As many of you know and a lot of you don’t, I follow the Phillies more than just about anybody except for their beat writers. The beauty is, I follow the games as much as the beat writers and then read every game recap from every pundit around. Here is my take on this season and the upcoming off season based on my own observations and collected thoughts from the lucky few that actually get paid to do what I do for fun.
A year of disappointment.
Isn’t fun to call 81-81 disappointing? I was born in 1978 so I don’t remember the World Series’ in 1980 or 1983. My first real Phillies memories come to life somewhere around ’84 or ’85. Mike Schmidt was my hero, but I would have been equally awestruck to meet Juan Samuel or Von Hayes. I watched every game I possibly could every year and learned to live with disappointment. I cried when Mike Schmidt retired. I was sad that my idol was never going to play again, but just as sad that any hope of seeing this team ever win a World Series was gone. I knew, even at the age of 11 that the Phillies were the losing-est franchise in professional sports history and there was simply no way they could ever win without a player of his caliber. 1993 brought magic to the air that Joe Carter was kind enough to snuff out with a single swing of the bat in Game 6. I cried that night, too.
I think we were all taken by surprise in 2007 when the Phillies slid into the playoffs and maybe equally as surprised when they were STEAMROLLED by the Rockies. To the Rockies credit, nothing except the Boston RedSox were going to get in there way. 2008 brought memories and a pure joy that may never be equalled. 2009 was to be expected, 2010 was a let down, 2011 blew and this year…well, let’s get real about it. 81-81 is better than most years in my life.
How did this team go from seemingly perennial contender to 3rd place and an all out scramble to not have a losing season? (this is where the memories go away and the real baseball talk starts)
Injuries. No need to elaborate (though, we will).
Pitching. Let’s clear up a few things that you may not be aware of or are afraid to admit to yourself.
Coming into this season:
Cole Hamels had never won more than 14 games in a season. God bless him for eclipsing that magic number this year. He is a bona fide #1 starter and after signing a new contract can relax a bit. Let’s hope he stays healthy. Unfortunately, he is over due for a real zinger of an injury.
Roy Halladay was another year older. I don’t understand how a pitcher is undoubtedly the most dominate pitcher in all of baseball one year and completely irrelevant the next. Maybe we can answer the question after we talk about his rotation mate…Cliff Lee
Cliff Lee has a track record of terrible inconsistency from year to year. He was 5-8 and spent considerable time on the DL in 2007. He won the AL Cy Young award in 2008 with a 22-3 record and then posted win totals of 14 in 2009, 12 in 2010 before winning 17 in 2011. This year he was 6-9. The reporters who take a quick glace at his stat line will say that he pitched phenomenally this year and a win-loss record isn’t indicative of actual performance. Ill say this. To a point, they are correct, but I watched every one of his starts this year and the truth is, he DID NOT keep his team in the games. Sure, he had horrible run support, but the Phillies signed Cliff Lee to win games, period. If he isn’t getting run support, he is supposed to have the talent to throw a shut out. This is the big leagues and he’s making big league money. He needed to step up and didn’t.
Vance Worley was a rookie last year and the fact is, the “book” got out on him quick. He’ll have a chance to prove himself again in spring training, but don’t expect to see him the in 2013 rotation long, if it all.
Kyle Kendrick. I really don’t have much to say about him. I’ve watched 90% of his career pitches and the bottom line is, I don’t like him. You never know what you’re going to get. He was great the last 2 months of the season, but every single one of you never expected it to last. I read that after Halladay arrived with the Phillies that Kendrick tried to mimic Halladay’s work outs and routines. I think he has always tried to hard to be other people and not just be himself. Until he figures out who he is, we’ll never know and we’ll never know who is going to show up to pitch. I say trade him. I hope he does well in his career, it just doesn’t need to be in Philly.
How do you compete for a pennant when you don’t have your perennial all star first and second basemen? You don’t. There’s reason enough for why this team was .500 this year. I should have typed that first and ended the blog after 25 words. Sure, it will be different next year. Barring off season injuries, Utley and Howard will start game one next year, but what will the Phillies get from them?
