For the first time since 2007 the Phillies arrive in Spring Training coming off a season where they failed to make the post-season. The team that arrived that season was the polar opposite of the team the fans will watch closely this Spring. The 2007 Phillies were young. They were an offensive juggernaut. Their starting rotation was a train wreck, the bullpen a hodgepodge. Some select highlights from that 2007 team:
- Jimmy Rollins (Age 28) played all 162 games, won MVP
- Ryan Howard (Age 27) was coming off a .425 OBP season in 2006 (.295 OBP in 2012)
- Aaron Rowand (Age 29) hit .309 (.374 OBP) with 29 homers in centerfield
- Abraham Nunez (Age 31) was the oldest everyday starter
- Jamie Moyer, Cole Hamels, Kyle Kendrick and Adam Eaton were double-digit winners
This year the Phillies arrive in Clearwater an old team. Veteran would be a kinder way of describing the team’s average age, but they’ll trot out five regulars who are well into their 30s. A bigger concern would be the general offensive downturn that’s been hindering the team since 2010. When you look at the roster turnover, it’s easy to see the problem. The best players haven’t been able to stay on the field and the Phillies have consistently replaced high OBP players with low OBP players. One of the debates this Spring will be whether or not to lead off Ben Revere, who had a career high OBP of .333 in 2012. That career year would have ranked him 7th among the eight everyday players on the 2007 Phillies. His 29 walks would have ranked dead last.
It’s safe to say the Phillies’ offense will come nowhere close to the numbers posted in 2007, and that shouldn’t necessarily be the goal. The 2007 team was flawed in many areas, but it’s interesting to look at how much things have changed and how the philosophy of the team has changed during what is considered a singular era of success. The team that started the streak of playoff appearances had almost nothing in common with the team that ended the streak in 2012. So, how will the Phillies get back to the post-season, start another streak?
There is a notion around baseball that the Phillies have fallen way behind in their own division and in the National League. Some projections like the Nationals and Braves in their own division to win close to 100 games. If that happens, it’ll be almost impossible for the Phillies to make the post-season when they’ll still have to deal with St. Louis, Cincinnati, San Francisco, Los Angeles and who knows what other teams might make a run.
To keep things from being entirely pessimistic, I’ll say that I think the overall love for the National League may have gone a bit overboard. I do think the Nationals are easily the best team in the NL East, but from there things get a bit more cloudy. The Braves, for example, have a lot of questions. They are unproven in their rotation. They sacrificed three of their best lineup components from 2012 (Chipper, Prado and Bourn) and while they replaced them, it’s a lot of new pieces that need to come together. They also took a Phillies-esque approach to those holes. OBP gone, and replaced with more power and more strikeouts. So, while I would probably trade rosters with Atlanta if I were a Phillies fan, I hardly see them as a lock to win 95 games.
So, if you can squint your eyes a little bit, see a scenario where 90 wins might get the Phillies into the playoffs, perhaps things become a bit more feasible. But if every team this time of year has questions, the Phillies have huge issues that need to be addressed–much of them surrounding the health of the team’s stars. Larry Bowa said yesterday it would take a stars aligned type of season for the Phillies to make the playoffs–what stars must align? A sampling…
- Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard healthy and productive for 145+ games (last happened–2009)
- Roy Halladay must be, at worst, the best #3 starter in baseball
- Michael Young must bounce back from a poor 2012 and prove he can play 3B
- Mike Adams and the rest of the crowded bullpen have to resolve crippling 7th/8th inning issues from 2012
- Someone, or some combination of players must adequately fill the corner OF spots
You could go on and on. There are people out there who think none of the above will happen. You can easily make that argument. Others believe that the Phillies will be healthy, have three aces and solid bullpen. Which scenario plays out? I have no idea. It creates a scenario where Phillies fans must actually pay attention to what is happening in the Spring.
If Roy Halladay’s velocity is down this year–that’s an issue. If Ryan Howard is still limping, if Chase Utley needs days off, if Ruf and Brown don’t hit? None of that can be brushed off as, “just Spring Training.” Not this year. So, while in some ways this is least distinguished Phillies’ team to arrive in Clearwater in some time, it should be one of the more interesting Springs. Position battles, veterans trying to prove themselves, Charlie trying to keep his hands on his job–there will be a lot going on.
It’s all part of a new era of baseball where the Blue Jays are favorites in the AL East, the Astros are in the American League. Get used to it.