by Paul Regan
Philadelphia sports fans have been disappointed recently to say the least.
The Eagles, for two seasons in a row, have failed to live up to the generated hype, finishing with a dismal 4-12 record this season.
The Sixers, although offering a glimmer of hope last year by advancing past the first round of the playoffs, are struggling right now sitting in fourth place in the Atlantic Division and four games out of the playoffs with a 22-28 record as of Feb. 12.
The Flyers, usually one of Philadelphia’s best perennial regular season teams, have gotten off to a slow start after the lockout this year with a 5-7-1 record as of Feb. 12
The Union (Philadelphia’s soccer team) fell from being a playoff team two years ago to being one of the worst in the Eastern Conference this year.
But there’s hope. Yes, I am talking about the Phillies, who finished 17 games out of first place in the National League East with a subpar 81-81 record last season.
The off-season gave General Manager Ruben Amaro a chance to add some needed pieces and the team’s veterans a chance to heal their injuries. With spring training underway, I am excited about the Phillies this year, and I’ll tell you why.
Injuries are a good excuse to use when a team is struggling. Although some people in the sports world don’t like to hear this excuse, it was a valid one for last year’s Phillies team.
Two of the Phillies’ stars, first baseman Ryan Howard and second baseman Chase Utley, began the season on the Disabled List. Utley didn’t return until June and Howard not until July. Both struggled to find consistency in terms of production after returning from their respective injuries.
Carlos Ruiz was having a career year until he landed on the DL with a left foot injury.
Roy Halladay battled a bad back and shoulder all year.
In the bullpen, early injuries to Jose Contreras, Michael Stutes and David Herndon left the team shorthanded late in games. Over the course of the season, a total of 18 different Phillies had their name on the DL, including starters Placido Polanco, Vance Worley and Cliff Lee.
Now let’s talk about the changes made to the team during the off-season.
There are nine new faces to replace eight players leaving. Philadelphia entered the off-season with three major needs—outfield, bullpen and a new third baseman. Amaro didn’t add any big names, but he did find serviceable plugs for the team’s holes.
The Phillies found a centerfield replacement for Shane Victorino in 24-year-old Ben Revere, who they acquired by trading Worley to the Twins. The Phillies also signed Delmon Young to contribute to the outfield.
The bullpen was a major issue for the Phillies in 2012 and Amaro addressed it by signing proven veterans Aaron Cook, Mike Adams, Chad Durbin and Juan Cruz. Left-handed pitcher John Lannan signed with the team as the projected fifth starter in the rotation.
Finally, underrated veteran Michael Young, who had spent his entire career with the Rangers, was acquired to replace Polanco at third base.
In 2013, the Phillies should be able to rely on strong starting pitching with what should be one of the best rotations in the league.
The five starters will be the Big 3 (Halladay, Hamels and Lee) along with Kyle Kendrick and Lannan. Although Kendrick has been inconsistent throughout his career, he has kept his ERA under 4 in each of the past two seasons showing that he has the skill to compete in the big leagues.
Lannan has an ERA of 4.01 in 134 career games. As long as the Big 3 stay healthy and Kendrick and Lannan can keep the team in games, starting pitcher should be a strong point for the Phillies.
The bullpen looks much improved from last season. The lack of a consistent setup man for Jonathan Papelbon was the major issue.
The signing of Mike Adams, one of the best in the business over the past couple of years, should address this issue. If you look past his uncharacteristic 3.27 ERA last season, Adams had an ERA of under 2 in each of the three previous seasons.
To get to the back end of the bullpen, the Phillies will rely on Antonio Bastardo, Jeremy Horst, Raul Valdes and Aaron Cook. Bastardo needs to regain his form from 2011 and the return of Chad Durbin could be a nice surprise.
The Phillies ranked just 19th in runs scored in 2012 so they will need a big boost in offense if they want to compete in the NL East.
The returns of Utley and Howard and the additions of Michael Young, Delmon Young and Ben Revere should provide that boost. Delmon Young will supply power from a corner outfield position and Revere will hit for average and steal bases.
Michael Young will continue to be the professional hitter that he’s been throughout his entire career and should post an average around .300.
Domonic Brown and John Mayberry Jr. are still question marks in the outfield. Both have shown flashes of brilliance but have struggled to produce consistently at the major league level.
Both Jimmy Rollins and Ruiz had strong offensive seasons for the team last year and should be reliable again this year (however, the team will be without Ruiz for the first 25 games of this season).
The Phillies are primed for a rebound year in 2013. Not only are they getting returning players back from injury, but Amaro made a few very shrewd moves in the offseason to upgrade third base, the bullpen and the outfield.
With the most important veteran players back healthy for this season, plus a few smart additions to the fold, I would not be surprised to see this Phillies team reach the 90-win mark.
If the Phillies stay healthy, they can be contenders in the NL East or, at the very least, in the hunt for a Wild Card spot.