The Philadelphia Phillies were the 2011 favorites to represent the National League in the World Series, only to fall short in the National League Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. The series went the distance as Chris Carpenter pitched the game of his life in a memorable 1-0 pitching duel against Roy Halladay in the fifth and final game; the Cardinals went on to win the 2011 World Series. The loss left fans with the dreaded “what if?” feeling; however, the NLDS loss demonstrated that the Phillies needed to improve their consistency with the bats.
Spring training is here and I firmly believe the Phillies will again be widely regarded as favorites to represent the NL in the World Series. The Phillies still have a mighty pitching rotation which features Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels. There have been murmurs that Roy Oswalt might return to the Phillies; if Oswalt indeed returns and is healthy, that would only improve the pitching rotation. Slugging first baseman Ryan Howard will start the season on the disabled list, as he ruptured his Achilles tendon in the fifth game of the NLDS. Early indications are that Howard may return perhaps in late May. Even in the absence of Howard, the Phillies shall remain a high-scoring team and possibly a more consistent offensive team this season.
C: Carlos Ruiz
1B: TBD [Ty Wigginton]
2B: Chase Utley
3B: Placido Polanco
SS: Jimmy Rollins
LF: TBD [John Mayberry Jr.]
CF: Shane Victorino
RF: Hunter Pence
The Phillies lineup from 2011 is generally intact; however, manager Charlie Manuel will have some interesting options and plenty of flexibility in juggling his lineup this season. Domonic Brown could have a chance to start in left field; however, I believe Brown will start the 2012 season with the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs (AAA).
With Brown possibly starting the season in AAA, I foresee John Mayberry Jr. starting in left field and Ty Wigginton sharing playing time with Jim Thome at first base. Wigginton is a solid right-handed bat and should help the Phillies hit left-handed pitching.
Although I believe Thome and Wigginton will share time at first base, Wigginton will more than likely get the nod when the opposition starts a left-handed pitcher.
Martinez is virtually assured a spot on the 25-man roster because he is a versatile infielder who can play multiple positions. You can chalk up a spot for Schneider as well, because every team will run with at least two catchers on the roster. Nix and Thome will serve as good power bats to have on the bench and get the occasional start. Pierre is a non-roster invite; however, I am confident that Pierre will win a roster spot. Pierre has been a good contact hitter in his MLB career and has been one of the best at swiping bases. Pierre did have an off year in 2011; however, I believe he will return to his normal self this season. Pierre’s speed and steady hitting will provide Manuel with options to juggle his lineup from time to time; when Pierre starts, I believe you may see him leading off the lineup. Displayed below is what I believe the ordinary starting lineup and batting order may look like in 2012:
SS (Jimmy Rollins)
3B (Placido Polanco)
RF (Hunter Pence)
2B (Chase Utley)
LF (John Mayberry Jr.)
CF (Shane Victorino)
1B (Ty Wigginton)
C (Carlos Ruiz)
Rumors have been swirling that the Phillies are willing to trade Blanton; the difficulty will be in finding somebody who is willing to take on Blanton’s $8.50 million salary. Blanton is a solid pitcher; however, he has struggled with injuries in the past two years. I do believe Blanton will remain with the Phillies for the time being; however, if he pitches well, he could be traded in the midst of the season (should the Phillies wish to do so). If by some unforeseen circumstances Blanton either starts the season on the DL or is traded, I believe non-roster invite Joel Pineiro could steal a starting pitching job in the rotation. Other possibilities to replace Blanton include Phillippe Aumont or Kyle Kendrick.
Hamels is coming off the best season of his career. Hamels had a very misleading 14-9 record that was damaged by a lack of run support at times; however, he set career-bests in ERA (2.79), complete games (3), WHIP (0.99) and K/BB ratio (4.41). Hamels signed a one-year extension for $15 million to remain with the Phillies in 2012; he will be a free agent in the offseason. I believe it will be difficult for Hamels to duplicate his 2011 numbers; however, he has the ability to do so and is one of the better young pitchers in the game today. Look for the Phillies to lock Hamels up with a long-term agreement before the season begins to avoid any unnecessary distractions.
