While the optimist believes Cliff Lee will notch 20 victories for the Philadelphia Phillies this season, the pessimist thinks otherwise because only 73 triumphs for 2014 is realistic. Which camp are you in?
Please, scroll down for this edition of Fresh Insight: Winning Argument.
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.
Fifty summers ago, baseball stars retired in their mid-30s, but today’s studs are mostly relevant until they’re 38 years old.
Calling it a career at the age of 35, Richie Ashburn neither left prematurely or stayed too long. However, pitchers can begin their final chapter earlier because of diminished velocity or a shoulder injury.
On the current roster, the “senior citizens” are AJ Burnett, 37; Marlon Byrd, 36; Carlos Ruiz, 35; Jimmy Rollins, 35; Chase Utley, 35; Mike Adams, 35; Lee, 35; and Ryan Howard, 34. But their contract-ending ages without vesting options are similar: Burnett, 37; Byrd, 37; Ruiz, 37; Rollins, 35; Utley, 36; Adams, 35; Lee, 36; and Howard, 36. On the other hand, Cole Hamels will be 34 years old at the end of his six-season deal.
In every campaign, all teams have hot streaks and cold spells and the Phils experienced both in 2008. J-Roll was 29 years old. But those same down times today would be due to their so-called age. In other words, the recent sweep at the hands of the Brewers proved this Phillies squad is bad and/or old and would have lost anyway. However, the Brew Crew was hot when they swept the Red Sox and Pirates before and after the red pinstripes respectively.
Age is a numerical factor on both ends of the spectrum. When a healthy athlete is in his mid-30s, many fans have low expectations. Basically, a successful summer would be a freakish accident or complete luck.
The youngsters also will take a few seasons before they can excel in the majors. For example, young relievers will blow up at the worse time. Defensively, the organization can not count on Domonic Brown and Cody Asche because their inexperience at the major league level could make an untimely appearance.
One constant runs through this limited thinking: Last year’s results are the expected outcome for this campaign. In other words, even if the injury bug bites or top players move on, the Braves will battle the Nationals for the division. However, baseball is not predictable, which is why a surprise club comes along annually.
For Philly and the Big Piece, the end result means 73 wins and 11 homers with 46 RBI respectively. Another example is that Jonathan Papelbon’s success depends solely on a 94-mph fastball. Without it, Papelbon cannot record saves with even a three-run lead.
The numerical markers are 2013′s final results, old age, youth and velocity, and they foreshadow a disappointing ’14 campaign. Do these indicators fit the narrative of a self-described realist?
Near the end of this article, you should expect a revisiting of Howard’s production and Papelbon’s contribution.
Standard Operating Procedure:
Firstly, you can find the link for the NL East’s review under related articles at the end of this piece.
Other than minor needs, most general managers crafted their 25-man unit in November and December. Usually, barring major personnel concerns, head honchos will go with most of their Opening Day roster until mid-July. At that time due to surprises, disappointments and injuries, GMs will plug their most glaring hole for the stretch drive.
This article has excluded four clubs in the two divisions covered. In the NL Central, Chicago continues rebuilding and Colorado is a world-beater at home. The NL West has San Diego, which is basically a .500 franchise because the league eventually figures our their rookies. In the other state, Arizona was a possible contender, but their dreadful start is due to injuries and disappointments, which could seal their fate.
If you initially picked the front-runners in each NL division, your selections would probably have been Los Angeles, St. Louis and Washington. With the exceptions in the senior circuit of the Cubs, Padres, Diamondbacks and Rockies, the wild-card hunt is a free-for-all. Beginning with the NL Central and excluding the divisional favorites on Opening Day, these team evaluations examine only their shortcomings.
Because of three bullpen pieces on the DL, Cincinnati had a bad start. Closer Aroldis Chapman should return by mid-May after a spring-training comebacker to his face. However, Jonathan Broxton after his activation on April 11 gave the Reds a ninth-inning option. With Sean Marshall’s return on April 19, only Chapman remains on the disabled list.
