When a team allows its opponents to score 100 more runs than it does, it's got bad trouble. The pitching, defense and power all fell down badly in 1958. Fortunately, Sawyer has some good material to maneuver with, right on hand. One old friend from his 1950 team, Robin Roberts, stoutly maintained—while losing 40 games in two seasons—that he didn't need to change his style. Last year he came back and won 17, so it looks as if he was right. Maybe Roberts is primed to start off on another string of 20-game seasons. Curt Simmons, the left-hander with all the good stuff and all the bad luck, looked good in training but then was bothered again by his old elbow trouble. Behind these two longtime mainstays is a wealth of pretty good pitchers: Ruben Gomez, the ex-Giant; Ray Semproch, who looked like the Rookie of the Year for half a season; Jack Meyer, with his rediscovered fast ball; Jim Owens, another hard thrower back from two years in the service; promising Don Cardwell, lefty Seth Morehead and lanky Gene Conley, late of the Braves. Dick Farrell, the National League's answer to Ryne Duren, still projects rockets and will be ready for anything in the bullpen. Another familiar face Sawyer is glad to see is that of Center Fielder Richie Ashburn, the Whiz Kid who grew older gracefully—and not too noticeably. A genius with the bat, Ashburn led the National League in hitting, was second only to Willie Mays in stealing bases and caught his usual quota of close to 500 fly balls in the outfield. Smooth-swinging Left Fielder Harry Anderson, in only his third year in the majors, is one of the fine young power hitters around (.301 batting average, 23 home runs, 97 RBIs). Right Fielder Wally Post, who can hit a baseball as far as anyone, is strong again. This is good news for the Phils since Pest averaged 33 homers a season the three years previous to 1958. With Ed Bouchee around from the start of the season, the Phils have yet another good power hitter and no first-base problem. The reserve outfielders, young Bob Bowman and old Dave Philley, came off the bench and made 31 pinch hits between them. Moody Chico Fernandez, the sometimes smooth-fielding shortstop who has the talent to do better, can hit higher than .230. Aging Willie Jones found his batting eye last year when he hit .271; he might do it again this season if he's needed at third.
Off last year's averages, they are defense, pitching, power and speed—just about everything a ball club needs. No one could make the double play at second, and this helped to make the pitching go from fair to bad. Only the championship Braves had a better team batting average, but everyone in the lineup except Harry Anderson hit singles only, and it takes too many of them to win ball games, especially if your base runners can't move around. The Phillies seem to have partially corrected some of these flaws.
ROOKIES AND NEW FACES
The player who may make the big difference in the Phils this season is rookie George Anderson, a smart, hard-working little second baseman who can make the double play. His hitting is dubious (so they talk about his intangibles, a la Eddie Stanky), but his fielding should make up for it. Gene Freese, who played part-time for the Pirates and Cards last year, is another who could plug up the infield sieve. He hit sharply in spring training and makes the plays at third that Willie Jones used to a few years back. Both add speed to the team. Gene Conley, who got in shape by playing a full season of basketball with the Boston Celtics, could help if his arm is all right. The Phils obtained Valmy Thomas and Gomez in the same trade with the Giants. Thomas, a steady, dependable catcher, won the No. 1 spot in spring training. Ruben Gomez is, well, Ruben Gomez. When he wants to pitch, he's tough to beat. The Phils feel he likes Philadelphia, and that he'll want to pitch.
THE BIG IFS
They are many in Philadelphia, but that's a good sign in a last-place ball club: at least there's something here worth speculating about. George Anderson and Gene Freese are the biggest question marks. Both need to hit well enough to make the team, or it's back again to the same old infield problems. Bouchee and Post have to regain the home-run habit; if not, the bases will be cluttered with Phillies with no home to go to (more runners were left on base last year by the Phils than any other team in the league). Another big year by Roberts, a return to last season's early form by Semproch and Farrell and good health for Simmons are not too much to ask, especially if the defense is better and the power more frequent.
Last season everything fell apart at once, and there was no escaping deserved confinement in eighth place. This year the team should be better. It will not be a contender or even a first-division club, but it should be good enough to transfer to someone else occupancy of the National League cellar.
PAST PERFORMANCE CHART
RUNS BATTED IN