The 2012 Phillies are now a mere one week away from their Citizens Bank Park debut and we’re still not sure who will show up. This team won 102 games in 2011 but
bowed out in the NLDS to the eventual champion St. Louis Cardinals – marking
the third straight year the Phillies have lost to the eventual champions in
postseason (2010 San Francisco Giants NLCS and 2009 New York Yankees World
In December and January the Phillies made a number of moves to improve their bench and overall team depth acquiring such players as Juan Pierre, Jim Thome, Lance Nix, Ty Wigginton, Jonathan Papelbon and Dontrelle Willis.
Each and every one of those new faces along with some familiar old faces (Thome is technically an old face as a former Phillie and team graybeard) will be needed as this team will use platoons, pitching, defense and smallball to compensate for their lack of run production.
102-60, NL East Champs, Lost NLDS to STL
Jonathan Papelbon, Jim Thome, Lance Nix, Ty Wiggington,
Dontrelle Willis, Chad Qualls, Juan Pierre, Jeremy Horst
Raul Ibanez, Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson, Wilson Valdez, Ben
Francisco, John Bowker, Roy Oswalt, Joel Piniero, Ross Gload
BULLPEN: Chad Qualls/Scott
Elarton/Jose Contreras/Dontrelle Willis/Joe Savery/Phillippe Aumont/Justin DeFratus/Diekman/David Herndon/ Michael Schwimmer/Dave Bush/Jeremy Horst/Brian Sanches/Rosenberg/David Purcey
ARMAGEDDON: Last year I suggested that barring a comet hitting the earth, the Phillies would win their fifth straight NL East Divisional title, which they did (plus 102 games to boot). It’s not a comet but perhaps an asteroid-sized hole in the right side of the infield and the 3-4
spots in the lineup – both of which will be missing Chase Utley (avg .290, 27 HR, 101 RBI) and Ryan Howard (avg .275, 45 HR, 136 RBI) to begin 2012. Howard is still in recovery from the hellaciously gut-wrenching left Achillies injury which ended the Phillies 2011 NLDS in dramatic fashion. Some saw Howard launching bombs in batting practice two weeks ago and assumed he would be back
early. Others familiar with the injury know that it sometimes takes an entire year for that core strength to truly return. Utley sat out all of Spring
Training 2011 plus the first 8 weeks of the season due to a chronic knee condition (chondromalacia) and while he managed nearly 400 AB in 103 games (.259 BA, 11 HR, 44 RBI) he is a shadow of his former self.
DAMAGE: In fact, now it is Utley’s OTHER knee which has developed complications as a result of compensating for the chronic condition. Utley has
taken infield practice from a chair and has not played one inning of Grapefruit League ball in 2012. All the rest in the world won’t keep Utley from the same fate that eventually felled Mickey Mantle, Stan Musial and Babe Ruth – Father Time.
Utley’s knees are never going to get better and at age 33, he must
decide the quality of the remainder of his life – especially in light of an
$85M contract through 2013. The truth regarding these two living legends must
lie somewhere in the middle but that means Utley may play three times a week
while Howard could return anywhere between May and September!
STORYLINES: Take your pick. Utley/Howard have dominated the headlines. Jonathan Papelbon (219 SV, 2.33 ERA, 1.018 WHIP and two world championships) is the new $50M closer while Ryan Madson (Cincinnati) and Brad
Lidge (about $10M combined 2012 salary) toil for other NL clubs.
Lidge has already proclaimed that his new Washington Nationals teammates are finest
collection of major league talent he has ever played with, which is nice of him to say.
RESCUE ME: Conventional wisdom would suggest that sometime around July, Lidge and his mediocre mish-mosh of mongrel major league talent will feel like the angry
golfer who chucked his entire golf bag into the lake and then needs to
sheepishly borrow clubs to finish the round so as to avoid wading in to retrieve his $3,000 golf clubs from their nautical fate. Of course, that is merely my opinion and I could be entirely wrong. Brad Lidge may also realize that he was wrong. Ryan Madson could have remained in Philadelphia for $11M per season. Jonathan Papelbon is the Phillies closer and even at $50M this is a very good deal for all parties.
NEXT UP: Other headline-grabbers include Jim Thome playing first base for the first time since 2007, Hunter Pence being the only serious power threat in the lineup and the reduction in force of aces from four to three.
ACES WILD: Will Vance Worley, Joe Blanton and possibly Kyle Kendrick make up for the departure of Roy Oswalt? Could Blanton be trade bait? Most importantly, who will serve as the supporting cast in the 2012 Phillies bullpen?
