The National League East has become one of the best divisions in baseball.
That may be because of their age. The Phillies were the second-oldest team in baseball in 2012, behind only the Yankees.
However, with the pitching staff the Phillies have assembled, you can never truly count them out. The unforeseen circumstances that arose in 2012 (i.e Cliff Lee winless through June, Roy Halladay with a 4.49 ERA) are unlikely to repeat themselves, as the Phillies look to start fresh and—most importantly—healthy.
Health is a major factor in how the aging Phillies will fare in 2013.
So, what are the top reasons to believe the Phillies' veterans have one more run left in them?
As I eluded to, the Phillies have arguably the best rotation in baseball. One that includes arguably the best pitcher in baseball in Roy Halladay, someone capable of carrying an entire team.
In 2012, Halladay struggled through nagging injuries all season. In May, he was sent to the disabled list with right shoulder soreness for 6-8 weeks. His fastball wasn’t moving, his velocity was down, and he was relying too much on his off-speed pitches. He went on to post an 11-8 record for the year after missing a big chunk of games. He made just 25 starts, his fewest since 2005.
He threw only 156.1 innings after pitching upwards of 220 innings in the six seasons prior, and his 4.49 ERA was the highest in his big-league career when pitching more than 68 innings in a season.
But, this is Roy Halladay we’re talking about. A two-time Cy Young winner, including one with Philadelphia. “Doc” is the main force behind this pitching staff, and the success of this team lies heavily on his shoulders. Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. said about Halladay,
“He's doing well, but we don't know what kind of Doc we're going to get until Doc's down firing in Spring Training. But he's feeling pretty good so far."
If he is healthy for the length of the season, the workhorse could be the spark the Phillies need. If Bill James' projections are correct, Halladay will throw 230 innings this season with a 3.21 ERA, numbers the Phillies will be more than happy with.
Cliff Lee had excellent numbers in 2012, if you don’t look at his 6-9 record.
His problem was lack of run support. Lee had a 3.16 ERA, only surrendering 74 earned runs in 211 innings. He also had 15 no-decisions, due in part to the bullpen’s inability to hold a lead.
The Phillies have upgraded their lineup and should be healthy heading into Opening Day, which should bode well for the success of Lee.
He doesn’t need to do anything differently than what he did last year, but he has to hope his teammates can give him some aid, so that he's not forced to pitch a shutout every outing.
Ryan Howard has suffered multiple injuries the past few seasons. In his final at-bat of 2011 Howard tore his Achilles tendon, and spent months rehabbing before playing his first game of 2012 in July.
With the Achilles injury, it was clear that Howard wasn’t 100-percent healthy at any point last season. His numbers were sub-par (albeit in a short season), as he hit only 14 home runs and drove in 56 runs while batting a dismal .219.
At the end of last season, Howard broke a toe after dropping a lead pipe on his foot in the on-deck circle. However, at the beginning of the offseason, Amaro remarked that Howard had begun offseason training which was already showing results in November.
Although it will take some time for Howard to be back to 100-percent healthy, he is plenty capable of producing just enough for the Phillies this year, say 25 homers and 85 RBI.
Don't expect Jimmy Rollins to lead this team in home runs and RBI this year, as he was called on to be the centerpiece for run production last year.
With a full offseason of workouts under his belt, Howard will be expected to be a major force in the middle of the lineup and live up to his contract. He signed a five-year, $125 million extension in 2010.
It’s not set in stone, and Howard could easily re-injure his fragile ankles, but if all goes well, Howard will play a big part in the success (or failure) of the Phillies.
Due to bad knees, Chase Utley has missed substantial amounts of time over the past two seasons. He played in only 83 games last season with just 301 at bats.
It's unrealistic to think Utley can play in all 162 games, but the expectation is for Utley to get at least 500 at-bats this season.
Utley is entering a contract year, and historically players have performed better than their average in those years, on their way to earning big paydays. Utley will be no different. Reports are encouraging, and show that Utley is on track to be ready for Opening Day. He is involved in baseball activity five times a week.
The Phillies will have to work with Utley to make sure his knees don't fail him as the season progresses, as well as increase his durability. An injury-free season for Utley will go a long way towards the success of this team. Along with Howard, he is the backbone to the Phillies' offense.
I know I may sound like I'm repeating myself, but the problems for the Phillies have been injuries to key players, so health is a major factor if the Phillies wish to fight for the playoffs in 2013.
Utley won't be the same player he was five years ago, but like Howard, if he can put up numbers that he is capable of, somewhere around 20 homers and 70 RBI at least, then the Phillies' season can't be all bad.
With the addition of Mike Adams in the eighth-inning role, the Phillies bullpen has become that much better.
Barely able to hold a lead after seven innings a year ago, Adams adds some much-needed depth behind veteran closer Jonathan Papelbon.
Papelbon was outstanding last year, converting 38 of 42 save opportunities in the first year of a four-year, $50 million contract. That was good for third in the National League in saves.
As Antonio Bastardo just avoided arbitration, and with Mike Stutes slated for a bullpen role, the Phillies' bullpen issue has been addressed. They should be able to provide their starters with some wins this year.
With a rotation including Halladay, Lee and Cole Hamels, it wouldn't be surprising to see a lot of seven-inning starts, with just Adams and Papelbon bridging the gap to victories.
If everything goes right and injuries aren't a big issue in 2013, expect the Phillies to compete for the division title and a playoff run once again. And that's a big IF.
They need production from the middle of their order, an area filled with veterans. Newly acquired third baseman Michael Young is sure to help, and with a healthy Howard, Utley and Rollins, runs should come early and often.
New Phillie and potential leadoff hitter Ben Revere knows how to get on base, which will help the heart of the order with plenty of opportunities to drive in runs.
One of their biggest problems a year ago was lack of scoring. They scored a total of 684 runs, good for eighth-best in the National League and 19th in the majors.
The core of this Phillies team may be broken up very soon, with highly touted prospects ready to take their place. That leaves one last season for the aging stars of this team to come together and prove that they can still compete at a high level.
With the talent in the NL East, the Phillies will be underdogs in a division that they've owned for the better part of a decade.