Phillies have too many obstacles to overcome in 2012
By now I may be developing a reputation for being anti-Phillies or perhaps even anti-Philadelphia. I can assure you I am neither; I simply call it the way I see it and I don’t play favorites.
With that said, the 2012 major league baseball season is upon us. The good news is there will be an additional wild-card team in both the National and American leagues. That brings the total number of playoff teams to ten.
The bad news is the Phillies will not be one of them.
If you’ve read any of my prior works you know I believe general manager Ruben Amaro has done a poor job the last couple of seasons. And this is the year Phillies fans will pay for his arrogance and ineptitude.
In this preview I’m making the argument the Phillies will continue to struggle to score runs as they have in each of the last two seasons. And they are far too old to reverse the decline.
THE PITCHING STAFF
Yes, in Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, the Phillies possess three of the best starting pitchers in baseball. But they weren’t good enough against the St. Louis Cardinals in last year’s National League Division Series and they won’t be good enough to carry this team back to the playoffs this season.
Lee and Hamels are of particular concern. Hamels, because he’s in the final year of his contract, so he will monitor his pitch counts even more than usual. And Lee because he offered up one of the great choke jobs this city has ever seen in his last meaningful game. I still can’t believe the free pass he’s gotten since that weak, series-changing effort.
Jonathan Papelbon replaces Ryan Madson as the team’s closer and he’ll do a good job. The rest of the bullpen looks okay, but definitive roles still need to be established among Antonio Bastardo and Chad Qualls. What further complicates matters further is that Jose Contreras and Michael Stutes will start the season on the DL. Kyle Kendrick and possibly David Herndon will settle into spot starter roles or long relief. And from the looks of Vance Worley and Joe Blanton this spring, each will get plenty of opportunities.
One thing gift trades and playoff appearances do for a GM is soften the blow when a player he likes fails miserably. Remember the buzz surrounding Dominic Brown last spring? He was supposed to be a part of the outfield for years to come. Instead, he has battled injuries and couldn’t make this year’s roster.
Brown’s failings along with minimal depth mean right-fielder Hunter Pence must do something this season he has never done in his big league career: he must carry an offense with very little protection in the lineup. He’ll likely hit around .300 with 25 home runs and 90 runs batted in but the Phillies really need .320/30/115 from him.
John Mayberry played well with limited chances a year ago. He’ll leave Clearwater this year as the everyday left-fielder replacing Raul Ibanez. Mayberry, like Pence, will need to do more than he ever has.
Shane Victorino still plays a good defensive centerfield and is a scrappy hitter. But will his contract status become a distraction for him? Will he play selfishly? Either way, his best years are behind him.
While the outfield has some question marks, the infield is an offensive mess. Third basemen Placido Polanco returns for his 15th big league campaign. But at 36, the Phillies will be fortunate if he’s healthy for 125 games. And even if he manages to play that many games, did I mention he’s 36?
Next to Polanco is 2007 NL MVP, shortstop Jimmy Rollins. Like several other players he is about 2 or 3 years beyond his prime. He’ll be good for a few dazzling plays in the field and some newsworthy sound bites but that’s about it. He has a career .272 BA but he hasn’t reached that number in three seasons so it’s absurd to think at age 33 he’ll be the catalyst he once was. Are you sensing a theme?
The fate of the right side of the infield has been thoroughly discussed this spring. Just two seasons ago Chase Utley and Ryan Howard combined to hit 76 HR’s and drive in 238 runs, approximately 30% of the entire squad’s RBI total of 788. And while nobody seems to know when the duo will return, I think it’s safe to say Howard will be a non-factor for the better part of the season and Utley’s days as an all-star are over.
Behind the plate the lovable Carlos (Chooch) Ruiz enters his sixth full season as the everyday catcher. He’s a good player but he caught a career-high 132 regular season games a year ago. That’s too many as evident by his poor NLDS last year.
Laynce Nix and Juan Pierre give manager Charlie Manuel a couple of left-handed bats to work with but neither offer much defensively.
As for Thome, he just doesn’t look like a baseball player anymore. He looks more like a contestant from the reality show Pros vs. Joes. But he’ll try hard and occasionally hit a 400-foot home run and fans will love him for it.
Wigginton, Freddy Galvis and Michael Martinez round out the subs but they will all have to play (and produce) far beyond their capabilities.
Manuel is the most successful manager in Phillies history but his impact has always been less tangible than his contemporaries. That’s probably because his style has always been more about relationships, trusting his guys…and the three-run homer.
Uncle Charlie doesn’t exude intensity like Jim Leyland or Ozzie Guillen and he isn’t nearly as charismatic as Mike Scioscia. He doesn’t manage in a fishbowl like Joe Girardi does even though Philly takes its sports as seriously as New Yorkers. In fact, the fans and media around here seem to find Manuel’s strategic deficiencies downright charming.
But this season more than any of his previous seven, Manuel must become more hands on. Whether it’s more bunting, asking that more pitches be taken or situational substitutions, Charlie Manuel must reinvent himself. His roster demands it.
Beyond Pence, every key offensive contributor is either inexperienced or well into his 30’s. And while it wasn’t too long ago players got better with age, baseball’s landscape has returned to normal. Jamie Moyer notwithstanding, thirty-five is old again.
The Delaware Valley seems to be in a state of denial about the fate (and age) of the 2012 Phillies.
They’ll be good because of starting pitching, just not playoff-worthy.
Earl Myers is a freelance writer from the Philadelphia area. He closely follows North America's four major sports leagues but just about any sporting event gets his attention. His goal is to provoke a little thought in his readers.
Contact Earl at firstname.lastname@example.org
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