Posted on March 18, 2013 at 2:15 PMFor the fifth straight year, Playing Pepper returns to C70 At The Bat. If you aren't aware, this series helps get a feel for the other 29 teams in baseball by asking those that follow them the closest--their bloggers. We've got spring training action going, so it's time to play a little pepper.
Filed Under: Philadelphia Phillies
| Playing Pepper
81-81, third in the NL East
The fall is now complete.
In 2008, the Phillies won the World Series. The next season, they returned to the Fall Classic, only to be knocked aside by the New York Yankees. In 2010, the San Francisco Giants bumped them in the NLCS on their way to the title. As we all know, the Cardinals did the same in the 2011 NLDS. So it seemed inevitable that 2012 would finish completely out of the money, as they did. Patterns won't be denied (until they are).
Now the challenge is for the Phillies to reverse the downward slide and get back into October play. It's not the easiest of chores either, what with a resurgent Atlanta team and a young Washington team that looks here to stay. To find out if they could do it, I talked to Justin Klugh of That Ball's Outta Here
from the FanSided network (and on Twitter @TBOHblog
) and Rich Baxter of Fightin Phillies
) to see just how this season is going to play out.
(Side note: Rich also runs the site BaseballPodcasts.net
, where you can hear Conversations With C70 as well as a number of other great baseball shows. Check it out when you've got the time!)
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C70: How would you grade the offseason?
TBOH: When I close my eyes, Ben Revere inherits center field and becomes an effective slap-hitter and base thief, flanked by the emerging offense, speed, and leadership of Dom Brown and the stegosaurus-like power of pleasant surprise Darin Ruf.
Sadly enough for me, this fantasy is a nice thought without much realistic probability.
Sadder still, Ruben Amaro seems totally willing to use the same imagination-based philosophy when conducting actual team affairs; but his imagination is even more detached and delusional than mine.
Maybe without a blockbuster deal to pull off, Ruben didn't know what to do.
Maybe somebody got him really excited about buying low and he thinks he's outsmarting everybody. But the truth is, I don't think he really knows what he's doing and am now wondering if he ever did. Anyone who would employ two proven ineffective/incompetent commodities to function in everyday roles, when at the very least, functional alternatives existed within and outside of the organization for the same price, is not playing the game the right way. A "low risk, high reward" strategy requires risk, but Michael Young and Delmon Young - who could both realistically bounce back offensively and make Amaro look like a "genius" - are statues, primed to give up enough runs to nullify any luck they maintain at the plate.
FP: The Phils looked to shore up the bullpen which I think they did well, the outfield is another story though and that's where I think the Phils kind of failed. I like the pickup of Michael Young at 3rd base, overall I would give the Phils a solid B- for their moves.
C70: Can Roy Halladay return to ace status this year?
TBOH: He certainly can, but given that his body is starting to crumble after 35 years of early morning stairs and slowly filling with bone dust, will he? I am willing to sit on this question until a few weeks into the season. Roy has transcended all injury and health rumors. He's too spectacular of an athlete, competitor, and legend to be given anything but the benefit of the doubt.
Roy doesn't have to prove anything to you people. The day he calls it quits, he might just decide to take all of baseball with him and keep it in his house. And they'll have no choice but to do it.
FP: Yes I think he can, the Phils were off last year, Halladay included. This all hinges of course if Halladay is really healthy, if he is I think he looks at winning 20 this season.
C70: What kind of difference will it make to have Ryan Howard around from Opening Day?
TBOH: We all saw what the Phillies did in the second half with Ryan and Chase back in the lineup. These guys have power in the tank, it's just limited by the fact that they can't keep their muscles and bones inside of their bodies.
However, these guys are the starters for a reason, even at their age. Nobody wants to see somebody like Hunter Pence or Ty Wigginton batting clean up on purpose. And it's when you're forced into that position that you realize that yes; Ryan is older and more vulnerable to injury than ever, but he's still effective as a power hitter. He's a trained RBI-knocker, after spending years punching guys in. If Ryan can step in and be a .270, .830+ OPS in the middle of the lineup, he's already a better option. He won't spend half his ABs going through impromptu spring training in August and he'll have time to dig a hole and climb out of it if he needs to.
That said, he is a slower, weaker version of his former self. And those numbers I quoted you earlier were close to career averages that were generated prior to any of his muscles ripping in half. And there will be times when he will be hard to watch. But the Phillies are a better team with him. For now.
FP: A big difference, he adds the offensive fire power that the Phillies lacked last year most of the season.
C70: What rookie will make the biggest impact in 2013?
TBOH: Darin Ruf.
I'm basing this on the idea that I want a Nebraska-born, 100% organically grown dinger-basher in his mid-twenties on this team in an almost entirely romantic and pretty impossible way.
This team has been weighed down by talk of age and complacency. In a perfectly transitioning world, Freddy Galvis is the next Jimmy Rollins, Cody Asche is the next Chase Utley, Dom Brown is the next Jayson Werth, Ben Revere is the next Shane Victorino, and Darin Ruf is the next Ryan Howard. But crap never lines up like that. Also those are not apt comparisons, based on skill and facts.
Here's this 26-year-old kid left off the Top 20 prospects list for the entirety of his career who shows up in 2012 and challenges the HR records of every league they put him in. His defensive position is still "..." and his success has yet to be deemed "sustainable," but at this point, you root for the guy because he seems nice and he's not a middle-aged man whose tenure in Philadelphia could technically be classified as a "quarantine."
If he hits his fantasy ceiling,
Darin Ruf - a cheap bat with high RBI potential - could be the middle of the lineup bat we never signed.
FP: Darin Ruf... he will be a contender for ROY if my crystal ball is correct.
C70: What will be the final record of the team and where will they finish in the division?
TBOH: 89-73. Third place.
That is the first time I have not picked the Phillies to make the playoffs since I was 14 and since I started taking my meds.
As much as I want to see the Nationals suffer and die, it would be painfully unprofessional to not label them the league's most likely champions. Because as you can plainly see I've remained professional throughout the rest of this text.
FP: 92-70 - they take the Wild Card spot and then excel in the playoffs.
C70: What one thing from your team are you most looking forward to watching?
TBOH: My fantasy outfield aside, the bullpen. There aren't many pockets of young talent on this squad, but the bullpen was hiding a few of them last year. Too many. Jonathan Papelbon, Chad Qualls, and a bunch of first-year greenies trotted through the gate last season, but now they're all one season wiser (or they're like Michael Stutes or Antonio Bastardo, and the stuff is there, they just need to come back from injury or slumps) and one season more experienced, primed to establish themselves as a presence in the National League. Or they're warm-bodied flame-outs kept around in case Roy Halladay needs a spare organ.
FP: How this team does with it's starting pitching, I think they will be off to a hot start and stay hot all year.
My thanks to Justin and Rich for their commentary. It would seem that the Phillies work is cut out for them, but they've been too good too long to ever completely rule them out!