In his short tenure as manager, Ryne Sandberg has used a different lineup almost every night.
For Sandberg, this is his chance to really learn the personalities, strengths and weaknesses of his players. He is learning through experience which players are best suited in which roles and this, of course, includes the order of the lineup.
And while Sandberg has been working with role players and guys who might not even be around next year, his Opening Day lineup is hopefully going to be the one he has to work with for all of the 2014 season. Ryan Howard is expected back, and his inclusion obviously shakes up the lineup.
But will Howard return to his cleanup role or has Domonic Brown locked that down? And what about leadoff—is there really only one player suited for that role? Also, will Sandberg break up his lefties and have Darin Ruf hit in between Howard and Brown?
The first-year manager will have all of these questions to answer, but to help him out, here is the lineup that I expect to see take the field on Opening Day. From what the numbers show, this lineup looks to be particularly productive and has a lot of potential if all goes to form.
Based on this season and expectations for next, here is the lineup the Phillies should open the season with.
Of all of the players the Phillies have, Ben Revere is the best suited to hit in the leadoff spot. He has absolutely no power and no illusions about being a home run hitter. And while given his speed, Revere should hit more doubles; he is a threat to get to second almost every time he reaches base.
When at his best, Revere is a slap bunt, singles hitter that is capable of stealing 40-50 bases. Like many others on this roster though, he does need to work on his walks and getting on base more. Hitting .300 like he did this season is a huge help to OBP obviously, but Revere's asset as a leadoff hitter would only increase if he found other ways to reach base.
As it is though, Revere is a decent option to hit leadoff and should get on base enough to get the ball rolling for this offense. One hundred runs may not be out of the question for Revere in 2014, especially considering he has a wealth of power hitters behind him.
Deciding to hit Jimmy Rollins second is not a decision that was made lightly. In fact, he could very well find himself hitting near the bottom of the lineup if he continues to struggle like he did in 2013.
That said, I think when the Opening Day roster is announced that Rollins will be hitting second. Over the course of his career, Rollins has spent minimal time hitting second. In fact it wasn't until this season when Revere took over the leadoff role that Rollins began to routinely hit behind him.
And while Rollins did struggle mightily in this role, there is a good reason to have him hit second. Rollins, if he goes back to playing the way Ryne Sandberg hopes, is best utilized as a run scorer, not a run producer. Rollins also does not hit into too many double plays and is still a threat to steal a base.
Plus the saying still stands that the Phillies have a much better record when Rollins scores a run than when he doesn't. At the bottom of the lineup, it makes it much more difficult for Rollins to score.
Chase Utley is having a renaissance season in 2013 and has shown that his knees may not be as much of a problem as one once thought. And the hope then, is that in 2014, Utley can return to the heart of the lineup as what looks to be a very powerful threesome hitting third, fourth and fifth.
Utley has the ability to score runs and knock in runs as in his best years, he managed 100 runs and 100 RBI. Obviously Utley will probably never touch those numbers again, but 80 and 80 is not unreasonable. It will be up to Rollins and Revere to get on base in order for Utley to get those RBI though.
Still able to hit home runs and doubles as well as get on base at a pretty decent rate, there is no place Utley is better suited to hit in this lineup.
And out of all of the players, this one is probably the biggest no-brainer.
After the season that Domonic Brown had, it makes it very difficult to say that he shouldn't be hitting cleanup. But here is the thing, the Phillies are paying Ryan Howard a king's ransom, much more than Brown, to do exactly that.
So despite Sandberg's relationship with Brown, I can't see a scenario when if healthy, Howard does not at least begin the season as the cleanup hitter. Of course if Brown builds off of the 2013 season the way the Phillies are hoping and Howard continues to struggle, it would not be surprising to see Sandberg make the change.
As it is though, Howard is this team's main source of production and power. Even in a down year home run wise, Howard still managed to drive in 43 runs while playing in just 80 games. If at his best, Howard should drive in at least 100 runs and optimistically hit over 35 home runs.
But even if he hits just 30 with 85 RBI, Howard still is an asset to have hitting cleanup, not fifth or anywhere else for that matter.
And then there is Domonic Brown.
As I mentioned, it is hard not to put Brown back in the 4-hole where he has been so productive this year. But Brown has also shown that he can produce hitting fifth or even sixth, which if the Phillies choose to break up their lefties, might just happen.
Brown is batting .277 in 137 at-bats hitting fourth, .279 in 129 at-bats hitting fifth and .278 in 158 at-bats hitting sixth. So clearly, Brown has shown a good deal of versatility when it comes to where he hits in the lineup.
With Howard hitting fourth and Brown fifth, the Phillies have a very solid heart of the lineup with those two and Utley. And if all produce to the level they are capable of, this threesome is right on par with what the Phillies had in 2008 with Utley, Howard and Pat Burrell. The 2014 lineup then has the potential with these three, to once again score and drive in a lot of runs.
Darin Ruf has come a long way from where he was last season and has shown that he can be a good hitter with a decent enough glove in the outfield.
For that reason and maybe most importantly, the fact that Ruf is right-handed, he will have the opportunity to be the team's everyday outfielder next year. And with that, having him hit fifth or sixth, again depending on if Sandberg wants to break up the trio of lefties, makes perfect sense.
Ruf spent a good portion of this season hitting behind Brown, and it has proven to be beneficial. Ruf's power threat has helped Brown to get better pitches, and it has also prevented opposing teams from pitching around Brown. Clearly, both young hitters have benefited from this situation, and in 2014, it only makes sense to have it carry over.
So whether it is Brown then Ruf or Ruf then Brown, the Phillies have two young powerhouses that can produce runs and that work well as a tandem. And it is certainly nice to be able to pencil in one of these guys near the bottom of the lineup.
Cody Asche has batted sixth mostly this year, but like the rest of the lineup, he will likely be moved down one step to accommodate the return of Howard.
Asche has been pretty good in his rookie year and with Michael Young departing to free agency, should become the everyday third baseman in 2014. That being the case, Asche will have the opportunity to show off the bat that made him a top minor league prospect.
Having him hit seventh is probably the best place for the young Asche. There are less expectations than him hitting at the top of the lineup, and ultimately this should be helpful to his continued development.
Assuming that the Phillies bring back Carlos Ruiz in 2014, he will likely find himself hitting eighth in the lineup where most catchers do. Now, if the Phillies were to go after a different catcher, it could change the lineup, but with Ruiz, having him hit eighth makes the most sense.