This offseason has seen a wave of unmitigated negativity being hurled at the Philadelphia Phillies, present company not excluded. There are a plethora of reasons as to why the Phillies are predicted to be mediocre this season, and they have been written about at length already by experienced and rookie writers alike. They’re old, they’re crotchety, they’re injured, they’re overpaid and the list goes on.
The Houston Astros, however, they are not. This team is not devoid of hope, and it is not outside the scope of plausibility that your Phillies could make a run.
Let’s start with the obvious. This team is riddled with players from the golden age of Phillies baseball who have been through thick and thin and have seen the fruits of success. Together, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Cole Hamels, Jimmy Rollins and Carlos Ruiz have all been to the top of the mountain and have the wherewithal to reach it again. Unlike other teams with old rosters, the Phils have players who when healthy were among the best at their position in MLB and have the capability of getting there yet again.
Utley reminded us last year what he could do when 100 percent healthy. Hamels, having just turned 30, is at a point in his career where he could finally hit on his Cy Young potential. Howard was never truly recovered from his Achilles injury the past two seasons, so a return to at least his modest power (30-40 HR) and RBI (100+) totals is not out of the question. Rollins is attempting to re-invent himself this season, and his defense has never been an issue. Even Chooch had his career year only two seasons ago before suffering through injuries and a suspension last season.
Looking to the rest of the team, Cliff Lee and Jonathan Papelbon will continue to be the stud pitchers that they have been. Ben Revere was hitting on all cylinders before he injured himself and will be a boon to the offense if he can return to his level of production before he left. Dominic Brown certainly had his highs last year and also had some second-half lows. He now knows what it takes to succeed and will look to capitalize on his breakout season. Even Darin Ruf and Cody Asche, two untested young players, demonstrated some flashes of brilliance last season that could be harnessed into breakout seasons (especially in Ruf’s case as he enters his age 27 season, typically the year players ‘figure it out’).
On the mound, I have written about how the Phillies have a hoard of young, talented relievers that just need an opportunity to shine. This is that year, and it is not unlikely that the Phillies hit on a few of them (looking at you Philippe Aumont, Jake Diekman and Justin de Fratus). Roberto Hernandez was brought in because of success in recent years getting a high percentage of ground balls. If he can succeed in replicating those characteristics, he could have a surprisingly successful season and shock some fans around Philadelphia.
Finally there are the intangibles. Ryne Sandberg is a new and fresh voice for a bunch of old and not-so-fresh players. This should prove to be a good thing for the team and could motivate the team to heights not previously thought attainable. Barring unforeseen circumstances, Sandberg alone should be worth a few extra wins. Additionally, the Phillies have finally brought in someone who deals with advanced statistics to give the team more of an edge. There is no telling if this will work or not, but the management of the team will certainly be different with that and a new manager together.
Finally, with age comes wisdom. Along with the old core, they added AJ Burnett, Bobby Abreu and Marlon Byrd; three players older than the average age of the team. A lot can be said about their diminished capabilities, but not to be overlooked is the fact that they know this is the twilight of their career, they know this is likely their last season together and they can hear the pessimism. It is certainly within the realm of possibility that they rally together as a team and shock the world.
Will it happen? Probably not, but what else is going to get fans through this season?