I've started off a lot of these pieces over the last few months with different variations of "the Phillies aren't going to be very good this year" and "you might want to just go ahead and jump off a bridge."
Perhaps that's come off as a bit negative. But hey, I'm not alone.
Team President Pat Gillick has all but said the team won't be competing for a playoff spot this year. General manager Ruben Amaro admitted the team is finally in rebuild mode. Bovada has the odds of the Phils winning the World Series at 40,000,000,000,000-to-1 or something. And the team's projected win totals based on algorithms, pie charts and crop circles range anywhere from the mid-60s to the low-70s.
In other words, there isn't a lot of optimism circulating around the team right now. However, when you listen to Phillies players and coaches as they get ready to start the 2015 season, you hear something different.
"In my opinion, I’m still not so sold on this entire rebuilding," he said. "I know that that’s one of the things that myself and some of the veterans that are going to be coming into camp want to probably sit down with Pat (Gillick) and Ruben (Amaro Jr.) and (Ryne Sandberg) and say, ‘Hey, you know. Let’s get a little bit better feel on the state of the organization and let’s come up with a plan and go one way or the other.’
Sandberg told the team that he didn’t give a hoot what the prognosticators said, he likes the talent on his roster and expects hard work and attention to the "little things."
Sandberg said his speech was no more challenging because the Phillies are rebuilding.
"I didn’t feel that way at all because of the vibe I got from the veteran guys and the young players," Sandberg said. "I’m excited about seeing these guys play. With attitude and approach, playing the game right, having unselfish at-bats — hopefully we’ll see results. You never know.
So, consider me inspired. Maybe there is a way I could put a brighter outlook on the upcoming season.
With that in mind, here is my best case scenario for the Phillies in 2015. Commence holding breath.... NOW.
- Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee are both healthy and pitch like aces for the first half of the season. If they do that, it's possible the Phils could hang around .500 long enough to make watching baseball interesting this summer. Or, they increase their trade values to the point that the team is able to snag a significant haul for them. Sweet, delicious prospects.
- Chase Utley gets off to a hot start once again, but this time stays reasonably hot for more than just one month. Last year, Utley's power completely disappeared, and his red-hot April fizzled in the summer sun. Hopefully Chase will get a few more days off this year, which will help him stay more productive offensively for more of the season.
- Ryan Howard has a 2011-ish type of season. I think we'd all pretty much kill for a .253/.346/.488 season with 33 homers and 116 RBIs from Howard, right? Word is he's trim and in shape (can you say "best shape of his life, people?) and hopefully, with his family issues behind him, he'll be able to focus more on baseball and make himself attractive as a possible DH candidate for an American League team.
Chad Billingsley emerges as a viable number-three starter. This would be awesome because it would also enable the team to use him as a trade chip in July as well. Think about it. The Phils could potentially unload three starting pitchers at the deadline this year. I say we send all three to Boston for Shane Victorino and Joe Kelly. That sounds fair, doesn't it?
- The bullpen flat-out dominates. Jonathan Papelbon doesn't appear to be going anywhere anytime soon, and if he just continues to do what he's done since joining the Phils three seasons ago, the team will be all set closing games down. That will ease the burden on Ken Giles and Jake Diekman, giving the Phils one heckuva late-game trio. The team would then also get contributions from some of their other big-armed relievers in the middle innings.
- Domonic Brown is more 2013 than 2014. Brown is still young, and the talent is still there. I think. Perhaps the confidence the team has shown in him this offseason, as well as the fact that doesn't have superstar expectations heaped upon his shoulders anymore, will help him relax at the plate and get back to being the offensive player he was two years ago. Returning to right field should help his defense a little bit as well.
- The team's two Rule 5 picks do enough to stick around. The Phils grabbed outfielder/infielder Odubel Herrera out of Texas' farm system in the hopes that he could battle for a starting spot in the outfield. Then they picked up left-handed reliever Andy Oliver from Pittsburgh as a potential late-inning lefty-reliever specialist-type. There should be plenty of opportunity for both to stick around.
- Maikel Franco spends six weeks in Triple-A (just enough time to delay his free agency another year), arrives in the Majors as the team's every day third baseman in late May, and gives fans a reason to get excited. No one thinks Franco is going to hit 30 homers and hit .280 right away, but hopefully he does enough to warrant keeping him at the hot corner for the whole season.
- Ryne Sandberg manages his starters' workloads and bullpen match-ups better in his second season as skipper. It was hard to figure out why Sandberg was riding Hamels and Lee so hard early in the season, and his bullpen usage was also a bit confounding. Perhaps with a full season of managing under his belt, he will make fewer moves that leave us scratching out heads.
- The Phillies somehow make it to 87 wins and sneak in as one of the two NL wild card teams (for the record I see no chance of this happening even under the rosiest of scenarios, but this is all a dream sequence anyway so you just hush up). At the very least, we get some fun, meaningful September baseball, which would be just the coolest.
So, there you go folks, the best case scenario for the Phillies in 2015.
Now, back to your regularly scheduled negativity.