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Philadelphia Phillies 2014: Predictions and Observations

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As the Phillies kick off their 2014 season, numerous questions surround the team’s legitimate chances of making one final postseason run. Can Ryne Sandberg stop the Phillies decline? Or will the preseason death notices hold true?

 

Our panel weighs in.

 

 Ryan Downs:

 

It's been three years since the best team in Phillies history broke camp, and the golden era was glimmering. The window was wide open and the sun was shining. Key players were aging and that was no secret, but baseball was thriving in South Philly. Citizens Bank Park was all the rage, and another World Series title was in reach, if not expected. Cole Hamels photoL Chuck Solomon

 

What we now know is that those key players aged and withered at an alarming rate, and Ruben Amaro spackled the roster instead of rebuilding it. The window looks closed and the forecast is rain. Many scouts and experts are predicting the 2014 Phillies as a potential laughingstock, an almost unthinkable fast forward. But, reality is upon us, and this current squad is old and rusty.

 

Unlike last season, the 2014 Phillies look incapable of sneaking up on the Braves and/or Nationals, and the "what-if" scenarios of 2013 have evaporated. The news of Cole Hamels' arm struggles was a sobering start to the spring, and may prove a fitting foreshadowing. Aside from Cliff Lee, there isn't much promise coming north from Florida. Even the acquisition of A.J. Burnett does less to bolster the rotation than to patch it. Jimmy Rollins is falling out of favor, and looks just as shaky on the field as off it. The veteran nucleus of Rollins, Utley, and Howard may just strike more fear into the Phillies right now than their opponents. Scary, but true.

 

Maybe Cole Hamels returns to form by late April, and maybe Cody Asche and Dom Brown give a strong infusion of youth. It's possible that hot-hitting prospect Mikael Franco hits the majors and becomes a force during the season. Still though, the opening day presence of Roberto "don't call me Fausto" Hernandez and Jeff Manship leaves a sour taste. In perhaps more sour fashion, the organization also looks rotten amidst reports of what amounts to tattling on unsigned draft picks for violating NCAA rules associated with hiring an agent. This may help bury the Phillies into a Jeltz-like era of miserable baseball, as this regime seems both incapable of obtaining talent, and primed to repel it. The future does not look so bright, and I don't gotta wear shades.

 

I see the ceiling for this team at 85 wins, and that's if everything breaks their way and Ryan Howard hits 35-40 HRs. The more likely outcome sees them fall just short of being a laughingstock, with 70-75 wins. They will battle for third place, not first.

 

The 2014 Phillies are a plummeting stock. Unfortunately, it's time to sell.

 

 

Matt Goldberg:

 

I'd love to be able to tell you that the nucleus of Ryan, Jimmy and the Cs -- Chase, Chooch, Cole and Cliff - have one more run in them. I'd also love to be able to tell you that the last two years were an aberration, and that the five years of un-Phillies like prosperity (2007-11) will continue after this tolerable hiatus.

 

Yes, I'd love to tell you that AJ Burnett will be a stud, that Marlon Byrd will produce a 30-30 season, and that Ryan, Jimmy, Chase and company will all have peak years. Then again, I'd love to be able to tell you that this winter has been fun, and that 28-degree early spring days are refreshing.

 

Feeling very realistic with just a little optimism, I'm projecting a half-decent, but playoff-less 2014, despite one or two of those aforementioned x-factors coming up positive. Call it 83-79, and third-place, with thanks that Matt Harvey is on the shelf, so I don't have to ponder fourth place.

  

Earl Myers:

Fortunately for Phillies fans, there’s no shortage of things to do in the Delaware Valley on a nice summer day.  And thanks to the bumbling, nonsensical decisions by the team’s general manager Ruben Amaro, they’re going to need as many options as possible.  

Still, it’s baseball, and Citizens Bank Park is small enough for Ryan Howard to run into 20-25 hanging breaking balls if he plays 130 games. Of course, it’s very unlikely he and Chase Utley play that many together.   

Will Ryne Sandberg let Jimmy Rollins coast his way to a record Rollins covets?  Is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder the reason Carlos Ruiz became one of the best catchers in the game?  Does Dominic Brown actually enjoy playing baseball for a living? And finally, is Cliff Lee going to play for the Yankees, Dodgers, Red Sox, Tigers or Cardinals by season’s end?  

Add to that a weak bullpen (again) and a few young, promising players who after further inspection, aren’t that young and aren’t that promising, and it smells like 71-91.  

Good thing you don’t live in Oakland. Then again, those folks will see meaningful baseball in September.  