The Phillies will likely run a seven-man bullpen this season. If you have any concerns about the Phillies bullpen, you can take a deep breath and relax. The bullpen should be strong in the 2012 season. First of all, the Phillies’ starting pitching rotation will keep the bullpen fresh and spare them from the rigors of a 162-game season. When you consistently have Halladay and Lee pitching 7-9 innings and Hamels pitching 6-8 innings, you have a fresh bullpen.
Papelbon is a proven closer who will shut the opposition down; like any closer not named Mariano Rivera, he will have his blow-ups now and then. More often than not, Papelbon gets the job done. Qualls is an underrated signing that brings stability to the young bullpen. When Qualls is on top of his game, he is a ground ball pitcher who will negate the effects of hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park. Qualls has consistently pitched better in the later stages of the season in his MLB career.
If Kendrick does not move to the starting rotation, you will see him in the bullpen. Kendrick did a solid job in the 2011 season out of the bullpen with a 3.41 ERA in 19 relief appearances; as a reliever, Kendrick conceded only one home run in 31.2 innings. Herndon had a very strong finish to the 2011 season as he posted a 1.55 ERA and held hitters to a .216 AVG in his final 22 outings. I believe Herndon will be assured a roster spot.
Bastardo will be assured a roster spot; however, I admit I have concerns about him. Earlier in his career, I was unimpressed with his pitching and his lack of control. In the 2011 season, he surprised me with his dominance as one of the best relief pitchers in baseball for much of the season. Bastardo was 6-1 with a 2.64 ERA and 0.93 WHIP in 2011 as he struck out 70 hitters in 58 innings (10.9 strikeouts per nine innings); however, he struggled in the later stages of the 2011 season. In his first 36 games, Bastardo had a 0.82 ERA and 0.76 WHIP; in his final 28 games, Bastardo had a 5.04 ERA and 1.16 WHIP. If Bastardo’s late-season struggles carry over into the 2012 season, then the Phillies will likely be without an effective left-handed reliever unless they carry two in their bullpen.
There is a chance that Contreras might be unavailable to start the season. If Contreras were to accompany Howard on the DL, then young lefty Joe Savery or veteran Dontrelle Willis could fill the void. If the Phillies want a second lefty in the bullpen, I would prefer Savery before Willis. Willis has been an inconsistent and wild pitcher in his MLB career and has passed his peak. Frankly, I would value Willis more for his hitting than his pitching!
The 26 year-old Savery needs to be given an opportunity to shine as an MLB regular. In 2.2 innings of work at the MLB level last season, Savery allowed no runs, no walks and one hit while striking out two hitters. At the AAA level with the Iron Pigs, Savery was 4-0 with two saves and a 1.80 ERA in 18 relief appearances. In 25 innings, Savery struck out 26 batters and walked six.
If the Phillies run a seven-man bullpen, I would like to see Savery in there along with Bastardo; however, I do not know how that will be arranged unless Kendrick moves into the starting rotation or Contreras starts the season on the DL. Regardless of what transpires, I am very confident in Savery’s ability and would like to see him get the opportunity to perform at the MLB level.
I firmly believe the 2012 NL representative in the World Series will either be the Phillies or the Cardinals; however, I give the edge to the Phillies at this time. In Howard’s absence, the Phillies might hit fewer home runs; however, they shall still be a high-scoring team and a more consistent hitting team. The pitching rotation will be strong again and the bullpen has no shortage of depth. Health permitting, the Phillies will be a team with very few weaknesses – if any – and win the NL East yet again and possibly the World Series.
I say the over/under for the Phillies’ wins this season will be 98. The Phillies must remain sharp and be on top of their game, because I believe the Atlanta Braves have the potential to steal the NL East crown if the Phillies get complacent. Phillies fans have every reason to be excited for the 2012 season, as the Phillies will again be regarded as one of the favorites to appear in the World Series.