Thursday, March 5, 2009

Guide Preview: Philadelphia Phillies

First of all, I have to apologize for not having this preview up earlier today. I ended up spending too much time last night on the Manny Ramirez post, and I wasn't able to get to this Phillies post. But I want to make sure I keep to this schedule, so here it is, only a little late. The Phillies are coming off only their second World Series title ever, and everyone over there has every right to be excited about the upcoming season (though I'm glad we don't have to hear about Philly's "100 title-less seasons" or the "curse of William Penn" anymore - that stuff was just silly). With the talent that they have in Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels, and everyone else, it's no stretch to see them repeating. They should see some competition from the Mets and Cubs, though.

As before, this preview is meant to be a summary of what the three main baseball preview magazines are saying about the team's 2009 season. I've included quotes and other information from each of the them - Sporting News, Athlon, and Lindy's. I've also included some statistics about each magazines' success at predictions over the last ten years. Be sure to check out the Team-by-Team Season Preview index for other guide previews over the next few weeks.

My original intention was to completely refrain from providing any opinion. I was afraid that I would have too much to say about some teams and too little about others. But, after doing a few of these now, I feel like there's room for some personal commentary. I think it'll add a little bit of personality to the preview. But I don't want to make my opinion the focus of the post, so I'll put it near the end. Please feel free to ignore it; I've never claimed to be the most knowledgeable person when it comes to all 30 teams. With that said, on with the "combined" team preview for the...

Philadelphia Phillies
Last Year: 92 - 70, 1st Place, NL East

Since 1999

This YearLast Year
Avg Pred.Avg Finish
Sporting News12

* Sporting News average includes preview guides from these years: 1999 - 2001, 2003 - 2004, 2006 - 2008
** Athlon average includes preview guides from these years: 1999 - 2003, 2006 - 2008

Team Notes

The Phillies celebrated a much deserved World Series last fall after heating up in September and taking that hot streak all the way through October. Their colorful personalities definitely showed in the wake of the Series victory, but what really matters is how healthy they'll be when the spring rolls around.
"Beleagured Philadelphia sports fans, euphoric over the city's first title in 25 years, came out in full force after the Phillies beat Tampa Bay in the World Series. More than two million people flooded the city for the parade, and the cost of police overtime surpassed $1 million.

Now the hometown heroes have to show a little more comportment. Second baseman Chase Utley got things off to a rousing start when he dropped a four-letter word before a packed house at Citizens Bank Park. Then pitcher Cole Hamels landed in the soup when he was suckered into calling the New York Mets "choke artists" on New York talk radio.

While the Phillies gear up for a repeat, they're dealing with transition. Leftfielder Pat Burrell is gone after nine seasons in Philadelphia, and he's been replaced by Raul Ibañez. General manager Pat Gillick retired at age 71 and handed the reins to Ruben Amaro Jr., who will have to decide soon enough whether to make a long-term commitment to Hamels and Ryan Howard, two of the team's brightest stars. Now that they've reached the salary arbitration phase, they're getting more expensive by the day. (Lindy's)"
The heart of the Phillies resides in the infield. With two recent MVPs and one of the best players in the game, the Phillies go only as far as their infield takes them.
"Offense will never be a problem for the Phillies, thanks to cozy Citizens Bank Park, but they could have their moments early this season. That's because All-Star second baseman Chase Utley might miss the first couple months after surgery on his right hip.

Eric Bruntlett should slide into Utley's spot until his return, but that will put even more pressure on the club's two recent MVPs, [shortstop Jimmy] Rollins and first baseman Ryan Howard (in 2006). The latter finished second to Albert Pujols in the NL MVP voting last year, and he might have won if not for a miserable first few months. (TSN)"
But the Phillies wouldn't be the defending World Series champs if their offense was their only strength. Indeed, the Phillies are blessed with a great pitching staff, from their rotation through their bullpen. The star of the Philadelphia staff, though, is far and away Cole Hamels.
"The preamble to any commentary about Cole Hamels used to include the words: If he stays healthy... The 25-year-old backbone of the rotation always had a dazzling three-pitch repertoire (fastball, curveball and one of the best changeups in the game) but had missed time because of injuries in four of his first five pro seasons. The lanky lefthander stayed healthy in 2008 and blossomed into one of the most precious commodities in baseball - a true No. 1. He won 14 games during the regular season, had an impressive 2.99 ERA in 17 starts at cozy Citizens Bank Parkm and answered those durability questions by finishing second in the National League with 227.1 innings. Hamels elevated his game in the postseason, going 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA in five starts, all Phillies wins. He was MVP of the NLCS and World Series. (Athlon)"
Spotlight Quote

Athlon highlights Philadelphia's strong Septembers from the last couple of years in "Beyond the Box Score":
"The Phillies have parlayed strong finishes (and a pair of September collapses by the New York Mets) into two straight NL East titles. The Phillies came back from 7.0 games down with 17 to play to win the division with a 13-4 finish in 2007. In 2008, the Phils trailed the Mets by 3.5 games with 16 to play. They rallied to win the division with a 13-3 finish, then went 11-3 in October to win the World Series."

The Phillies have one of the best infields in baseball. With Rollins and Howard, they have two of the last three NL MVP awards and both of those awards, in my mind, could(should) actually have gone to Utley. Personally, I think Utley is one of the top 5 players in baseball. I'm not that excited about Howard - I don't think he meets the hype that he receives - but I still see him as a valuable player. Cole Hamels is legit.

The other thing that the Phillies have going for them is that they know how to handle the rigors of the season. In each of the last two years, they played steady ball in the NL East through August and then stepped up their play in September. To me, that shows an organization that knows what it's doing.

Throwing all of that together, I think it's pretty easy to see the Phillies battling the Mets all season, maybe even until the last weekend of the season (when they're here in Milwaukee - very exciting). I'm not prepared to give either one of them the division yet, but it'll be an exciting season for fans of those teams.


The Common Man said...

Throwing all of that together, I think it's pretty easy to see the Phillies battling the Mets all season, maybe even until the last weekend of the season

I have to respectfully disagree. I think the Phils got marginally worse this offseason (swapping Burrell for Ibanez, Moyer getting older, not addressing bullpen holes), while the Mets took a big step forward. I think this is over by September 1, barring another NY collapse

lar said...

That's fair. I just don't think, even with the steps each team took this winter, that they're all that far apart in talent. The bullpen help definitely benefits the Mets, but, still, it's not like they just added Mo Rivera. Plus, I like how they've been able to play their best ball in September each of the last two years. maybe it's a fluke, but teams that truly know how to do that - think the San Antonio Spurs - are teams that are always dangerous. I'm not convinced that it's something the Phillies truly know how to do, but it's a point in their favor.