Opening Day is within sight and before Philadelphia Phillies’ Cole Hamels fires his first fastball in Atlanta, the Phils find themselves being no better than mid-pack in the NL East.
Striking the championship balance of seasoned veterans and promising young talent is like watching Karl Wallenda walk across the top of Veterans Stadium on a razor thin high wire. It’s a terrific accomplishment, but the finesse required to do it demands great skill, strong focus, and some luck. And, it’s often difficult to watch.
Precarious balance is an issue for the 2013 Phillies. Last season, the team lost almost 1,500 games as a team due to major stints on the disabled list for Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Carlos Ruiz. The starting infield looks good, but can head athletic trainer Scott Sheridan keep them healthy enough to get through the grind of 162 games? Not likely.
Freddy Galvis and Kevin Frandsen could get more combined playing time in their roles as utility infielders than Michael Young, Jimmy Rollins, Utley, and Howard will as starting players.
Phillies outfielders don’t have an age issue, but still the team faces significant concerns. John Mayberry, Jr., Laynce Nix, and Domonic Brown have not proven to be consistently productive day-to-day players. Newly-acquired outfielders Ben Revere and Delmon Young may provide periodic inspiration, but not nearly enough to assure October baseball in Philadelphia.
The pitching mix on the mound is also suspect. Roy Halladay is struggling. Cliff Lee isn’t dominating spring training. Kyle Kendrick needs to show consistency.
John Lannan is – well, why is he in Philadelphia anyway? It remains a mystery why the Phillies would sign a pitcher they obliterated when he was with the Nationals. The ace of the staff, Cole Hamels, is great, but he can’t carry the team when he will start less than 25 percent of the Phillies’ games.
However, it’s not all about the Phillies. Both the Braves and the Nationals have improved. With brothers B.J. Upton and Justin Upton in the lineup and one of the best pitching rotations in baseball, Atlanta will press Washington as the top NL East team.
Stephen Strasburg will anchor a rock solid pitching staff for the Nationals who, as a team, won more games than any other team in 2012. NL Rookie of the Year, Bryce Harper returns for his sophomore season without any expectations that it will be ‘jinxed’. And, with Denard Span now patrolling center field for the Nats, there is little reason to doubt that they will celebrate their second consecutive NL East title.
All things considered, the Phillies have issues that consign them to the middle of the standings.