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Joe Vallee:

 

Regardless of how healthy Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins or Chase Utley are during the 2014 season, I’m really not sure that’s going to be enough to warrant one last run for this aging Phillies team. It’s becoming more and more apparent that Howard’s devastating injury three years ago to close the NLDS marked the unofficial end to this era of Phillies baseball, as things were never truly the same after that epic playoff failure. Although I’m usually one to go against the grain in the realm of predictions (because let’s face it: nobody is hardly ever right), there’s not much I disagree with that the “experts” have envisioned for this Phillies squad. Not that spring training records count, but I watched many Phillies games in March and was honestly impressed by nobody, except Marlon Byrd, who I really shouldn’t be impressed with. With the exception of Cliff Lee, the team didn’t particularly pitch well, either. Cole Hamels missing time was a rather ominous sign from the outset, and don’t even get me started on Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez. Gonzalez photo: Kim Klement

 

It seems this era of Phillies baseball is on track to suffer the same eventual fate of the Mike Schmidt-Steve Carlton era: no adequate replacements for their superstars combined with shoddy drafting and questionable free agent signings. Of course, when your ballclub is winning games, draft positions aren’t as much of a priority as it would be if your team is losing 96 games a year. That being said,  the Cardinals always find a way to do it so there’s no excuse, and their payroll is just over $111 million.

 

Allowing Mike Arbuckle to leave the Phillies after the 2008 World Series was a major blunder on behalf of the organization. It took some time, but it appears Arbuckle is finally turning around the Kansas City Royals, a team clearly on the rise after posting 86 wins in 2013. While I don’t blame Ruben Amaro for the Ryan Howard deal (especially in the wake of Miguel Cabrera’s!), I blame him and whoever runs the Phillies system for not having serviceable replacements for Utley and Rollins. Yes, maybe those long-term deals were unnecessary, but who do the Phillies currently have in the minor leagues who is better? Nobody, and that’s the biggest problem.

 

Right now, Amaro currently looks like a general manager who had a glorified checkbook to rely on for years. I know the Phillies were fortunate enough to have Pat Gillick for those three seasons, but his presence is still sorely missed. This team is like a rudderless ship with absolutely no game plan for the future. The veterans are aging to the point where nobody would want them even if Amaro was brazen enough to trade them, nobody knows if youngsters like Cody Asche are the real deal and whether Domonic Brown can duplicate several months of last season and turn it into a full season.  In addition to the team’s aging core and currently depleted starting rotation, there’s the uncertainty of the bullpen. Jeff Manship and Mario Hollands had great springs, but can they maintain their consistency for an entire season that depends on a rebound year from a declining Jonathan Papelbon and a newly reinstated Antonio Bastardo? And what exactly is the deal with Mike Adams?

 

Bottom line is that there’s too many questions marks and no answers. At all. I’m going to give you two scenarios just for fun as to how this season could play out.

  

Best case scenario:

 

-Rollins eclipses Mike Schmidt’s all-time team hit record, which will be the highlight of the season. After a rocky start, Rollins and Sandberg will tentatively coexist.

 

-Utley, Rollins, Chooch, Byrd, Brown and Howard all have respectable seasons, but the Phillies just miss the second NL Wild Card spot by four games and finish 83-79. Howard is finally healthy from his injuries, hits .271 with 31 home runs, and is put on the trading block after the year. Phillies decline Rollins option for 2015.

 

-Hamels comes back healthy with no blips on the radar screen, Lee is his consistent self and Burnett adds 12 wins. Gonzalez joins the team in July and wins six games.

 

-The bullpen remains solid for most of the season, with Papelbon notching 35 saves.

 

 Worst case scenario:

 

-Rollins and Sandberg are like oil and water. Sandberg benches Rollins from time to time. Rollins still manages to break Schmidt’s record, but that will be the final Phillies hit of his career and the next day he approves a trade.

 

-Howard hits less than 20 home runs and suffers another injury. Utley’s knees take a severe beating. Brown plays a total of three full months.

 

-Hamels never fully recovers, Lee suffers from lack of run support, Burnett is a disaster, and Gonzalez fails to throw a single pitch for the team all season.

 

-The bullpen is flammable. Papelbon mouths off and the Phillies trade him for virtually nothing.

  

My prediction: Somewhere in the middle. Things have gone wrong already. If this were some magical city like Boston or St. Louis, I could see some sort of rebirth, but it’s not. It’s Philadelphia. I’m feeling 77-85. Amaro is dismissed at the end of the year and the team goes on a legitimate rebuilding phase in 2015.



 You can contact Ryan Downs at rdowns@philly2philly.com

 

Check out Matt Goldberg at www.tipofthegoldberg.com

 

Contact Earl Myers at emyersiii@hotmail.com

 

Contact Joe Vallee at jvallee@philly2philly.com  

 

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Hamels photo: Chuck Solomon

Gonzalez photo: Kim Klement