Cincinnati is also without one of their best starters. Mat Latos, a solid two-slot hurler, has a flexor mass strain in his elbow, and this condition usually requires surgery. That stated, he will try to pitch through it after enough rest.
Locally, the leadoff spot has sparked many debates about poor OBP (on-base percentage). Can you imagine an OBP of .266? Even though Billy Hamilton is fast, he is averaging .230 with a .266 OBP.
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Walking the Plank:
Small-market success requires skill and luck with limited financial resources. In Pittsburgh, their front office searches for the next Burnett. However, they extend bargain hunting to their entire roster. For example, after playing a waiting game with the Mets, they acquired first sacker Ike Davis to fill that corner hole.
If the Bucs don’t get strong performances from reclamation projects on the hill, they will have difficulty. In other words, Francisco Liriano, Charlie Morton and Edinson Volquez must be solid this season. Meanwhile, Wandy Rodriquez is hoping rest will heal his balky knee.
If no major problems arise, the Brewers could make some noise. However, Ryan Braun is a strong DL candidate with his nerve-sensitive thumb. Without him in their lineup, can they score enough runs to back their hurlers?
By the numbers, Kyle Lohse is a two-slot arm and Matt Garza is a third-rung starter. Additionally, after he experienced diminished velocity and effectiveness last summer, Yovani Gallardo must continue his resurgence. Without him at his best in the rotation, will Lohse and Garza be enough to compete for a wild-card berth?
In the relief corps, Milwaukee has to depend on two relatively inexperienced fireballers: Jim Henderson and Tyler Thornburg. With only one solid campaign, Henderson is not a lock to duplicate his stats from 2013. Meanwhile, Thornburg entered ’14 with only 11 relief outings.
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One Giant Leap:
San Francisco’s outcome hinges on their five-man staff. While Madison Bumgarner and Tim Hudson are solid, Tim Lincecum and Ryan Vogelsong are not dependable. That stated, Matt Cain needs to again head the rotation. His performance will probably determine the Giants’ 2014. Will he return to dominant form?
Has closer Sergio Romo lost his heater?
A scout pointed this out to me: Romo’s average fastball velocity last four outings for #SFGiants: 88.6, 87.9, 87.3, 86.3.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) April 21, 2014
A New Wrinkle:
Baseball parity means that almost every organization has a postseason shot, which means most GMs will fail their fans by not fielding a dominate club. In Philly, however, unless the pessimists are right, the red pinstripes will have an opportunity for the playoffs.
parity rules: 24 of 30 teams are within 3 games of .500 (to good or bad). exceptions: atl, mil, oak, az, hou, cubs
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) April 19, 2014
The NL East is shaping up like ’13 for Atlanta and Washington. While the Braves jump out with one of the best records in the majors, the Nats–30th MLB defense–are just above .500, and this same scenario appeared last April. At that time, Atlanta was 12-1 but after that went only 1 game over .500 with a 45-44 mark through July 25. In the other city, Washington needed an 18-9 surge last September to finish 10 games over .500 with a slim chance for any October baseball.
Revisiting Earlier Impressions:
As a reminder, this part of the review is about Howard’s production and Papelbon’s contribution.
Howard played in 151 contests with 546 at-bats for the last two seasons combined, and he hit .244 with 25 long balls and 99 RBI. If you would take those stats for this year, you would get a hobbled first baseman without his power-based legs under him. As he gets more comfortable mentally with his repaired body, he should deliver 30 home runs and 110 RBI, which is five long balls and 18 RBI per month.
The hip-impaired Papelbon of 2013 has increased the speed of his heater this April. In three straight saves at the Bank against the Fish, he fired many 93-mph bullets on consecutive nights, and then he consistently registered 92 mph on the following Sunday afternoon. But Papelbon isn’t the only dependable Phillies’ fireman. Adams handles the eighth frame, Antonio Bastardo works the seventh inning, and Jake Diekman mans the sixth frame, which leaves three bullpen seats open for front-end duty.
Do you feel that two games behind the second wild card on August 1 is impossible? Or is that a possibility?
Not So Fast, Phillies Fandom (NL East Review)
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