I’ve always said that hockey season officially starts the day after the Super Bowl. I think I’m adding to that today. Baseball starts the day after your bracket blows up. When I picked Indiana to make a run I was looking at the talent on their team and ignoring the Crean factor. When I saw Indiana struggle with Temple, I knew it was only a matter of time before I continued my 0-for my lifetime bracket streak. Syracuse put me out of my misery quickly last night. It was a pretty disappointing late night of basketball. But, that’s all right, because the Phillies are kicking off their On-Deck series today, a little money grab before heading to Atlanta to start the actual season.
It’s been an up and down spring for the Phillies. A lot of real positive signs mixed in with some familiar concerns. Considering most baseball seasons start with hope, I think the Phillies have the full attention of their fans, though that sellout streak loyalty is probably a bit more tenuous. Should we start with the good news or the bad? I’ll butter you up first…
What the Phillies Have Going for Them:
1. Cole Hamels. The fact that Hamels is now clearly the ace of this staff is probably a good and a bad thing, but his presence should be a stabilizing force for this team, much like it was last season. Durable and still in his prime Cole makes the Phillies favorites most times he takes the mound and that will include Opening Day in Atlanta. I’d expect another fringe Cy Young candidate season from Hamels.
2. Health of Utley and Howard. Ryan Howard was a shell of himself last year and Chase Utley hadn’t gone through Spring Training since 2010. With both of them healthy and properly prepared for the season it’s likely we’ll see a return to more “typical” numbers. I’m expecting a good year out of Utley and if Howard can get some protection in the lineup and remain as selective he’s been this spring, then he’ll be back among the league leaders in home runs.
3. Back End of the Bullpen. Even with all the struggles the Phillies had last year you could point to faulty bullpen work as what really killed their chances. The Phillies were terrible in the 8th inning and the addition of Mike Adams should help in that regard. I expect Papelbon to have another solid year and when the Phillies get to the 8th with a lead this year they should be much better off than they were in 2012.
4. Ben Revere in Center. I’m not sure yet how Revere’s going to hit, though he appears to have a bit more pop than advertised. Not home run pop, but move the ball out of the infield pop. More importantly, Revere should anchor the defense in centerfield and maybe people will finally realize that Shane Victorino wasn’t all that great out there. Revere will be under pressure to cover up some deficiencies in the corner spots and I think he’ll be up to the task.
5. Dom Brown becomes an everyday player. Brown has had a huge spring, and appears confident and comfortable. The yo-yo Brown has been on the last few years certainly eroded his progress, but this latest fresh start seems to have made a difference. I don’t think he’s a star, but he should be able to reasonably hold down left field and he looks a lot less lost defensively.
What Could Hold the Phillies Back:
1. Roy Halladay and the Halladay Domino Effect. Halladay went 4 and 2/3 yesterday over 90-some pitches and pronounced himself ready for game 2 in Atlanta. If you asked me a week ago, I would have said I was fairly sure Halladay would be on the DL by May. Have I backed off that? I’m not sure, but I’m expecting a rough year for Roy and I wouldn’t be surprised if it started in Atlanta. If Halladay is hurt, or isn’t on form, it presses Kendrick, Lannan and possibly a 6th starter into more significant roles. The rotation could go from a strength to a weakness.
2. Michael Young. I’m not a Michael Young fan at this point in his career. I think he’s going to wear down over the course of a season, be a burden on defense and show little power. His approach, and “professionalism” are probably still intact, but Young is on the downside of his career. People say, oh if he hits 15 homers (a stretch) and knocks in 75–I’d take that. Well, you forget how bad that will look stretched over 162 games. Third base remains a weakness on this team.
3. Middle Relief. Stutes is a gasoline can (unfortunate, because I liked the guy), the other young guys (DeFratus/Aumont/Diekman) have potential but aren’t proven, Durbin’s best days are behind him and Bastardo has always run hot and cold. If the rotation is weakened, this year’s 7th inning could be last year’s 8th.
4. The Bench. Another consistent problem. When Ruiz comes back the bench is going to be something like: Kratz, Mayberry, Galvis, Frandsen and Nix? Yeah, that’s terrible.
Bottom Line: 87 Wins
I think the health of the lineup and the addition of Mike Adams make the Phillies a better team than they were last year, but remember for much of the season they were a good bit below .500 before rallying at the end. The NL East is top heavy, and there is some real depth in the National League, so piling up wins against lesser opponents (a Phillies dynasty hallmark) might not be as easy as it once was. Barring unforeseen circumstances, though, the Phillies should be in contention, though I don’t see how they compete with Washington for the division. And, while Atlanta has a suspect rotation and now a banged up setup man, if you believe in the Phillies’ spring offensive numbers, then Atlanta’s should be terrifying: The Braves clubbed 49 homers and averaged almost 6 runs per game this spring.
Other MLB Predictions:
National League Playoff Teams: Washington, Cincinnati, San Francisco Atlanta* and Milwaukee*
American League Playoff Teams: Tampa Bay, Detroit, Anaheim, Toronto* and Texas*
World Series Prediction: Anaheim over Cincinnati
NL MVP: Joey Votto
NL Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw
AL MVP: Evan Longoria (Since I finally got Cabrera right last year)
AL Cy Young: Josh Johnson
Enjoy Opening Day, everyone. It’s a better holiday than Easter–that’s for sure.