On The Edge Blog

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Are the Phillies prepared to repeat?

We are just days away from the start of the baseball season, and that means seven months of the Phillies being called the “defending World Series champions.”

I’ll be honest, it’s much easier to write a column about the underdog, because all I’m doing is looking at the best-case scenario, and hoping it plays out. With the Phillies filling the role of the defending champs, the “Can they repeat?” column needs to look at the worst-case scenario, as well as have a little more realism than the eternally optimistic columns from last year.

So seeing that we are Philadelphia sports fans, let’s look at the potential negatives first, which, as always, revolve around pitching.

To start with the obvious, Cole Hamels’ 262 1/3 innings pitched last year, and his already sore elbow, are immediate concerns. The Phillies need Hamels to anchor this starting rotation and contend for a Cy Young Award, or 2009 will be a disappointment.

Last year, the Phillies were able to survive meltdowns by Brett Myers, Adam Eaton and Kyle Kendrick, but they always had their ace to stop a long losing streak or rescue an overworked bullpen.

The Phillies have the offense to survive a short stint on the disabled list by Hamels, but not even the most delusional fan could imagine another October run without the reigning World Series MVP.

The other foreseeable pitfall to a successful title defense is that the Phillies’ bullpen most likely won’t be the unstoppable force that it was in 2008. Last season’s crew of relievers compiled a 3.22 ERA, which ranked second in the majors, and as we all know, closer Brad Lidge didn’t blow a save all season.

This year’s bullpen is already at a disadvantage, as setup man J.C. Romero will sit out the first 50 games due to the lamest steroid suspension in the sport’s pathetic history of juicing. In addition to losing Romero, Lidge will lose a few games this year (I assume he can’t be perfect again), and the Phillies should not expect a repeat performance out of guys like Chad Durbin and Clay Condrey, who combined to toss 156 outstanding innings last year.

Enough with the bad, because this Phillies team has the potential to be even better than the 2008 squad, and it all starts with an offense that, despite lofty run totals, underachieved last season.

Last year, Jimmy Rollins suffered an ankle injury, which cost him 25 games and limited him all season, as he posted some of his lowest offensive totals in years. Rollins racked up just 76 runs, 59 RBIs and 58 extra base hits in 2008. Those totals were his lowest since 2003, 2005 and 2003, respectively.

Along with Rollins, Jayson Werth, Shane Victorino and Pedro Feliz all missed time due to injury, and Chase Utley’s MVP season was derailed by an ailing hip. Because of these injuries, the offense slumped horribly as the Phillies spent a month writing Geoff Jenkins, Eric Bruntlett, Carlos Ruiz and the pitcher in the six through nine spots in the lineup. Assuming that trio never bats in front of the pitcher in 2009, the Phillies’ offense should not suffer from the lengthy slumps that peppered the 2008 season.

The final aspect of the improved Phillies offense is the swapping of Raul Ibanez in place of Pat Burrell. The only reason fans are down on Ibanez is because he is signed for $14 million dollars more than Burrell, who is in Tampa Bay, but it’s not my money, so I don’t care.

All I care about is that Ibanez will hit at least 30 points higher than Burrell, while knocking in more runs and actually moving guys over with less than two outs. Ibanez has hit at least 30 doubles in each season since 2002, knocked in more than 100 runs in each of the last three seasons, and hasn’t hit below .280 since 2000.

Having Ibanez batting behind Utley and Ryan Howard will do far more for the Phillies than having Burrell taking walks to set up double play balls by Jenkins, Feliz and Ruiz.

Switching back over to pitching, we will no longer be forced to suffer through outings by Eaton – who is with the Baltimore Orioles – or Kendrick – who is now an Iron Pig. The two starters combined to compile a 5.62 ERA in 49 dreadful starts, along with three relief appearances.

In their place, the Phillies should get a full season of Joe Blanton – who led the Phillies to a 12-4 record in his 16 starts after leaving Oakland – and Chan Ho Park, who has been excellent this spring, and would provide more consistency than the shaky Kendrick.

I would add in the fact that Myers will probably avoid another season in which the Phillies are 4-13 in his first 17 starts, but I expect some regression from 46-year-old Jamie Moyer, who allowed three earned runs or less in 26 of his 33 starts. The Phillies should roughly combine to win about the same number of games out of their starts.

I know that the road back to the World Series is hard, as no National League team has repeated since the Cincinnati Reds in the 1970s, but if they can stay healthy, the Phillies have as good a shot as anyone at raising the World Series trophy in seven months.

Like the “On the Edge” Blog? Hear more of my opinions about Philadelphia sports every Friday at 3:30 p.m. on WBCB 1490 AM during the Coffee with Kahuna show, where, this week, we will preview the Phillies’ season opener, and talk about Villanova’s chances in the Final Four!


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Name: Matthew Fleishman, Yardley News Editor
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