Coming off a franchise- and league-best 102-win season in 2011, the Philadelphia Phillies certainly have a lot to feel good about.
However, an early and unexpected exit from the postseason has left an overwhelming sour taste in the mouths of the Phillies Nation. The team has undeniably been built around the starting rotation, and they performed admirably, if not spectacularly from start to finish. But the offense simply lacked consistency all year long. Luckily for the Phils, over the course of the season, the lineup was able to muster enough run support to complement the exemplary efforts of the pitching staff.
The offensive shortcomings are something that must be addressed. And who knows? Maybe the answer to a poor offense is even better pitching. Regardless, right now it doesn't look as if Ruben Amaro Jr. intends to make a big splash in either the free agent or trade market. This means that the boost will have to come in house—something this group of guys is perfectly capable of doing.
Chase Utley is the lifeblood of this team. His fire, all-out effort and passion for the game ignite both his teammates and the fan base. However, a .259 batting average and a .344 on-base percentage aren't the kind of numbers that invoke confidence and excitement in one of the team's marquee players.
Maybe he's on his way over the hill. Utley is on the wrong side of 30, and has faced a few pretty severe injuries. Still, he looks prepared to play a more substantial amount of games this year while now being closer, if not at, full health. He may not be the MVP-caliber hitter he was from 2005-2009, but it's hard to believe that he has regressed this much this quickly.
Utley is bound to have a bounce-back year. With Ryan Howard possibly missing time to start the year with a torn Achilles, Utley is going to have to be a major run-producer early on, get on base at a higher clip and, most importantly, stay in the lineup. As he gets more healthy, he's poised to do all of these things.
Man, what a surprise John Mayberry was last year. Two years ago, he looked like a nice bat off the bench against a lefty. Even last year, he fought for time in the lineup with both Domonic Brown and Ben Fransisco, mostly due to his struggles against right-handed pitching (he hit .250 off righties last year). Now, he may potentially be mired in a timeshare with Laynce Nix and possibly even Raul Ibañez.
I say it's time that Mayberry gets his name penciled in to the lineup on a daily basis. Last year, Mayberry hit .273 with 16 bombs and 49 RBIs in only 104 games. The dude got it done. The last guy I discussed, Chase Utley, hit .259 with 11 homers and 44 RBIs in 103 games.
One of the most memorable moments of the season was Mayberry's walk-off RBI single on opening day. He consistently came up with the big hits last year, and if Charlie Manuel gives him his cuts, he's going to continue to blossom this year.
Another surprise performer last season, Michael Stutes became a huge part of the Phillies' upstart bullpen.
Stutes came out of the gates extremely hot last year. For a relatively unknown guy, Stutes mowed down hitters to the tune of a 2.89 ERA in 13 appearances in May. The bite on his slider was electric, and he looked more than comfortable in late inning situations.
However, come July and especially August, hitters started to figure Stutes out. It also looked like he lost some confidence in himself, and he began to struggle to keep runners stranded. He picked things back up in September, but he was lit up in his one brief playoff appearance.
Stutes is a young guy with good stuff out of the bullpen. His flashes of brilliance throughout 2011 show promise for his further development in to an even bigger part of the team in 2012.
We have to hope that this is the year right? By including him on this list, I am by no means saying that he needs to be an everyday Major League player. On the contrary, I believe he is best off honing his skills in Lehigh Valley for the year while the aforementioned John Mayberry Jr. and Laynce Nix man the outfield alongside Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence. Regardless, Brown still hasn't hit his stride as was expected of him over the last few years.
Of course, Brown is a freakish athlete. He is 6-foot-5, 200 pounds, and he is capable of excelling in just about every aspect of the game. The problem is, he's a raw talent. Promising or not, raw talent isn't going to get it done at the major league level. With such an incredible tool set at his disposal, Brown should take another year in Triple-A to iron out some of the kinks in his swing and improve on his defense.
If he can fill these voids in his game, watch out.
Is it really even fair to ask any more of this guy? He might be a third starter by default, but a normal team doesn't have the No. 5 vote getter in the Cy Young race at the three spot in the rotation. I think that in 2012, Cole Hamels gets even better.
With more consistent run support, Hamels should be an 18- to 20-win starter. As he continues to develop his cutter, Hamels should be a lock for 200 strikeouts in the near future.
He turns 28 this month, and he is entering his prime. This is a scary thought for hitters around the league. Don't be surprised to see Hamels challenging Cliff Lee and the good Doctor for supremacy in the rotation as early as this season.