Ah, Spring Training baseball has concluded, and now the real season begins.
Today commences the official start of baseball in Philadelphia for the season. For the Phillies, what does that mean? Well, here’s the roundup heading into the season:
-Seven position players over the age of 30
-A team payroll of over $180-million (ranked third best in baseball behind the Dodgers and Yankees)
-Cole Hamels out (most likely) until sometime in May with shoulder fatigue
-Ryne Sandberg in his first full year of coaching (the team not only removed the interim tag, but honored him with a three-year deal to boot)
-Starting the season in inter-league play at Texas (at Globe Life Park)
-Lee returns to Texas
Today in the opener, squaring off against 27-year old Tanner Scheppers (who’ll start in place of Yu Darvish, due to a neck injury), Cliff Lee will take the mound against his former team, the Texas Rangers. Lee was a member of a successful Rangers’ team that went on to represent the AL in the 2010 World Series against San Francisco, after Rangers’ GM Jon Daniels acquired the lefty from Seattle months prior in July. Cliff also debuted in 2009 against Texas, back then as a member of Cleveland. He got rocked around in that start, being accounted for seven earned runs in a 9-1 loss.
In his career, Lee is 7-3 against Texas, albeit with an ERA of just 4.94 to match. Additionally, his career ERA for first game pitched’s per season is 3.47. Lee will be ready and willing to be a work horse today in Hamels’ absence.
Speaking of Hamels’ injury, that brings me to my next sub-point to begin the season. Back on Feb. 12, Hamels revealed that he was behind in his throwing program due to biceps tendinitis and that he had experienced discomfort around Thanksgiving, at which point he and the Phillies’ medical staff decided to delay the start of his throwing program.
He said that he felt fine after his first bullpen in mid-March, and the team doesn't expect him to miss more than two starts.
-Members over 30 club
Outfielder Marlon Byrd, now in his second tenure with Philadelphia (2002-2005), is the oldest member on the team at 36. After playing in 147 total games combined last year with Pittsburgh and the Mets (.291/.336/.511), he signed an off-season sheet with Philadelphia (2-yr, $16 million) to replace the horrible experiment that went wrong in right field last year in Delmon Young.
Fast-forward two years ago, and none of the team’s current three starting outfielders — including Byrd — were starting in Philadelphia at all. Center fielder Ben Revere was still with Minnesota, Dom Brown was still a backup and Byrd spent limited time playing, between Chicago and Boston. The latter a year later was also suspended by Major League Baseball for a banned substance.
Carlos Ruiz (35), Ryan Howard (34), Chase Utley (35), Jimmy Rollins (35), Cliff Lee (35), among starters, are all over 30 as well. Additionally, team closer Jonathan Papelbon (33), Cole Hamels (30), backup catcher Wil Nieves (36), left-fielder Tony Gwynn, Jr. (31), and recently-acquired infielder Jayson Nix (31) are as well, among others.
To give you an idea of how over-the-hill they are, the team ranks third among teams this year in average team age with 30.3, behind only New York (31.2) and Boston (30.8).
- First Base
- Second Base
- Third Base
- Left Field
- Center Field
- Right Field
- Starting Rotation
|37||Mike Adams||Mar 26||15-day-dl||Recovery from right shoulder surgery|
|13||Freddy Galvis||Mar 21||15-day-dl||Staph infection, left knee|
|75||Miguel Alfredo Gónzalez||Mar 21||60-day-dl||Sore right shoulder|
|35||Cole Hamels||Mar 21||15-day-dl||Left biceps tendinitis|
|49||Ethan Martin||Mar 21||15-day-dl||Right shoulder strain|
|18||Darin Ruf||Mar 21||15-day-dl||Strained left oblique|
Not only is the team old, but they’re pretty banged up as well. Chase Utley’s knees are shot — despite the fact that he surprisingly played 131 games last year — Ryan Howard, after suffering Achilles problems, was sidelined for 75 games due to a torn left meniscus last season, and Cole Hamels is still recovering from shoulder fatigue, and will be shelved indefinitely because of it.
The 2014 Wheeze Kids?
Many analysts, writers and fans recently have thrown around the idea that this 2014 Phillies’ team perhaps could be successful despite their significant age range, like the 1983 "Wheeze Kids" Phillies were (moderately at least, especially against expectations). Let me remind those people, and/or people that consider it a possibility to compare the two, of a few things, before we go forth and do so.
First of all, that ’83 team had five Hall of Fame caliber players in Schmidt, Lefty, Morgan, Perez and Rose (despite the latter’s lack of admission). This team? Might not even scratch the surface.
