The healed warriors are in camp for the Philadelphia Phillies, Roy Halladay is the most watched athlete of the three, and the red pinstripes move on from 2012 to 2013. The 8th-inning death trap has been slammed shut with arguably the best setup man in baseball. Two new outfielders have been acquired with one to patrol center field, while the other will be the right-handed power bat in the five hole. Two youngsters and a veteran third sacker will take the diamond along with the hope for a bounce-back ‘13.
After a 102-victory season in 2011, the breaking point was reached on the mound and at the plate. The rotation suffered after Halladay went on the disabled list for two months. Cliff Lee had a three-month span of bad luck that was magnified during June before his first win on Independence Day. It was also no coincidence that Cole Hamels uncharacteristically encountered a rough patch in his first four starts after Halladay went down.
When Chase Utley and Ryan Howard were penciled into the lineup, the pressure during the 1st half that influenced Hunter Pence’s swing-for-the-fences summer was gone. Even with the swaps of Pence, Shane Victorino, Jim Thome and Joe Blanton, the locals went 44-31 (.587) for the 2nd half. That equals a 95-victory clip despite no spring training for Howard and Utley, while Halladay only provided one good month during the final three after recuperating. However, the final trade was completed on August 3 and the Phils then went 34-23 (.597), which is a 97-65 pace.
Mike Adams is the premier arm for locking down the 8th frame, and was brought here to address last year’s losses during that inning. If he turns those 12 into 9 triumphs, the Phils have a 90-72 campaign. Counting on Howard, Utley, Delmon Young, Michael Young and Ben Revere as part of the offense for the entire 162 has to inspire confidence among the faithful. Low expectations are always easier to trump than four aces on the hill, which ended with a bitter NLDS after a sweet franchise-setting record.
[Find the links to all 30 MLB team previews here: 2013 MLB Team Previews]
The core four–Jimmy Rollins, Utley, Howard and Hamels–landed that 1st trophy during their ascension, can they hoist it one last time near the end of their dominance? Here are 3 reasons for and against that happening.
Best case scenario for 2013
That elusive 2nd ring is achieved after retaking the NL East from Washington. To materialize, the 3 time-missed stars and the rest of the regulars remain relatively injury-free. And it would require a campaign where the offseason moves are successful. Plus, the 19 games each against the Nationals and the Braves would have to favor the hometown crew at 60% (23-15).
Most important Phillies
Opening Day starter Halladay began ’11 without Utley and Howard, the squad’s premier run-producing weapons. All three missed 2 full months last summer, and experienced 4-5 weeks for reacclimation upon returning. The 3-4 hitters are still the meat of the order, and Halladay is needed to be almost good as new. However, the organization has the luxury to slot him between Hamels and Lee.
Potential breakout players
Darin Ruf will be the fan-followed favorite during March after his dynamic 2012. He launched 51 rockets in ‘12, which included 38 at Double-A Reading, 3 for the parent club and 10 during 32 winter-league contests. Dom Brown was the untouchable prospect that Rube Amaro had the tightest hold on, and, according to Howard, he now knows the formula for major-league success. He is only 25 even though it seems we’ve waited a long time for his arrival, but he’s now at the crossroads of his past and future.
With additional offense and more than adequate fielding, the best 3-horse unit relieved by the top 1-2 endgame will pop the champagne of the champion.
Worst case scenario
More talent on the DL than the active roster would sound the alarm bells, as the team grows old before our eyes. The expiration date is reached on Rollins, 3B Young, Halladay, Lee, Utley and Howard. The franchise experiences its first sub-.500 tour since before Charlie Manuel took the reins from Larry Bowa, which was his 80-81 season for 2002. Citizens Bank Park becomes half empty by August after they stumble out of the gate, which ends the era.
Areas of concern
The health of the older regulars and number ones would top the list. That would be followed by the defense, which slid down to the middle of the pack last year. Delmon in right field is a question mark, Michael at the hot corner is another worry, and the other left-side position is a learning process for Ruf. Delmon’s bat outweighing his leather is an iffy proposition as well.
Who needs to bounce back from a down 2012
A 15-win campaign for Halladay would calm the restless natives, and 35-40 homeruns with 110-125 RBI from Howard would represent a powerful threat in the cleanup role. 140 battles for Utley in the 3 hole with a .285 average and 20-25 dingers would solidify the 1-2 punch of old. Michael would enhance scoring opportunities with his return to .300 for the third time, like he did in 2009 and 2011 as a Ranger. A slimmer Delmon with a solid glove in right field would solve a problem, because he had that and a strong gun before his stint as a designated hitter.
There is an excellent chance this could happen, and that would mean a full 162 that’s a down-to-the-wire competition for the trophy.
If you’re interested in checking out something different, my weekly storyline articles are designed to represent a baseball man’s thinking, the view from the dugout and the GM’s box.
Phillies e-mail notification: