Under the radar of number-crunching fatalists and die-hard optimists, the competitive reality of Cole Hamels and the 2014 Philadelphia Phillies rests mostly on the shoulders of 25 players. Is it possible that the experts have underestimated this Phils team?
Please, scroll down for this edition of Fresh Insight: Diamond Appraisal.
This article represents the thinking of a baseball man in my opinion. Reading people is the answer to their decisions: past, present and future.
There will be a published storyline each week.
Amid the early trade speculation involving Cliff Lee, two articles have already surfaced: one in January.
Some have pointed out that age equals injuries, and so far many players are on the DL: Hamels, Mike Adams, Darin Ruf, Freddy Galvis, Ethan Martin and Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez. In other words, expect a total breakdown.
Aside from the six March games after Jimmy Rollins returned from his bench seat to the lineup, the spring training offense had sputtered like a 1979 Chevy Nova. In fact, they scored no runs, had six hits, and made five errors during their final three contests before Opening Day. Their hitting was again a hope-dashing experience for the third consecutive camp.
When it comes to the bullpen, Jonathan Papelbon had a significant drop in velocity last year, and basically many fans want ownership to annually pay his $13 million salary as another organization’s closer through 2015 or 2016’s vesting option. Adams has spent more time on the disabled list than on the field, and many locals remember Antonio Bastardo’s 2012. If Ruben Amaro Jr. had acquired a one-frame stud, the franchise wouldn’t have a undependable relief corps.
Does that about sum up the general thinking of the Phillies fandom and some dismal predictions by writers, local or otherwise?
Near the end of this review, you should expect a revisiting of Lee, injuries, age, Papelbon and the pen.
The Southern Aquarium:
Some writers have opined that Miami will finish ahead of the red pinstripes in the final standings.
Yes, they picked up catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, but he wasn’t their only new acquisition. Signing Garrett Jones, Rafael Furcal and Carlos Marmol, they added free agents the Pirates, Cardinals and Dodgers respectively did not re-up. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh is desperate for a first baseman: Jones plays that position. Additionally, fragile second baseman Furcal will mostly spend April on the DL. And can you imagine walk-or-strikeout Marmol as a setup man in Philly?
After playing 2013 in Japan, Casey McGehee has returned to handle their hot corner. His major league statistics for ’12 were .217, nine homers and 41 RBI for the Bucs and the Yanks.
After Jose Fernandez and Henderson Alvarez, their rotation has three bottom-rung hurlers. The main fireman is Steve Cishek, the eighth-inning arms are southpaw Mike Dunn and right-hander Marmol, and the rest are middle relievers.
Assuring their faithful for the last three summers that contending was their 2014 goal, Mets general manager Sandy Alderson predicted a 90-victory campaign. They even had David Wright in agreement with that forecast; however, WFAN personalities in New York offered a .500 record instead. If the Metropolitans don’t have more wins than the Phils, many knowledgeable scribes will be wrong.
“It wasn’t a guarantee. It wasn’t a prediction. It was a challenge.” — Sandy Alderson on 90 wins.
— Adam Rubin (@AdamRubinESPN) March 31, 2014
Inking Curtis Granderson and Bartolo Colon gives the appearance of spending money and improving the club. However, Granderson replaces Marlon Byrd and Colon pitches in place of Matt Harvey.
On the bump, Dillon Gee started on Opening Day because Jon Niese wasn’t ready. Also, the bottom of their five-man staff has two inexperienced hurlers. Despite that, anticipate many wasted good starts because closer Bobby Parnell requires Tommy John surgery. Critically, a “run out of Detroit” Jose Valverde has to fill that role.
Behind the plate, injury-prone Travis d’Arnaud faces high expectations to produce his Triple-A stats in the majors. Around the infield, Daniel Murphy is still an adventure at second base, shortstop Ruben Tejada is on a short leash even with the leather, and first base problematically has three candidates. Meanwhile, new center fielder Chris Young–who averaged .200 with 12 long balls and 40 RBI last season–opens his first tour here with three weeks on the disabled list.
How many times have you heard Atlanta will find a way to triumph because they always do?
Inking with other teams were pitcher Tim Hudson, catcher Brian McCann and southpaw reliever Eric O’Flaherty with the Giants, the Yankees and the A’s respectively.
Hurlers Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy will return from their Tommy John recoveries in early 2015. For their other starters, however, Ervin Santana will be ready by April 9, Mike Minor hopes for the end of the month, and Gavin Floyd will take the ball in May. On the hill for Opening Day was Julio Teheran who was their five-slot pitcher last summer.
Bull-strong Evan Gattis is now the regular receiver, and he hit 14 home runs before the 2013 All-Star Game. But despite 20 more at-bats in the second half he hit only seven homers: The opposition is figuring him out. Meanwhile, Dan Uggla and BJ Upton are still outs in this strikeout-prone lineup.
What can they expect from a potentially overworked bullpen with three raw rookies? They are carrying eight relievers. Do they have enough arms to survive April?
Former manager Charlie Manuel once estimated that the luck factor in baseball was 40 percent, but that was before the new instant-replay rules. If good fortune favors the red pinstripes considerably more than the Nationals, the NL East could come down to September. Like last season, however, the Nats are heavy favorites even with two green starters until–they hope–only early May.
Aside from using more wall-crashing caution, Bryce Harper still plays with reckless abandon and dodged another bullet on Opening Day. Saturday night, third baseman Ryan Zimmerman made an awkward throwing error to first base, immediately left the game, and will undergo an MRI for another sore shoulder. Also, backstop Wilson Ramos will miss 4-8 weeks with likely diminished power for the remainder of ’14 due to hamate bone surgery on his left hand.
The first two tours under Manuel earned him the nickname second-place Charlie for an obvious reason. If the Mets didn’t collapse, 2007 would have been a third straight year behind another organization. But what would finishing second to Washington mean now? When you compare this happy gang of Phillies to their NL East competition, it signifies that they have wild-card potential.
Revisiting Earlier Impressions:
As a reminder, this part of the piece is about Lee, injuries, age, Papelbon and the relief corps.
Dealing Lee after mid-April isn’t realistic; it’s just the first cast snowball leading to an avalanche of forgettable articles. Basically, fans love rumors, writers need to generate reads, but bargain-hunting GMs want to plug holes in their roster: It only takes one reason not to move a stud. Unless this club is 15 games out of the second wild card by Memorial Day, Amaro will give them every opportunity to compete for a postseason berth.
The players on the disabled list are Adams, 35; Hamels, 30; Ruf, 27; Gonzalez, 27; Galvis, 24; and Martin, 24. Of these six men, only Adams began January with a hopeful mid-April projection after offseason surgeries for his shoulder and a hernia. But if you consider 30 to be old, then Hamels proves your point about this aging core. Also, Gonzalez and Martin were probably headed for Triple-A Lehigh Valley, while Ruf and Galvis are reserves. With a stroke of luck, however, AJ Burnett in the rotation for April minimizes the loss of Hamels, and Jonathan Pettibone could be ready when the staff needs a fifth starter.
Roy Halladay and Brad Lidge experienced a drop in velocity, and it spelled the end of their careers. That stated, Papelbon’s fastball is reaching 90-92 mph consistently, which is a slight improvement over last summer’s. On the other mounds, the ball is coming out of Adams’ hand much better this season, and Bastardo’s 2013 had neither his 2011 ups or his 2012 downs. Expect last year’s results from the southpaw.
If Papelbon’s career is ending, this problem has options, but firstly are his mechanics fixable? Recently, he lacked consistency in three areas: arm slot, improper release (slinging the ball in east-west and south-north directions) and elevating his fastballs. Last summer, his troublesome hip probably forced him to alter his delivery, and this change created bad habits that could require a pitching coach’s help.
The dynamics were different for Papelbon’s first save because he had an easier assignment in Chicago than at Arlington: the Rangers’ middle of the batting order was more challenging. Also, following orders, number 58 mixed five splitters into his 18-pitch appearance. Someone is making adjustments to correct Papelbon’s reliance on his less-effective heater, and–hopefully–this situation will not involve other in-house alternatives. However, options are available.
Among today’s hammers, many were career setup men like Adams. Ninth-frame circumstances unexpectedly threw these nine hurlers into the fire: Grant Balfour (Rays), Ernesto Frieri (Angels), Jose Veras (Cubs), Sergio Romo (Giants), Fernando Rodney (Mariners), Cishek (Marlins), Koji Uehara (Red Sox), LaTroy Hawkins and Rafael Betancourt (Rockies). In other words, no one projected them to excel beyond an eighth-inning role.
Three seasons later, the still out-of-circulation Ryan Madson is another possibility even with his difficult agent Scott Boras, but Amaro–remember?–signed Papelbon instead.
According to an interviewed Pat Gillick in a CSNPhilly.com article, the former head honcho did not agree with the predictions from baseball pundits. He opined that three elements are necessary for serious October competition: pitching, defense and good health.
The gloves are either good or adequate, the playoff foursome of Hamels, Lee, Burnett and Kyle Kendrick is solid, and the last two frames with Papelbon and Adams could work. If they mostly stay on the diamond for the 162-game schedule, the red pinstripes will contend for a wild card.
“I think they’re selling us short for the 2014 season,” Gillick said on Philly Sports Talk Wednesday night.
After a soft beginning schedule of 19 combined contests against shorthanded Texas, Chicago (NL), Milwaukee, Miami, snakebit Atlanta and Colorado, don’t plan on a parade down Broad Street with 143 games remaining.
Because these situations are ever-changing, this review will appear again in an updated form: “Not So Fast, Phillies Fandome.”
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