Howard – Better defense than last year, which was better than the year before. He still can’t make the throw to 2nd for a 3-6-3 or 3-6-1 double play, but he digs more balls than ever and although he has the range of an electric car with half of a charge, he still gets to more balls than he did when he first came up. His offense should be all star quality. 35/120/.265 is quite possible. He still can’t hit a slider at his ankles, even though he’ll swing at it every time and he is going to strike out at least 150 times. Here’s a little trivia. Can you name the MLB all time leader in career (batting) strikeouts? Reggie Jackson. Through his first 9 years in the bigs Mr. October struck out 1129 times. The Big Piece has struck out 1306 times in his first 9 years. Jackson struck out 2597 times total in his career. Howard is well past half of the way there in less than half of the time. Looks like a career milestone record might be in jeopardy.
The rest of the team…
Outfield. What does it matter this off season? There are no “can’t miss” free agent outfielders available. The most widely discussed names for the Phillies to pursue are Michael Bourne and are you ready for this?? Shane Victorino. Bourne is old and would be on his second stint with the Phillies. He still has speed, but no power. Victorino set career lows in almost every offensive catergory this year. Almost everyone expects him to rebound next year, but does his salary or that of Bourne outweigh the potential shortcomings of Domonic Brown, John Mayberry, Darren Ruf or Nate Schierholtz? I say yes. The veteran salaries don’t bring enough talent to the table to keep me from going with a young outfield. Unfortunately, Brown and Mayberry did not prove themselves this year. The worst part is, they didn’t disprove themselves either and Ruf did the worst thing possible for everyone involved when he lit up big league pitching for 11 straight games.
Here’s what I think happens. The Phillies will sign Michael Bourne. Mayberry gets left field all to himself, and Brown and Schierholtz platoon right. The second any of these guys get hurt, Ruf gets called up and never goes back down. More or less, the outfield will still suck. There is going to be inconsistent offensive power and speed, but the defense will be suspect.
3rd base. BLAH! What do you do? There are exactly zero worthwhile free agents. Polanco will not be in Philly next year. What to do, what to do?? Utley playing 3rd was never the answer. Carlos Ruiz actually has played 3rd base at the major league level. Hmmmm… Why isnt anybody else talking about this possibility? He is an aging catcher that showed MVP caliber offense this year. Why not move him to 3rd and let Kratz catch? The rotation loves throwing to Eric Kratz and he has an arm reminiscent of Benito Santiago.
Ok, so thats never going to happen. Utley isn’t moving to 3rd, Freddy Galvis isn’t playing 3rd and Michael Martinez playing there solves zero problems. The best bet in free agency is Kevin Youkilus. Sigh.
18 Pitchers threw for the bullpen this year. I have no predictions until the last day of Spring Training 2013.
Coaching. Say goodbye to everyone except Charlie, Juan and Mick. Say hello to Ryne Sandberg. Apparently he has the talent to be the heir apparent, while also coaching 1st base, being the hitting coach and bench coach all in one. He’ll probably throw BP and hit Fungos as well. I jest of course, but he will be with the big club next year and will be the manager in 2014. The phillies are desperate for a quality hitting coach, but no names from the organization come to mind. Schmidt has been working as a special adviser during spring training but don’t expect him to join the club full time. John Kruk would be a great addition, but I can’t see him leaving the comfort of ESPN and the craft services. I’ll be curious to see who gets added.
***It was just reported that Sandberg has accepted the position of 3rd base coach / infield instructor. See, he will be hitting Fungos!!! Also, Samuel moves to first and Mick Billmeyer goes from Bullpen coach to Catching coach. Rich Dubee stays on as pitching coach. That surprised me a tinge***
That leaves the bench players. Does it matter who is on the bench? Apparently not when Lance Nix and Ty Wiggington could keep a job all year. All I can say is I hope Pete Orr earns a spot. He is my favorite player that can’t seem to keep a gig with the big club. He is explosive, maybe the fastest guy in the league and has collected quite a few clutch hits. Oh…he plays 3rd base, too. Call him up. I’d take 162 games of Pete Orr over Youkilis any day.
Wrap it up.
The Phillies need another starting pitcher, a right handed power bat or two, a 3rd baseman and exactly 1 all star caliber outfielder. They’ll have to also find a hitting coach. The team has all of the potential to be a contender next year, but winning 102 games isn’t in the cards. This is a 90-92 win team that is going to be competing for a wild card spot. Not the division. The division belongs to the Nationals for another year or two (if anybody has been paying attention to me in the last 2 years, I’ve been telling you to watch out for the Nats…). However, if the 2013 club only wins 85 and you’re feeling disappointed, just think of the late 90’s or early 2000’s. You’ll feel stupid for feeling disappointed.