ESPN Writer Says Phillies Win 66 Games in 2014

Can Ryan Howard help the Phillies win more than 66 games in 2014? - Howard Smith-US PRESSWIRE

ESPN Sweet Spot overlord David Schoenfield says the Phillies will be the second-worst team in baseball in 2014. How worked up should you get over a very pessimistic assessment?

I try not to pay too much attention to just one man's opinion on virtually anything in this world, because one man's opinion is just that...

...the opinion of just one human being.

That said, sometimes an opinion is so interesting or so out of left field that it takes you by surprise. Such was the case with ESPN Senior Writer Dave Schoenfield, who wrote on Monday that the Phillies will be the second-worst team in baseball this year.

Due for a worse season: Byrd washed out of the majors in 2012, but hit .291/.336/.511 in 2013 with a career-high 24 home runs last season. But he's 36 and even if the changes he made to his swing helped, he's unlikely to come close to those totals again. Chase Utley is coming off a season in which he had his highest games played, home runs, batting average and slugging percentage since 2009.

I'm just the messenger: With Ruiz, Howard, Byrd, Utley and Jimmy Rollins, the Phillies are counting on five regulars in their age-34 seasons or older. Only four teams have had five position players that old bat 400-plus times in a season -- the 1945 White Sox, 1985 Angels and 2002 and 2007 Giants. Hey, it worked for the 2002 Giants, who went to the World Series. But these Phillies don't have Barry Bonds in the middle of the lineup.

The final word: I can see a scenario where the Phillies could win 85-87 games and sneak into the wild-card picture, but a lot has to go right for that to happen. Brown improves, the old guys stay healthy and Howard has a big comeback season, Gonzalez has a big year as the No. 3 starter. More likely, however, this is an old team that has gone from 102 wins to 81 to 73 to ... well, something lower. The core group of Utley, Rollins and Howard were once a dynamic trio that help created a glorious era of Phillies baseball. The Phillies doubled down on those guys and bet wrong. This looks like a bad team with two ace pitchers. Don't be surprised if Cliff Lee is in another uniform come Aug. 1.

Prediction: 66-96

So, where to begin?

First of all, you can argue that, with multiple starting pitching options still available, including A.J. Burnett, Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Sanatana, the off-season isn't even over yet. It's way too soon to start putting win totals on any team. But, Schoenfield did, so let's just operate under the assumption that the Phillies are done here.

This just seems like an overly negative view of the Phils' situation and someone going out of their way to be overly negative. Yes, the Phillies lost 89 games last year, but by the end of the season, Darin Ruf was playing right field every day, Kevin Frandsen was the third baseman, and Cesar Hernandez and John Mayberry were splitting center field duties.

Oh, and Michael Martinez was still on the team.

Even if Byrd regresses a bit this year and drops from being a 5-WAR player to a 2-3 WAR player, that's still three or four more wins added than having Ruf or Delmon Young in right field all season. Ben Revere's injury last year was fluky. A healthy season from him adds another one or two wins to last year's total. Roy Halladay's dumpster fire of a season cost the Phils three or four wins that they otherwise would have expected from their #3 starter. Will Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez be any worse than what Halladay was last year?

It's impossible to know now, but the bullpen could be much better and it certainly can't be any worse than last year. A healthy Ryan Howard (and it's understandable to be skeptical that we'll have a healthy Ryan Howard) is certainly worth a win or two more than playing Mayberry, Ruf and Michael Young at first base all season. A full season of Carlos Ruiz is certainly worth an extra win over last year's mess behind the plate. Michael Young's negative-WAR will be replaced by either Cody Asche or Maikel Franco. And is Jimmy Rollins going to provide any less value than he did last year, when he had one of the worst seasons of his career?

Not only that, Laynce Nix isn't here anymore either.

I do agree with Schoenfield that Domonic Brown is still a great unknown.

He finally had his breakout season, hitting .272 with 27 home runs and making the All-Star team. It wasn't a great season, as his defense was below average and he didn't walk a whole lot. At 26, will he improve? He hit 12 home runs in May -- without drawing a single walk. He hit just four home runs in the second half, but also missed time in September with an Achilles' tendon injury. What is he, exactly? We'll find out in 2014.

No one knows what Brown is going to provide this year, so it's certainly possible that he could regress. But he was only worth 2.5 WAR last year, so even if he slips to being a league-average player, the Phils have only lost two or three wins from their overall total.

Of course, the big unknown is injuries, which are impossible to predict, even for a team with age issues like the Phillies.

Catastrophic things would have to happen for the team to max out at 66 wins next year. Lee or Hamels would have to get hurt. Kendrick would have to be an absolute nightmare right from the get-go. Utley would have to have a marked decline from 2013. Rollins would have to be even worse this year, if that's possible. Asche would have to be a total disaster at third base. The bullpen would have to completely implode and virtually every minor league replacement would have to be worthless.

Every single solitary thing that can go wrong would have to go wrong for the Phillies to win only 66 games, AND the Marlins and Mets would BOTH have to take big developmental steps forward. Or, the Phils would have to be so out of it by the All-Star break that, as David alluded to in his piece, Lee and others would be traded to other teams after the trade deadline and the Phillies would become the major league affiliate of the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs for the last couple of months.

Listen, I'm not arguing that the Phillies will win 90 games this year, or even that they'll win 85 (even though our very own Schmenckman outlined a path for that today).

I am arguing that they will likely have a similar win total to last year, and maybe even a bit better if a couple things go right.

Of course, we're arguing over whether the Phillies are going to win 66 games or 76, so it's entirely possible we've already lost the larger fight, my friends.

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