PLATOON: Not much can be done but develop some sense of patience for Howard’s recovery. Philadelphia sports fans are not known for their patience, but they may be distracted by the cavalcade of platooning contributors including Jim Thome, John Mayberry, Ty Wiggington, Brian Schneider, Juan Pierre, Freddy Galvis and Lance Nix. Matchups will determine circumstance,
also balanced with the corollary carousel in left field, which could see Juan Pierre, Scott Podsednik, Nix, Mayberry and possibly even Wigginton or Placido Polanco at times. Third base will be shared by Polanco and Wigginton while Rollins remains the stalwart on this infield and leader of this team at shortstop.
FRINGE: Essentially the goal is to keep as many solid bats in the lineup while counter-matching opposing pitchers. Thome and Wigginton will see more playing time in the first half of the season until Howard’s return. Freddy Galvis will prove whether or not he can replace Michael Martinez as the utility infielder while names such as Pete Orr and Scott Podsednik should contribute. This bench is the strongest in Philadelphia since the days of mullets, muscle shirts and Macho Row and this season will be a full team effort from top to bottom.
BLACK HOLE: Second base is a huge void in the wake of Chase Utley, which should be filled by Pete Orr, Kevin Franzden, Michael Martinez (2011’s Rule 5 steal from Washington) and most likely Freddy Galvis. This reminds Ruben Amaro that he might not have wanted to trade supersub Wilson Valdez this particular offseason.
Galvis has shone in Grapefruit League play, displaying power and grace not often seen in 526 minor league games (.246 BA, 18 HR. 160 RBI over 5 seasons). He has always been a slick fielder, but Galvis has shown that his bat could provide some sting.
Despite the optimism, Freddy Galvis is no Chase Utley. Martinez (88 games, 234 PA, .196 BA), Galvis and Pete Orr (.254 BA over parts of 6 seasons) combined don’t measure up to Chase Utley but then again, Chase Utley is no longer the Chase Utley he once was.
With a $178M payroll, it is very unlikely that the Phillies will seek outside help past Franzden, Hector Luna, Orr and Martinez (broken hand). None of the available open market options (Omar Vizquell, Alberto Callaspo, Macier Izturis) truly make a difference like Tad Iguchi did subbing for Utley in 2008.
RED: What they will offer is a longer lineup of professional hitters fighting for
opportunity. Shane Victorino, Carlos
Ruiz and Hunter Pence are now
the veteran stalwarts of this lineup while Jimmy Rollins decides if either he or Shane Victorino would be better served in the familiar leadoff position or hitting third in front of Hunter Pence.
The rest of the lineup will change daily so don’t look for anyone to know where
they will hit or when they will play from day to day. Juan Pierre or Shane
Victorino may split the leadoff duties while Polanco, Wigginton, Mayberry, Rollins and Ruiz could hit anywhere from 1 through 8 in the order.
POWER SOURCE: Most likely Pence will hit 3rd or 4th offering Jim Thome as protection whenever possible. Ty Wigginton should also see some time in the meat of the order along with Mayberry, Lance Nix or possibly Shane Victorino.
With Ryan Howard (140 RBI) and Chase Utley gone until possibly May or June, this lineup has to find offense somewhere. Perhaps Rollins, Victorino and Pierre will be asked to steal more bases or Manuel will be forced to use more hit and run situations toward the bottom of the lineup.
Charlie Manuel does not like to mix and match but he will have very little choice. His “starting lineup” remained intact for fewer than 20 games each of the previous two seasons but 2012 will truly prove whether or not Manuel is a superior manager or exceptionally lucky to have this much talent on one team.
D-TRAIN DERAILED: Virtually no one seems to be talking about the release of Dontrelle Willis. The affable free-wheeling lefty signed to a non-guaranteed $1 million contract, hadn’t performed well by any standard. While it’s still fairly early in spring training, the Phillies felt they had enough evidence to determine that he wouldn’t live up to their expectations. This is a far cry from the fireballing sidewinder who caught lightning in a bottle in the 2003 World Series.
SOLE TRAIN: In 2 2/3 innings this spring, Willis allowed 9 baserunners (four BB) with no strikeouts. His ERA soared past sixteen and he looked more like the Dontrelle who struggled upon leaving the Marlins than the lefty-killer from the 2011 Reds.
SOUTHPAW SEARCH: Phillies had hoped Willis could fill the second lefty bullpen spot to compliment Antonio Bastardo but apparently it wasn’t even worth offering Willis a minor league assignment. Numbers compiled during spring training are generally meaningless, but it was clear through observation that Willis was struggling mightily. He couldn’t locate his pitches and had no command whatsoever. As we saw with JC Romero, loss of control is only made worse if the manager incorrectly uses him.
Willis is a volatile performer, and the Phillies want more consistency from the left-handed specialist role. Nothing is more frustrating than bringing in a lefty specifically to face one batter, resulting in a walk, wild pitch or moon shot. Unfortunately for Willis, despite his tremendous numbers against same-handed hitters last year, the Phillies had an abundance of potential lefty bullpenners in camp.
