Monday, March 31, 2008

2008 Phillies - Preview

With both of the Philly winter sports teams still vying for playoff berths, can it get any better than your NL East Champion Phillies getting ready to defend their title? Thousands of people across the Delaware Valley will be making up bullshit reasons to leave work or avoid responsibility in some way in order to catch the opener today. Will you be one of them?

And honestly, how could you NOT be one of them? This Phillies team is terribly difficult to dislike.

Afterall, last year's Phils overtook the choking New York Mets for the NL East title and did so with style and panache. NL MVP Jimmy Rollins, the shortstop and spiritual leader of the Phils, called the Phillies "the team to beat" and he made it happen. Former NL MVP and first baseman Ryan Howard had 47 homers and 137 RBI in what some folks considered to be an off year. Chase Utley, MVP-in-waiting on the Phils, hit a lusty .332 and proved himself to be good in the clutch, hitting .304 with runners in scoring position. Cole Hamels emerged as the staff ace, going 15 - 5, with 177 strikeouts. I could go on and on.....the ceiling on this team is incredibly high.

The real question for this year's edition of the Phils is the following: Can the Phillies repeat, given the improvements made by both the Mets and Braves in NL East?

To attempt to answer this question, I will use the format I used for last year's preview and give 5 reasons, for and against, the Phillies being able to repeat.

5 Reasons that the Phillies will absolutely repeat as NL East Champs:

1.) A full year of Brett Myers in the rotation: Moving Brett Myers back to the rotation makes sense in every way, and to be honest, he should have never been moved out of the rotation last year to begin with. The Phillies were incredibly lucky that the move of Myers to the bullpen did not blow up in their faces last year, when their rotation became a shambles with injuries to Freddy Garcia, Jon Lieber, Cole Hamels, etc. Myers has high-end pitching talent and that talent is best leveraged once every 5 days. He has the ability to be an ace on just about any staff.

2.) Expect big things from Pedro Feliz this year: The move in the offseason to add Pedro Feliz has made a very good infield even better. Over the course of his career, spent exclusively in hitter unfriendly San Francisco, Feliz never posted fewer than 20 homers and 70 RBIs. In Philadelphia, with the calibre of hitters in this lineup and the dimensions of the home park, I would not be shocked if Feliz hit 30 homers and approached 90 RBI. Despite the fact he strikes out a great deal and doesn't get on base very much, he has never slugged below .418. He is also very good defensively. This is a far cry from the Wes Helms/Abe Nunez/Greg Dobbs trifecta that we all lived with last year.

3.) Pat Burrell WILL hit consistently this year: This is Pat Burrell's free agent year; any thoughts of him not hitting should be abandoned. However distracted Burrell was in the past with "off-field" hobbies, baseball should have Burrell's full attention this year. A 40 home run year should not be ruled out.

4.) The Geoff Jenkins/Jayson Werth Platoon: The Phillies could not get Jayson Werth out of the lineup towards the end of the 2007 season, where he hit .298 in part-time duty. This includes the month of August last year, where Werth hit .414. Geoff Jenkins has 212 homeruns in 10 major league seasons and is a well-respected veteran. The on-field and off-field contributions of these two men should be more than enough to make up for the loss of Aaron Rowand (who perhaps played over his head last year in his walk year).

5.) Confidence is everything: Going into last year, the questions around the Phillies centered around whether the team would ever have success. Going into this year, success seems a foregone conclusion, but rather, how successful will they be? The players, in spring training, have exuded the confidence of a team on the rise. It seems they had a taste of winning last year and are thirsty for more. Don't underestimate the after effects of winning last year.

5 Reasons the Phillies will NOT make the playoffs this year:

1.) Adam Eaton: Actually not so much Eaton himself (we know he sucks) as much as he represents the hole we currently have at 5th starter. Kris Benson is waiting in the wings, but as he is still rehabbing, he may not be available to sometime in June. And even if Benson is the answer, how good can he be coming off of surgery? The 5th starter spot will require watching all year.

