1 Philadelphia Phillies A stronger bullpen creates pennant possibilities--if cooler heads prevail

April 04, 2004

On many lazy March mornings an alligator could be seen sunning
itself by a pond beyond the rightfield fence of Philadelphia's
new spring training stadium in Clearwater, Fla. The reptilian
sentry of Thome's Tarn (as the water hole was soon dubbed) had a
dual role: to deter lunatic fans from leaping into the water,
McCovey Cove-like, and grabbing one of Jim Thome's
batting-practice moon shots, and to serve as the symbol of the
2004 Phillies--a team with thick skin and a real bite.

Playing for Larry Bowa, the Randle P. McMurphy of managers, the
Phillies curiously proved their toughness last season just as
things turned rotten. While Bowa and uber-organized pitching
coach Joe Kerrigan were feuding with players and the wild card
was slipping away during a brutal stretch in which Philadelphia
played on 27 consecutive days, the team actually grew closer. "We
had some circus times"--Bowa's eruption after an Aug. 28 loss in
Montreal, Kerrigan's argument with rookie righthander Brett Myers
the same day, leftfielder Pat Burrell's dugout snub of Bowa after
a home run in the subsequent series against the Mets, to name a
few--"but the clubhouse never was in turmoil," lefthander Randy
Wolf says. "That was [because of] Thome. When you've got a guy
like Jim, with his humility and integrity, it filters down to
everybody."

Thome's ability to calm the waters that invariably eddy around
the high-strung Bowa augurs as favorably as his production, which
last year included 131 RBIs and a league-high 47 home runs. He
and Bobby Abreu carried the Phillies, and, shockingly, the fans
at Veterans Stadium carried Burrell. From the usual mob of Santa
Claus hecklers Burrell drew a free pass during a wretched season
in which his batting average dropped from .282 in 2002 to .209
and his RBIs plummeted from 116 to 64. Maybe it was his
inevitable role in Philadelphia's future--Burrell signed a
six-year, $50 million contract in February 2003--that made the
fans docile. Or perhaps his matinee looks soothed them. "I think
the fans could see in his face and body language that he was
bothered when things didn't go well," general manager Ed Wade
says. "They appreciate work ethic and even empathize with him
from time to time. But it's probably not a good thing to do it in
back-to-back seasons."

If Burrell, a 37-homer man two years ago, and David Bell, a
normally dependable third baseman whose balky back contributed to
his .195 average, approach their career averages, the lineup will
be dangerous. The problem is discipline at the plate. The
Phillies struck out a club-record 1,155 times, including 113 by
5'8" shortstop Jimmy Rollins, who in three full seasons has never
walked more than 54 times despite having a strike zone the size
of an iPod. Rollins and leadoff man Marlon Byrd spent two weeks
in San Diego this winter honing their swings, and batting eyes,
with eight-time National League batting champ Tony Gwynn.

Thanks to Wade, for the first time in memory the Phils are
pitching rich. The G.M. swung a trade with the Astros for marquee
closer Billy Wagner and added free agent Tim Worrell, late of the
Giants, as a setup man. With sneakily superb lefty Rheal Cormier
and warhorse righthander Roberto Hernandez, the bullpen is
quality four deep. And while the rotation might not have the
cachet of Houston's, No. 1 Kevin Millwood, Wolf, Vicente Padilla,
Eric Milton and Myers offer no soft underbelly. The one worry is
late-season burnout. Wolf faded to 6-6 with a 5.60 ERA in the
second half, Myers foundered, and Millwood had an egregious
September that concluded with his flinging his cap and glove into
a booing crowd at the Vet. Kerrigan has vowed to back off having
his starters throw between starts in July and August.

He is less malleable, however, on the subject of the slide step,
a potential antidote to the 112 stolen bases Philadelphia allowed
last year. (The catchers threw out only 17.7% of runners
attempting to steal.) Instead of a slide step, which Kerrigan
says flattens the plane of the fastball and makes it difficult to
throw a curve, he has counseled his pitchers to hold the ball
longer at the set and use abbreviated leg kicks to short-circuit
the running game.

Moving into the new Citizens Bank Park and comfortable in their
own leathery skin, the Phillies should finally dethrone Atlanta
in the NL East. And that's not a croc. --Michael Farber

COLOR PHOTO: DAVID DUROCHIK GENTLEMAN JIM Thome topped the league in home runs last year, and he was a calming influence in the clubhouse too.
COLOR PHOTO: EZRA SHAW/GETTY IMAGES WAGNER

IN FACT

Bobby Abreu (2,999) and Jim Thome (2,873) ranked first and third
in the majors in pitches seen last year.

ENEMY LINES
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Phillies

"THIS IS a championship-caliber team, no question. The best news
is that Pat Burrell, who is coming off a horrible year, has been
working with special assistant Charlie Manuel and looks as if
he's regained his mechanics.... Jim Thome's broken right middle
finger won't keep him from having another great season.... When
Marlon Byrd was in the minors, everyone thought he was going to
be a superstar, but he's nowhere near there yet.... The big
question is at third, where David Bell has another injury
[tendinitis in his right shoulder], and the only decent sub for
him is Tomas Perez [five homers, 33 RBIs last year].... The
pitching staff can compete with anyone's. Kevin Millwood can be
my Number 1 starter any day; he's looked great this spring. When
Brett Myers gets command of his pitches, he's going to be damn
good--better than Randy Wolf.... The bullpen is much improved.
Billy Wagner is a huge upgrade from Jose Mesa. In Wagner and
Roberto Hernandez they have two great arms. Rheal Cormier was
quietly excellent last year."

THE LINEUP
projected roster with 2003 statistics

BATTING ORDER

CF Byrd
2B Polanco
1B Thome
LF Burrell
RF Abreu
C Lieberthal
SS Rollins
3B Bell

MARLON BYRD
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 157 .303 7 45 11

PAT BURRELL
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 108 .209 21 64 0

BOBBY ABREU
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L-R 42 .300 20 101 22

JIMMY ROLLINS
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
S-R 173 .263 8 62 20

PLACIDO POLANCO
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 150 .289 14 63 14

DAVID BELL
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 243 .195 4 37 0

JIM THOME
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L-R 22 .266 47 131 0

MIKE LIEBERTHAL
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 105 .313 13 81 0

BENCH

TOMAS PEREZ
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
S-R 265 .265 5 33 0

JASON MICHAELS
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 259 .330 5 17 0

ROTATION

PITCHER PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA

RH Kevin Millwood 29 14 12 6.3 1.25 4.01
LH Randy Wolf 31 16 10 6.1 1.27 4.23
RH Vicente Padilla 54 14 12 6.5 1.24 3.62
LH Eric Milton 159 1 0 5.7 0.94 2.65
[New acquisition]
RH Brett Myers 105 14 9 6.0 1.46 4.43

BULLPEN

PITCHER PVR W L S WHIP ERA

LH Billy Wagner 20 1 4 44 0.87 1.78
[New acquisition]
RH Tim Worrell 140 4 4 38 1.30 2.87
[New acquisition]
LH Rheal Cormier 119 8 0 1 0.93 1.70

2003 RECORD
86-76
third in NL East

MANAGER
Larry Bowa
fourth season with Philadelphia

New acquisition
(R) Rookie
B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 142)

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)