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Philadelphia Phillies 2012: A look back and a look ahead

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With a loss to the new NL East Champion Washington Nationals Wednesday afternoon, the sun has officially set on the Phillies’ forgettable 2012 season. While many predicted a slight dropoff from last year’s memorable 2011 regular season, nobody expected that the team would barely reach the .500 mark by their 162nd game. As most long time Phillies fans know however, nothing is ever guaranteed.
 
So in good riddance to a year that all of us would rather forget, we look back and discuss what went wrong, what went right, and what is in store for the Phightins in 2013.


What went wrong:

1. Roy Halladay became human and Cliff Lee had the year from hell- All those innings finally took its took on Doc’s shoulder this season. If the Phillies had a healthy Halladay, they just might have snuck into that second Wild Card spot.

How will Halladay fare in 2013? This is really tPhoto: Brian Garfinkel/Getty Imagesouch and go. Halladay’s $20 million 2014 option is not guaranteed because he needed a combined 415 innings pitched in 2012-2013, but only managed 156.1 innings in 2012 with his injury. Depending on how his 2013 campaign goes, that could be the last we see of Doc in a Phillies uniform.

As for Lee, he had a year quite unlike anybody has seen in a long time.  Although he was among the league leaders in ERA, Lee finished just 6-9. To be fair, he wasn’t as bad as his record indicates, but Lee overall failed to step up in the wake of Halladay’s absence. He didn’t win a game until July 4th and a game at home until August 26th. He was the third pitcher in baseball history with  over 200 strikeouts and less than 30 walks (Halladay and Cy Young are the others). Lee made $21.5 million in 2012 and that increases to $25 million next year. Despite rumors that the Phillies will be looking to trade Lee for salary reasons, Halladay’s unclear status moving forward might keep them from doing so.


2. Ryan Howard and Chase Utley went down with injuries- The Phillies have managed to soldier on throughout the years despite multiple injuries to key players. However, the team has never had Howard and Utley out of the lineup simultaneously for that long. While the Phillies have a winning record without Utley over the last several years, they’re a sub .500 team without Howard in the lineup. While many feared the team would not see the projected right side of their infield for the entire season, the two came back in time and displayed valiant efforts on the field. In saying that, it was painfully obvious at times that Howard and Utley were not 100%. It will be interesting to see how the Phillies’ two aging superstars rebound in 2013.

3. The bullpen- The saving grace here was Jonathan Papelbon, whom despite blowing some big games for the team still notched 38 saves. It’s all downhill from there. Both Jose Contreras and Michael Stutes went down early in the season with injuries, as did the usually ineffective David Herndon. Chad Qualls redefined the term “bust,” Antonio Bastardo was erratic for a big part of the year, and Josh Lindblom was inconsistent upon his arrival from Los Angeles. Michael Schwimer, Jake Diekman and B.J. Rosenberg round out most of this shaky cast. All of this translated to a bullpen that ranked 21st overall in MLB.

It cannot be emphasized enough how a consistent bullpen translates into success in the regular season and even more come playoff time. The bright spots were left-handers Raul Valdes, Jeremy Horst, and righty Phillippe Aumont, who has the best “live” arm out of the youngsters. Justin De Fratus will also be fighting for a bullpen spot during spring training in 2013.

Does Amaro go out and attempt to land some established arms? Or does he go with the rookies?

4. Defense- Normally one of baseball’s best defensive teams, the Phillies took a tremendous step back here in 2012. 2011 Gold Glover Placido Polanco only played 80 games at third base this season, and although Jimmy Rollins was more consistent than not, he almost doubled his error total (13) from 2011 (7). Oddly enough, this might have to do with the fact that Ryan Howard only played 67 games there this season. Though Howard is an overall average first baseman, he is above average at digging balls out. Moreover, combinations of Hunter Pence in right field, Ty Wigginton at third, and at times Mike Fontenot at second was just brutal. The Phillies’ subpar glove work cost them at least three to four games this season. In the end, the team finished seventh in the NL and 15th overall in defense with 101 errors.