2.) Missing Aaron Rowand: Aaron Rowand was a Philadelphia sort of player. He hustled out everything, he played with reckless abandon, and famously face planted out against the center field wall in trying to make a catch. There is no type of player we like more than the player who will risk life and limb to catch a baseball. Not only did the fans seems to respond to Rowand, but it was obvious even to an outsider that Rowand was fairly popular amongst his teammates for his style of play and leadership. He also hit a cool .309 with 27 homers and provided a level headed consistency to the lineup that the Werth/Jenkins platoon may struggle to replicate.

3.) Jimmy Rollins....Back to Earth?: Jimmy Rollins will never be a reason that the Phillies lose. But can Rollins put up numbers similar to, or surpassing last year's performance? Almost every offensive category from last year, from his batting average to his slugging percentage, was far beyond his 162 game average over the course of his career. The thinking with the inclusion of Jimmy Rollins on this list isn't so much that I think Rollins will have a bad year; it's more an acknowledgement of just how special of a year that Rollins had last year and how difficult it will be for JRoll to repeat it.

4.) Cole Hamels' Wonky Back: That Cole Hamels is an elite pitcher is no longer in doubt; his 15 - 5 year last year as well as 177 strikeouts bear that out. What is not clear about Hamels, is his ability to stay healthy. His wiry frame seems especially conducive to injury. There was even some controversy last year about Hamels' complaints that the Phillies did not have a chiropractor last year (which have since been addressed). If the Phillies can keep Hamels healthy for a full year, there is no telling how much Hamels can acheive. But Hamels has never gone through a full year without injury, so the next time he does it will be the first time. How it will affect the team remains to be seen.

5.) Can Kyle Kendrick Repeat his success?: Last year, around the time Freddy Garcia went into the toilet, Kyle Kendrick was called up to the Major Leagues. Kendrick was largely considered a middling prospect by most scouting reports. Who knew this guy would come along and stabilize the rotation by going 10 - 4 with a 3.87 ERA? Unfortunately, this is a new year and Kendrick will not be sneaking up on anyone. To further scare the hell out of Phillies fans, Kendrick got smacked around pretty much all spring long. And don't give me that business of Kendrick "just getting his work in". Guys that have been established vets "just get their work in" during spring training. Guys that come out of nowhere, like Kendrick did last year, have heightened expectations and need to dominate Spring hitters. Which Kyle Kendrick will come out this year? The one that calmly stabilized the rotation or the one that got smacked around in spring training?

This year's Phillies prediction? Sure the Mets added Santana, and the Braves got better, with a full year of Mark Teixeira. But this Phillies team has too much talent to be kept out of the postseason. I can see 92 wins for this team and another NL East crown.

Other baseball predictions. Like last year, I do not have to justify these predictions with actual facts:
1.) Johan Santana will not get 20 wins nor will he be as dominant as advertised. He'll still be good, winning 17 games and will not pitch the number of innings he pitched in the AL.

2.) The Yankees will overthrow Boston for the AL East crown this year. New manager Joe Girardi will put some life back into what had become a comfortable existence for some of the players in Yankee pinstripes.

3.) Tony LaRussa will be fired by July.

4.) New Twins GM, after his horrible Johan Santana trade, will try to trade Joe Mauer to the Blue Jays for P Dave Stieb, OF Joe Carter, and C Rod Barajas. The Blue Jays will turn down these overtures, however, when GM Bill Smith refuses to throw in Ottawa Senator playoff tickets.

5.) The Houston Astros will fire GM Ed Wade when they finally realized they hired ED FUCKING WADE! UGH! How does this guy have a job in baseball still?

6.) White Sox Manager Ozzie Guillen will finally implode this year and mercilessly beat up a reporter. Don't know when. Don't know how. It will just.....happen.

7.) The Detroit Tigers will be so good this year, Jim Leyland will give up smoking.

8.) NL MVP: David Wright. The entire national media has such a man-crush on David Wright, it's inevitable that he'll win the award. David Wright is to the baseball media as Brett Favre is to the football media. AL MVP: Magglio Ordonez.

9.) NL Cy Young: Dan Haren; AL Cy Young: Jered Weaver (yeah, I know I picked Weaver last year....this time, I'll be right)

10.) 2008 World Series: Detroit over Arizona

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