The Phillies entered spring training with Dontrelle Willis, Pat Misch, Jake Diekman, Raul Valdes, Jeremy Horst, Joe Savery and David Purcey. Horst was the return on the Valdez trade. Willis is the first to be released while the rest should see time in Lehigh Valley.
NOT-READY-FOR-PRIMETIME BULLPEN: Jonathan Papelbon leads the way, so we know the ninth inning is nailed down. Jose Contreras is still battling rotator cuff and elbow injuries (a.k.a. “Death and Death Lite” for pitchers. Michael Stutes and Antonio Bastardo are expected to step up and build on their success in 2011 -though both seemed to run out of gas over the final six weeks of the regular season.
With Willis gone the rest of the bullpen should be filled with Chad Qualls, David Herndon, Kyle Kendrick and some lottery winner from the likes of the aforementioned David Purcey, Scott Elarton, Joe Savery,
Jeremy Horst. Joel Piniero was discarded mere weeks after his second failed signing with the Phillies and now has been joined on the free agent market by Dontrelle Willis. Phillippe Aumont, Michael Schwimmer and the rest of the field have been relegated to minor league camp but look for Savery, Horst or Elarton to be among the final cuts once the team heads north.
Fewer regular season victories and additions down the stretch (Howard, Utley) should permit the Phillies to finally go farther in the postseason. With this new wildcard format, division winners are finally afforded some reward and in any given
series, pitching generally wins the day. The rest of the National League East has improved but the league-wide talent level has dropped.
ACES PLUS: Look for Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay to have stellar seasons, complimented by Vance Worley, Joe Blanton and Kyle Kendrick. Hopefully Joe Blanton doesn’t get a whiff of the postseason and finds a way to not be the albatross around the Phillies proverbial necks. He may win 10 games with a plus 4.00 ERA and surrender 25-30 homers which is also known as the Joe Blanton Special. Sometimes it is better to know what to expect than be disappointed by failed expectations.
BLACKJACK: The Starting Pitching is the cornerstone of this team but the Phillies may be wise to not bunch their Three Aces together. Perhaps inserting Joe Blanton or Vance Worley into the traditional #3 spot will prove effective because the Phillies will win more series with their aces on the mound. They don’t want to go Halladay-Lee-Hamels in one series and then go Worley-Blanton before getting back to Halladay. This strategy will also break up the two dominant lefties. While Vance Worley proved a solid pitcher in his first full season, the fewer games Joe Blanton pitches the better. Barring a trade of Blanton (who wants him) the pitching staff should look something like:
|Roy Halladay||Jonathan Papelbon|
|Cliff Lee||Antonio Bastardo|
|Cole Hamels||Michael Stutes|
|Vance Worley||Kyle Kendrick|
|Joe Blanton||Chad Qualls|
The starting lineup will be a mix-n-match crapshoot until Howard, Utley and Polanco come back full time but could look like this on Opening Day:
|1B||Jim Thome/John Mayberry|
|LF||Ty Wigginton/Juan Pierre|
|2B||Pete Orr/Freddy Galvis|
2012 PREDICTION: With a mix-n-match lineup, a shutdown closer and one fewer ace in an overall solid rotation these 2012 Phillies may be the most talented roster of all the recent winning seasons.
Look for a return to the World Series in a weakened National League despite an improved NL East field. 97-65 will be good enough for another Fall Classic.
About the Author
Written by Christopher Rowe
Contributing writer Comcast Sports, NY Times contributing stringer 1996-2000, Contributing writer Yahoo Sports (2001 World Series). Contributing writer Newsday Long Island (1992-1994, Jets Training Camp) and Newak Star Ledger. Freelance Copywriter, Editor/Founder Atlantic Times Weekly (1993-2003) fantasy football magazine, produced screenwriter and general humorist. Hofstra University grad, Marist College honorary alum, Salesian; Purveyor of the Value and Valor of Philadelphia Eagles 1960 NFL Championship; Adrent believer that Eagles could have won Super Bowl XV...and Super Bowl XXXIX...plus modern decade of Eagles 5 NFC Championships... Believer in the Broad Street Bullies and the 1983 Sixers... Witness to Philadelphia Phillies World Series championships 1980 & 2008, Suffered Phillies first pro sports team to reach 10,000 losses,witnessed "1980 Cardiac Kids," 1983 "Wheeze Kids," 1993 "Macho Row" and many, many, many not-so-memorable seasons in-between... until the Philadelphia Baseball Renaissance of 21st Century, Five NL East division titles 2007-2011, 3 NLCS appearances 2008-2010, 2 consecutive World Series berths 2008 & 2009. 2008 World Champions of baseball [miss ya Harry and Richie]; "collector" of MLB ballparks (42 stadiums including 15 which are gone); Fantasy Football & Baseball player since 1992. Always a sports fan... Tenui Nec Dimittam Contact me firstname.lastname@example.org