What was encouraging:

1. Cole Hamels is now the official ace of the pitching staff- Cole Hamels is now $144 million richer, and he’s going to be with the Phillies for a long time. Considering he won a career high 17 games this season, it’s practically safe to say Hamels is clearly coming into his own amongst a staff featuring some pretty big names. With Halladay (36 next May) and Lee (34) getting up in years, Hamels will turn 29 just after Christmas, and should provide the Phillies with many more all-star caliber seasons.

2. Carlos Ruiz- Despite suffering an injury in August that plagued him for the remainder of the year, Carlos Ruiz officially became one of the game’s elite backstops in 2012. Always a defense asset, Ruiz really stepped up his offensive game in 2012, establishing career highs in hits (120), doubles (31), home runs (16), RBIs (68), and batting average (.326) while making his first All-Star team. Chooch will be 34 next year and entering the last year of his contract, so it will be interesting to see how the Phillies proceed with possible contract talks in the months to come.

2. Darin Ruf- He only played in a handful of meaningless September games, but so far, Darin Ruf is turning heads.  In Darin Ruf photo: Drew Hallowell/Getty Images31 at bats, Ruff hit three home runs for a .355 clip. That gives him a total of 41 home runs between Double-A Reading and the majors. Furthermore, Ruf (unlike basically every Phillie), seems like he actually has an approach when hitting at the plate.

With all three outfield positions up in the air for next year and the Phillies’ aging offense needing a severe shot in the arm, the Phillies are most likely going to give Ruf every chance at making the roster next season. At 26, Ruf (much like Ryan Howard) has arrived late to the show, but the Phillies need to get younger, and Ruf just might be able to help them in 2013.

3. The emergence of key bench players-  Kevin Frandsen came out of nowhere to hit .333 and continued to gut it out despite the fact that he had a stress fracture in his leg! Erik Kratz has all but solidified his job at Carlos Ruiz’s backup in 2013, and although his average was considerably higher in 2011, John Mayberry Jr. duplicated his power numbers in 2012. While none of the three are everyday big leaguers, they are solid role players who will have to have miserable spring trainings to lose a job on next year’s roster. Frandsen can play multiple infield positions, and Mayberry, while proving why he isn’t an everyday player in the majors, can play all three outfield positions as well as give Ryan Howard an occasional breather at first base.

Looking ahead:

2013 will be the beginning of a transition for the Phillies ballclub as well as their organization. Considering the team just dismissed coaches Pete Mackanin, Sam Perlozzo and hitting coach Greg Gross shows that the pinstripes are clearly looking to move in another direction from a coaching standpoint.

Mackanin’s departure opens the door for Ryne Sandberg to become Charlie Manuel’s bench coach. Manuel’s outward displeasure with the team  this season is understandable. With his contract expiring in 2013, Manuel has said he will evaluate his current situation as to whether he will retire. You would think this would be a perfect situation for Sandberg in that he could possibly take over the reins in 2014 in Manuel moves on.

As for the team itself, there’s actually very few givens and a lot of questions. Don’t believe me? Try these out for size:

-Does this team have any legitimate everyday outfielders? That’s three everyday positions we’re talking here, folks......

-What will Utley and Howard provide the team?

-Since Utley has been ruled out as a possibility at third base, who can the Phillies plug in there?

-Can Domonic Brown really help the Phillies?

-Can Roy Halladay come even close to being Roy Halladay again?

-Will Vance Worley be effective upon his return from surgery?

-What Kyle Kendrick will we see next year?

-Can Darin Ruf play in the big leagues every day?

-With the exception of Papelbon, who can you trust in the Phillies’ bullpen?

-Will Ruben Amaro have any flexibility with the payroll to make significant additions?

See you next year.

 

Contact Joe Vallee at jvallee@philly2philly.com

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Lee Photo: Brian Garfinkel/Getty Images

Darin Ruf photo: Drew Hallowell/Getty Images