It's that time of year again.
Time to brush off the gloves, shine up the cleats, and head on down to Arizona or Florida to begin Spring Training. And with the beautiful migration south to train comes the incessant "season previews" that try to predict what's going to happen that year—and almost always fail.
This is one of those previews. I aim to post 29 more before the Red Sox take on the A's in Japan on March 25 to open the 2008 Major League Baseball season. It's going to be a long, fun season, and one thing is for sure—nobody knows what will happen.
In lieu of making my actual predictions now, I'm going to wait until I preview all 30 teams just so I can get a feel of what they can do this season. So, if you were looking for a prediction to run home and tell your friends "OMG THIS GUY NAMED JJ PICKED THE ORIOLES TO WIN THE DIVISION WE'RE GOING TO THE WORLD SERIES!!!!one!!!one" well, sorry, you're out of luck. (And, to keep my credibility, I don't think the Orioles are going to finish with less than 100 losses this year)
Manager: Charlie Manuel
Arrivals: SP Kris Benson, SS Eric Bruntlett, SP Chad Durbin, 3B Pedro Feliz, OF Geoff Jenkins, RP Brad Lidge, RP J.C. Romero, OF So Taguchi
* Denotes that the player is still a free agent as of Feb. 13
Departures: RP Antonio Alfonseca, C Rod Barajas, OF Michael Bourn, SP Freddy Garcia, RP Geoff Geary, 2B Tadahito Iguchi, SP Jon Lieber, SP Kyle Lohse*, RP Julio Mateo*, RP Jose Mesa*, OF Aaron Rowand
Offseason grade: A
Starting rotation: While bringing in Brad Lidge to close was huge for the Phillies, the biggest move they made in the offseason came internally when Brett Myers was moved back into the starting rotation. Even with Johan Santana pitching for the Mets, I would contend the Phillies have the most complete starting rotation in the NL East with a core of Myers, Cole Hamels, Kyle Kendrick, and Jamie Moyer. The Phillies easily could pull 65-70 wins from those four starters, and either Kris Benson or Adam Eaton should fill out the final spot, barring any dominant spring performances from Chad Durbin, Shane Youman, Scott Mathieson, or any one of the other young Phillies pitchers who started for Philadelphia last year.
Starting rotation grade: B+
Bullpen: It seems like year in and year out, the Achilles' Heel for the Phillies has been their bullpen. This year, however, could really be different. The signing of J.C. Romero gives the Phillies a very reliable left-handed setup man to compliment Tom Gordon and the addition of Lidge gives Charlie Manuel's bullpen a stout closer. Ryan Madson is a very serviceable 6th and 7th inning reliever, and Chad Durbin could contribute as a long reliever if he doesn't win a job out of Spring Training. While bullpens may be the hardest thing to predict in baseball, the Phillies appear to be pretty well set up in that department.
Bullpen grade: B+
Lineup: It's hard to argue that the Phillies don't have one of the premier lineups in the National League considering Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard have won the last two NL MVPs. And you know what's scary? It's entirely possible that Chase Utley could make that three MVPs in three years for the Phillies. Utley only played in 132 games last year but still hit .322 with 22 home runs and 103 RBI. However, it is not just the trio of Rollins, Utley, and Howard that will make the Phillies lineup fearsome. Shane Victorino could easily hit .290 and steal 40 bases from the two-hole and Pat Burrell, Geoff Jenkins, and Pedro Feliz all should have success in power and RBI numbers hitting behind Howard. All in all, this is a lineup that will be tough to slow down during a pennant race.
Lineup grade: A-
Bench: The addition of So Taguchi was a big help to the Phillies bench, as he could see some significant playing time against lefthanders in place of Geoff Jenkins. Taguchi hit .314 against southpaws in 2007 compared to Jenkins, who hit a robust .215 against lefties. Greg Dobbs provides a solid bat off the bench, and Eric Bruntlett is a suitable backup middle infielder in terms of defense if Rollins or Utley was to go down during the year. Apparently, Wes Helms is still relevant and could provide some pop in a pinch if Howard or Feliz needs a day off. Chris Coste is a very good backup catcher in case Carlos Ruiz runs into problems during the year. Overall, the Phillies' bench isn't great, but it's passable.
Bench grade: B
The Phillies have a rock-solid team with no apparent weaknesses going into the season. There's no doubt that they will be contending for a playoff spot into September, forcing Philadelphians to take out their frustrations on Donovan McNabb (again) or just to drown their sorrows at Paddy's Irish Pub. Just watch out for the Vietnamese guys playing poker in the basement.
Next up: The New York Mets. 1 down, 29 to go.