Improved Phillies Easy NL Favorites
With the bulk of the off season pretty much wrapped up, I think it’s safe to say this team took a huge step forward. Taking a leap forward is one thing but when you do it coming off of back-to-back NL pennants, winning a World Series one of those years, it says something. The Phillies had problems in two areas last year that were corrected: bull pen and bench. The garbage that was in those two spots last year was dumped and new and improved arsenal was added.
Let’s start with the bench. The bench batted .186 last season, the second lowest in the NL. That was pathetic. That was partly due to Matt Stairs’ lack of production after June and Eric Bruntlett’s .171 average. During the playoffs, the bench batted 1-31 (the lone hit coming from Stairs). Along with those two, they dumped Paul Bako and Miguel Cairo, two players who didn’t really conribute that much either.
But the Phillies improved that area tremendously. They signed veteran utility infielder Juan Castro who will fill Bruntlett’s spot and give the Phillies a player who can play both short and second well. They also added outfielder Ross Gload, who hit .261 with six home runs and 30 RBIs in 230 at-bats last season with the Marlins. He hit .318 as a pinch-hitter in 2009 and could be the power bat they once had in Stairs in 2008 and the early part of 2009. They also now have a solid back-up catcher in Brian Schneider, who killed the Phillies as a Mets, especially at Citizens Bank Park. He is a definite upgrade from Bako and Chris Coste. Returning from last year is Greg Dobbs and Ben Francisco.
The bull pen was also improved by the signings of Danys Baez, a very good veteran righty that can contribute in the back-end of the rotation. Filling in for the loss of Chan Ho Park will be Jose Contreras, who will be a great long arm for the Phils. Contreras’ numbers as a reliever were very good with Colorado last season, posting a 1.23 ERA in five appearences and 7.1 innings. They will also be returning J.C. Romero, Ryan Madson, Chad Durbin, and Brad Lidge and will see Antonio Bastardo and Moyer/Kendrick have shots at the pen.
Now the two biggest names brought to the Phillies in the offseason were Placido Polanco and a certain Roy Halladay. Polanco is an instant upgrade at third base over Pedro Feliz, who was expected to hit 25-30 homers for the Phillies a season in the hitter-friendly CBP but only combined to hit 26 in both seasons. Polanco has batted no lower than .285 in his last four seasons in Detroit. He doesn’t strike out often like Feliz (had a career high 46 last year) and his OBP is significantly higher than Feliz’s. He doesn’t need to hit for power on a team that has Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Raul Ibanez, Jayson Werth, and Jimmy Rollins. He’ll be batting in the two-spot most likely, dropping Shane Victorino in the order, so he can just focus on getting on base for the power bats.
Halladay is the best pitcher in the game and the Phillies got the arm they originally wanted at the deadline. By trading Cliff Lee for high quality prospects, the Phillies didn’t wipe out their farm system completely. Doc is a machine. He has a 148-76 record in his 12 years with Toronto, eight of them as a full-time starter. He’s been to six ASG’s and won the Cy Young in 2003. He was a 20-game winner twice in 2003 and 2007 and is the best pitcher in the league to have never pitched in the post season, the only question mark on Halladay which the Phillies are not worried about.
Like Lee when he came to the NL, Halladay will make an immediate impact versus the “weaker” hitting in the NL. After posting a 58-28 record and 3.51 ERA in the AL East, Halladay should make the NL East his stomping grounds. We see Johan Santana doing the same thing in NY so why not Doc in Philly?
With Doc as the ace, Cole Hamels will be able to relax and just pitch, not bearing any burden of being the ace. Behind Hamels is Joe Blanton and J.A. Happ to round out the middle of the rotation. Contreras, Moyer, and Kendrick will all battle for the fifth spot.
Am I crazy for thinking the Phillies will win the NL East by at least 15 games and head back to the World Series? Hell no. The last time any team has done that was the St. Louis Cardinals from 1942-4. The only team really competing with the Phillies this year could be the Cardinals. The Dodgers are the same team they were last year, which couldn’t compete with the Phillies, and the division is weak.
It isn’t too long until we can watch out Phightin’s take the field. Pitchers and catchers report February 18 and Opening Days is April 5th in Washington. The home opener will be the following week, April 12th versus the Nationals. Here’s to your 2010 NL champion Philles.