5 Reasons to Be Optimistic for Philadelphia Phillies' 2014 Season
Monday, March 31 welcomed back baseball into the hearts of fans everywhere. In Philadelphia, while that is certainly the case, how much love fans will give back to the sport is a different story.
The Philadelphia Phillies were the worst team in all of the majors in spring training. Cole Hamels is hurt. The infield is old and—depending on the player—overpaid. And the team put this all together following their worst season since the turn of the century.
Fortunately there is always reason to be excited at the beginning of a new season. Even if expectations are low, the field production can always defy the odds.
Here are five reasons to be optimistic for the Phillies' 2014 season.
It Can't Get Any Worse, Right?
While the Phillies are not expected to win the NL East in 2014, there is still reason for optimism. And it's a very simple reason at that: The worst may have already occurred.
Spring training was a disaster for the Phillies. They went 9-17-3 and were without a doubt the worst team in the Grapefruit League and the entirety of Major League Baseball. The offense wasn't hitting, the pitching wasn't effective and the defense was so-so.
However, the regular season is yet another clean slate in a process that affords plenty of them. Spring games don't count for anything except bragging rights and potential standings in the regular season. The good news is that the Marlins—and maybe the Mets—should still be worse than the Phillies this year if the Phils don't put together a season like they hope.
The Entire Offense Is Healthy
For the first time in years, the Phillies enter the regular season without any offensive question marks…not of the injury variety, anyway.
Yes, Chase Utley was healthy to begin last year's spring training and played in a majority of last season's games. Ryan Howard, though, is a different story—he began the year healthy, only to see it derailed roughly halfway through. The Phillies hope that will change in 2014.
No public record exists of Utley or Howard complaining about any sort of ailment in spring training. While they will both still need their rest to remain healthy in 2014, their added presence on the field should lead to increased production. Utley is always a force, while Howard still has something left in the tank, evidenced by his home run off lefty Robbie Ross of the Texas Rangers on April 1.
Ben Revere is fully recovered from his foot fracture, Domonic Brown's Achilles' and knee haven't flared up and Carlos Ruiz is fine. Even if none of these guys hit as well as expected at the get-go, writing their names into the lineup on most days is encouraging.
The Pitching Injuries Aren't Overly Serious
It's a slight problem that Cole Hamels and Mike Adams are hurt to begin the 2014 season. Hamels has dealt with biceps tendinitis and shoulder fatigue, while Adams is finalizing his recovery from shoulder surgery last summer (per MLB.com).
The good news? Neither one is expected to miss much of 2014. Adams' timetable projects a mid-April return, while Hamels could very well be back leading the rotation by the end of the month. It could be a lot worse (see Atlanta Braves).
Adams still has the chance to make one year of his two-year contract valuable, while Hamels' return should immediately provide a much-needed spark to the starting pitching staff.
The Offensive Run Potential Still Exists
On March 31, Opening Day, the Phillies accomplished something it took them almost half of 2013 to do: score 13 runs or more in a game.
The team's firepower was spectacular. Granted, Texas Rangers starter Tanner Scheppers was not a formidable opponent on Monday, but the fact of the matter is that every Phillies starter notched at least one hit.
Ben Revere drove in three runs, while Cody Asche drove in two. And who can forget Jimmy Rollins' grand slam that gave him 200 home runs for his career?
The offense can still hit if necessary. Fourteen runs on 17 hits justifies that. It's a terrific start to the season, and it means that the Phillies can still contend with the best of them, even if it's not consistently.
The Second Wild Card
Only a few years ago, it was the Phillies who held the distinction of being NL East champions. While they're going on three years removed from being division champions, they still have a chance at the postseason.
It would be naive to say that the Phillies will absolutely be in the hunt for a wild-card spot. A 73-89 season in 2013 does not exactly provide sleeper status. But if all opportunities break in the Phillies' favor, they could find themselves as wild-card contenders.
Thanks to the implementation of the second wild card in each league two years ago, more teams have a shot at postseason glory. Even if it comes down to a one-game playoff, all it takes is one extra win and the Phillies would participate in true October baseball.
The Phillies do not need to be perfect, and they won't be. But if the team can stay healthy—and yes, that's a big if—they could put together a solid and possibly postseason-bound season.