2014 Season Preview: Philadelphia Phillies
2013 Record and Finish: 73-89, fourth place in NL East (24th overall)
2014 Projected Record: 67-95, fourth place in NL East
The Case For
Once left-hander Cole Hamels returns from shoulder tendinitis, the Phillies will have one of the strongest top threes in baseball. The core of first baseman Ryan Howard, second baseman Chase Utley and shortstop Jimmy Rollins can still be productive, as long as manager Ryne Sandberg rests them often to keep them fresh (“His extra men, they’re not gonna be sitting on the bench,” promised bench coach Larry Bowa). Several up-and-comers got a taste of big league life in the lost year of 2013, and they’ll be more prepared for it. Leftfielder Domonic Brown will be the hitter he was in the first half of last year (.535 slugging percentage), not the second half (.390), when he was fighting injuries. This is a team coming off two straight disappointing seasons, but the year before that, it won 102 games. The window is closing for this group, but it’s not shut yet.
The Case Against
It’s tough to imagine that a team that probably communicates more often by fax than by group text can possibly stay healthy all year. The last time Howard, Utley and Rollins all played a full season was in their World Series runner-up year of 2009, when they were 29, 30 and 30, respectively. Brown is what he is—a slightly-above-league-average hitter who’s a liability in the field and has little trade value left. The pitching could be a bright spot, but Hamels has already had one setback in his rehab, and the bullpen will be shaky if closer Jonathan Papelbon cannot recover any of his lost fastball velocity.
X-Factor: Ryan Howard
Health across the board will be the difference-maker for a team that is strong one through nine and a black hole thereafter, but no one will be more important than Howard. He’s never had a bad offensive campaign when he’s been healthy, but he hasn’t played even half a season since 2011. "We need to stay on the field," said general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. "We can’t expect to score 600 runs and be a contender."
Number To Know: 67 percent
The amount of their $167 million 2014 payroll the Phillies will spend on players 34 and older—a group that spent a combined 289 days on the disabled list last year. Amaro is clear that he doesn’t see the age of the roster as a disadvantage, though. “Everybody wants us to get younger,” he said. “But younger doesn’t necessarily mean better until they’re better, so it takes a little time.”
Most overrated: Ryan Howard
"The quick decline since the injury and the burden that that adds to your payroll just kills you. To me, you have to have a strong base to hit and hit for power. Quite honestly, I think on an upside [he might hit] 20 home runs. And if he can hit .280 and cut down on his strikeouts a little bit, then he’s going to contribute, but that’s not what a $25 million guy does. He worked his ass off. He looks like he’s in good shape. He’s getting out there and he’s playing. I think he’s going to hold up, but at his age, I think that a lot of those production numbers are going to go down. His bat does look a little bit slower. You feel bad for a guy like that. That was a bad injury."
Most underrated: Kyle Kendrick
"From a value standpoint, since Kyle Kendrick came on the scene in 2007, he’s gone back and forth from the rotation. To me, as a scout, I love to know what I have, and I know what I have in him: A guy that throws a lot of strikes, gets a lot of groundballs, who can go out, throw a hell of a game as a starter, come in and get me a groundball when he’s been a bullpen guy. I think he has some value for them."
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