Ryan Howard and the Phils need to bounce back.
The 2012 season was a difficult one for the Philadelphia Phillies, but if some of their key contributors can step up their game, this season could find the Phillies right back on track.
Not having superstars Ryan Howard and Chase Utley for a long period is a big reason why the Phillies struggled. When those two returned, however, they just could not produce the way that Philly fans have grown accustomed to.
After an offseason in which the Phillies made some interesting moves, the team will look to improve from its 81–81 record last season.
For that to happen, some of the most important pieces to this squad need to put forth drastically improved performances in 2013. The Phillies absolutely need some players to step up this coming season.
Howard struggled last season after he returned from injury.
It was clear that Ryan Howard was not playing at 100 percent last season, and his numbers reflected that. Howard did his best to help out the team, but he will significantly need to work hard to regain his leg strength and get back to his power-hitting form.
Howard suffered an Achilles tendon injury during the final out of the Phillies' season-ending loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2011 National League Division Series.
He came back to play 71 games for the Phillies in 2012, but could not get his offense going. His .219 batting average was the lowest of the slugger's career, both in the minors and majors.
Though it was courageous of Howard to return to the Phillies' lineup, his lack of production severely hurt the team. He had an on-base percentage of just .295 and a slugging percentage of .423, both extremely lower than his career averages.
Despite missing more than half of the season, Howard still struck out more than any other Phillies player, with the exception of John Mayberry Jr. He struck out 99 times in 2012, something that Howard needs to improve on to revamp his game.
In order for Philadelphia to compete with the Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves this season, Howard will need to come back with a new and improved game.
Utley also had a tough time coming off his injury.
Though Ryan Howard had to overcome a troubling leg injury, the biggest of Philadelphia's worries this season may be Chase Utley's knee problems.
The second baseman missed 79 games last season, while nursing his aching knees. Utley decided to go through therapy instead of surgery to return to the team midway through last season.
Utley's numbers have been far lower in the past two seasons than his career averages. He hit .259 in 2011 and followed that up with a .256 average this past season.
The knee problems that Utley faces may actually have more of an effect on his fielding ability. Last year, he committed seven errors, while turning just 32 double plays.
It is obvious that his weak knees are playing a role in his declining performance.
Utley is entering the final season of his contract with the Phillies. It will be interesting to see how the fan favorite responds in 2013. For the Phillies to make a run in October, Utley will need to improve.
Brown needs to step up as the Phils' top outfielder.
The outfield for the Philadelphia Phillies poses the biggest questions for the team. They had a difficult time getting any production from outfielders last season.
There have been so many changes to the Phillies' outfield over the past few years. First Jayson Werth left for Washington, then Raúl Ibañez moved on to the New York Yankees and just last season Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence were traded away.
Domonic Brown now has a huge opportunity to show Philadelphia what he can do. With a weak outfield in 2013, Brown needs to step up and have a break-through season.
Many Philly fans expected the young lefty to blossom into a great player, but thus far he has not been impressive.
Brown struggled last season hitting just .235 in only 56 games for Philadelphia.
Brown has been bouncing back-and-forth between the Phillies and their minor league teams. He needs to step up as the team's top outfielder and get on base much more.
He has struggled to get in the groove in the MLB and has yet to make a splash. Brown has hit just .236 during his three seasons with the Phillies, playing less than half of the season in the big leagues each year.
Brown could finally break through in 2013, and it would make all the difference for the Phillies. Brown needs to prove to the organization that he can be an everyday baseball player.
Halladay is crucial to Philadelphia's success.
After the Phillies signed Cliff Lee, many baseball fans considered their starting rotation as one of the best. Last season, that was not true at all, and a big part of it was Roy Halladay's issues.
Just like Howard and Utley, Halladay faced injury last season. Unfortunately the ace struggled with a sore shoulder, which forced him to miss several starts during the heart of the 2012 campaign.
Halladay had an uncharacteristically high ERA last season, and just did not produce at the high level he has played at over his career. He went 11–8 with a 4.49 ERA in 25 starts in 2012.
Now approaching age 36, it would seem as though Halladay's arm may be starting to get tired. An injury to his throwing shoulder is not a good sign for the Phillies. They must be cautious with the legendary veteran.
For the Phillies to get back to fighting form, Halladay will need to be more like he was during his first two seasons with the club. This season will be a huge test for Roy Halladay.
A strong bullpen is the key to a World Series trophy.
Oftentimes, teams that have the strongest bullpens make the most noise in the playoffs. Holding a lead and closing out a game is no easy task for relief pitchers, but it is the key to success in baseball, especially in the playoffs.
The Phillies' bullpen was one of the weakest parts of the team in 2012. The unit held a 3.94 ERA, which was No. 21 in the entire league.
Many of their losses came at the hands of the relief pitchers for Philadelphia last season. The bullpen was responsible for 27 of the team's losses, which was the fifth-most in all of baseball.
Philadelphia used its bullpen far less than any other team last year. Its relief pitching accounted for 418.1 innings, last in the league.
The Phillies should not have to rely on Hamels, Lee and Halladay to throw more innings than they have to. The bullpen for the Phillies has to be much better in 2013.
If Philadelphia's relief pitching does not improve, then it will be very difficult for the Phillies to compete for a World Series championship.