The Phillies embark on the 2008 season, with largely the same roster they had when they ended the 2007 season at Coors Field after being swept by the Rockies. The Mets and Braves both made substantive additions to their rosters in the off-season and will challenge the Phillies for the division crown this year.
The old adage that pitching and defense wins games will prove to be very true for the Phillies this year. There is no question that the Phillies offense is one of the most prolific in the National League, with Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, reigning National League MVP Jimmy Rollins, and the enigmatic Pat Burrell in a contract season. That offense will overcome the pitching staff’s shortcomings, but will not get this team to the playoffs in one of the most competitive divisions in baseball.
The team’s 12-18-1 performance in the Grapefruit League included a stretch where they lost 9 of 11 games. This did little to reassure nervous fans after the addition of Johan Santana by the Mets and Tom Glavine by the Braves.
Cole Hamels and Brett Myers will be called upon to win between 15 and 20 games each at the top of the Phillies rotation. They will also have to control games and eat up innings, with the question marks through the rest of the rotation and in the bullpen. Nobody can expect Jamie
Moyer to repeat the success he showed last season at 44 years of age. The crafty 22 year veteran can be expected to give the team solid performances in the middle of the rotation and 10-12 wins as the number three starter. Moyer gives the team a consistent veteran presence who can impart his experience on younger pitchers while taking some pressure off what will likely be an overworked bullpen.
Kyle Kendrick is another pitcher who cannot be expected to repeat his 2007 rookie success. A young pitcher like Kendrick typically benefits from not having been seen by the rest of the hitters in the league. The league will have a year’s worth of tape to analyze as they try to figure out Kendrick in his second season. Kendrick’s 9.68 ERA during the Grapefruit League may have been a clear sign that the League has caught up to him. Kendrick was quoted in Philadelphia newspapers as saying the high ERA was a result of his trying to experiment with new pitches, and not that the league was catching up to him. Kendrick is entering only his second season in the major leagues and should be using Spring Training to make sure he is ready for the season, not experimenting with new pitches. If Kendrick was a veteran pitcher like Moyer, it would be easier to accept his experimentation and the resulting ERA.
Adam Eaton managed to win the fifth starting spot in the rotation almost by default. J.D. Durbin represented the main competitor to Eaton for the number five spot, and Durbin made the selection easy. Durbin’s 0-4 record and 11.57ERA earned him a demotion to Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Eaton was not much more impressive than Durbin, accumulating an 0-3 record and a 7.41ERA during the spring season. Expectations have to be low for the Phillies #1 (11th overall) draft pick in the 1996 draft coming off a 10-10 season where he amassed a 6.29ERA. Eaton should be expected to win less than 10 games for the club this year as injuries or replacement in the rotation when Kris Benson is ready to contribute should limit Eaton’s win total. Eaton could be a factor in the Phillies bullpen as a stabilizing presence in the sixth or seventh innings.
Even more disturbing for Phillies fans, though is the patchwork bullpen that has been assembled to hold leads late in games. Closer Brad Lidge will begin the season on the Disabled List, and
Lidge could go down as the next in a long line of Phillies closers who had their time in Philadelphia marred by injuries.
Think Mike Jackson.
Lidge has been wildly inconsistent for the Astros over the last two seasons, which may make Tom Gordon the team’s de facto closer. Gordon was another pitcher who was wildly inconsistent last season, and had a less than inspiring spring. Gordon racked up an 11.00ERA in 10 Grapefruit League appearances. The 40-year old right-hander is entering his twenty-second season after looking as though he was out of gas at points last year. Phillies fans shouldn’t count on him as being a reliable option who can close games out consistently.
The Mets will be looking to avenge last season’s collapse and the Braves will be looking to return to the glory of the mid-90’s. Both teams will be looking to take advantage of a Phillies team whose fate rests squarely with its pitching staff. Both the starters and bullpen will determine this team’s fate, but as the season starts, the expectation has to be that the Phils will be a third place team in the ultra-competitive NL East. The Phillies can win the division and make the wildcard this season, but as the pitching situation presently stands, they can only be expected to end the season a third place team.