Had Ryan Howard stayed healthy, not struck out as often, and hit better vs. lefties, that may be a different story, but still. Had Chase Utley stayed more healthy, he’s a potential Hall of Famer down the line as well. And who knows about Hamels considering his career’s still in full-flight. 5>0 wins everyday.
Second, and final, of all, the ’83 team’s two most valuable players stayed healthy throughout that season. Schmidt not only played 154 games, but hit 40 (which led the league) and drove in 109, while Carlton played the entire year, compiling 37 starts. Compared to Howard and Utley, it won’t be a total shock, all things considered, if Howard and Utley play, oh let’s say, more than 135 games this year, but it’ll be up there for sure. Howard hasn’t played in more than 100 games in a single-season since 2011; also the last time he hit 30 or more home runs as well. As for Utley, he got lucky last year, but luck only goes so far. Of course the team would love for and benefit from Utley playing in 130+ games/year every year, but considering the fact that his knees have deteriorated so much, it would be a shock if he played the same amount of games as well this upcoming season.
The development of Dom Brown, and Cliff Lee’s, well, what he does on the mound practically every start, last year saved the team from being even worst than they were. Perhaps luck did as well, considering their Pythagorean win-loss record was just 66-96; seven games worst than they actually fared.
Former-MVP shortstop Jimmy Rollins has been a horrible contact hitter since his MVP-season of 2007. In the six seasons since then, he’s hit only .257, while lowering his stolen base totals over the past couple of years progressively as well. On top of that, Sandberg has already had to bench Rollins a couple of games this year due to a lack of effort it seems. Lack of effort or not, it was only Spring Training, thus Rollins needs to step it up, no excuses necessary, now that it’s game number one. Despite being a lead-of hitter (and on top of that, never being one for plate patience either), Rollins has only averaged little over 52.5 walks/season the past five years. Perhaps it’s time youngster Ben Revere stays in the lead-off spot, while Rollins bats around the latter half of the lineup accordingly.
Match-ups in general, on top of vs. left-handed/right-handed pitchers (and so forth), are key too as Utley, Howard and Brown are all middle of the order, left-handed bats.
Although not as experienced, new full-time manager Ryne Sandberg, in my opinion, will be a better game-day manager than Manuel was, despite the latter’s success, due to Manuel’s favoritism for the veterans, and slow hook in leaving pitchers in mid-game each year. This won’t be enough, however, to counter Philadelphia’s age, lack of pitching depth, and overall talent. It’s kind of hard to utilize your superstar, veteran players like Rollins, Howard, Utley and Hamels anyway when most of the time, mid-season, they’re either injured, striking out excessively, or flat-out not playing well.
Revere’s speed, progression, improvements, age and athleticism are huge for Philadelphia, especially considering the deal in itself (with regards to how poorly Vance Worley’s pitched since the Worley-Revere trade of two years ago).
Our starting pitching without Hamels, especially from the 3-5 spot, is repulsive, to say the least. Kyle Kendrick is mediocre, Roberto Hernandez (formerly Fausto Carmona) has been atrocious the past three seasons (13-31, 5.19 ERA) and I’m not expecting much from newly-acquired starting-pitcher Jeff Manship. Burnett is a decent two/fairly good three, with solid experience, and we all know what the duo of Hamels and Lee can do when healthy.
As for our bullpen, if Papelbon can return to form, he’s solid, despite being overpaid, Jake Diekman could be our best reliever (2.58 ERA in 45 appearances last season), and Bastardo (and Adams when healthy) could be decent, we’ll see how it goes.
Starting ace Cliff Lee could very well potentially be a trade piece come July of this year for a contending team. If the Phillies aren't in a position to contend at that point, expect them to field significant offers to move Lee, in terms of getting a young(er) piece in return, as well as Lee helping out a playoff-caliber team in return.
Keys to Success
-Health of Howard/Utley/Hamels/Lee
-Young guys filling in successfully
-Brown and Revere continuing their growth; Byrd continuing his improvements, and Rollins flat out improving in all facets of his game minus base running
Season Prediction (Team)
Washington- 94- 68
New York- 74-88
Due to our age, Howard’s declining power due to his age/health, Ryno’s inexperience as manager, the lack of depth, and more, I foresee finishing for dead last within the division this year, unless numerous things go right for us, in all phases of the game, this season. Washington has too much pitching and depth, Atlanta’s experienced and a solid hitting team, Miami has a ton of young talent, while the Mets and Phils have talent- but not enough to compete, even for a wild-card berth.