 consistently, as he did after his acquisition by the team last year, but that hasn't happened, either. Yet was that reasonable to expect?

    The answer to those two questions is no. Pence was never a power threat, not a hitter for average throughout his career. Last season was the first year he hit over .300 for a season, and though he hit 11 home runs in two months, he's never slugged more than 25 balls out of the park in a given season.

    In the month of June, though, Pence was extraordinary, hitting .327 with a .915 OPS and bringing up his average from the .250s to the .280s. While he's only hitting .280 so far in July, that's not bad by any stretch of the imagination, especially for a Phillies team looking for anything it can get.

    While I see Chooch maintaining his extreme success, I think Pence will be the bigger impact player in the second half, and he'll be the team's post All-Star Break MVP.

Shane Victorino Will Be Traded, but Who Will Take His Place?

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    The 2012 season has been an abomination for Shane Victorino. He's not hitting for consistency nor for power, and his ability to hit from the left side of the plate is all but gone. The only contribution he's made is base stealing, but that hasn't been spectacular, either.

    Although his defense has been good, it hasn't been great, and Victorino has still been struggling offensively to this point in the season, hitting .245 with a .680 OPS and only eight home runs. It's not just a slump anymore. It's a lost cause.

    The front office will see this, and Victorino will be traded sooner than later. His effectiveness has vanished, and he's no longer contributing to this team. The Phillies need prospects, and other teams could use an outfielder with Victorino's potential.

    But who comes in? Jason Pridie isn't an everyday outfielder. Domonic Brown could, but does the team have plans for him there or in left field? And John Mayberry, Jr. is basically a lost cause as well. His experiment as an everyday player is over.

    It should be interesting to see how this plays out, but it would be a surprise if Victorino isn't traded. Well, at least for me. But if he does stay, it's almost a bigger bet that he's not wearing Phillies pinstripes next season.

Placido Polanco Will Either Be Traded or Benched

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    There's been no rebound for Placido Polanco. Just the same old, same old.

    Polanco has been as ineffective at the plate as ever (at least, that's what we've come to see from him). He's hitting just .266, and that's going downward by the day. His .653 OPS isn't nice to look at, either.

    The only contribution Polanco can offer is defense, but if he can't match it with offense, then he has little value for the Phillies anymore. If he can't hit, he shouldn't play.

    There are teams out there who could look for defense at the hot corner, and Polanco's got that. While the chances of a trade happening are slim to none, it could happen, though it'd mainly be for salary relief for the Phillies. They really wouldn't get much in return.

    If he's not shipped out of town by the end of the month, I wouldn't be surprised to see Mike Fontenot or Ty Wigginton get more playing time than Polanco at third. They've been better at the plate, and though both are liabilities defensively, offense takes precedence over defense right now. Polanco will be benched. It's just a matter of time.

    If Polanco isn't benched, I don't know what'll happen. Maybe he'll be placed on trade waivers. Maybe he'll be outright released. It's possible, and if he doesn't get better or attract interest, maybe it's the most likely option for the veteran.

The Phillies Will Make a Run at the Second Wild Card...

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    In recent years, the Phillies are known for being a second-half team. While their first halves in past years have been good, their second halves have been great, and it's propelled them to division titles for five straight years.

    However, the Phillies have never had to make up as much ground as they need to now. They're 14 games back of the division-leading Washington Nationals, and that doesn't look like it's changing anytime soon.

    The Phillies do have some hope left, though not much. Roy Halladay will be back, and with Utley and Howard here to stay, it should be an interesting second half to watch, much moreso than the first.

    Without Victorino bringing the team down offensively, there's a glimmer of hope that the team can bring its hitting up again. Not that Domonic Brown, John Mayberry, Jr. or a rotation without Cole Hamels will be successful. But there's a chance.

    This team will surprise baseball by emerging out of the NL East cellar and will make a run to reach the second wild card. It's their most realistic aspiration at this point. The division-titles streak is likely to end.

    But will it happen?

...but Like the Seasons of the Early 2000s, They Will Fall Just Short

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    At least it's not the Astros beating them out.

    The Phillies are not the team to beat this year. It was World Series or bust, but it looks as though it might be major bust this year.

    It's not all the team's fault. Injuries are unfortunate, and being without Utley, Howard and Halladay for long stretches of time will take its toll. Cliff Lee and Vance Worley being hurt didn't help, either.

    The bullpen has also been atrocious, and there's the front office to blame for that. While Jonathan Papelbon has performed admirably as the team's closer, he hasn't been given enough opportunities to make saves. He's also not worth the $50 million he's being paid.

    And that mismanagement of money left the Phillies unable to add any other complimentary pieces, both on the bench and bullpen. It's also left them unable to acquire a player at the deadline who could help solve the team's woes.

    It's been Charlie Manuel to blame as well. He's used Papelbon unwillingly, which isn't what he'd paid to do. He also used Chad Qualls too much, more than any other reliever on this team. Let's just say he wasn't the right choice anymore to be the go-to guy. And his other decisions from the bullpen have been questionable at times.

    It's a team-wide mess this season, but there's no use pretending anymore. 2012 just isn't the Phillies' year. And though there will be a run trying to persuade fans that there's still a chance, if there is one, it's extremely small. It's not like the last day of the 2011 season happens every year.