As the 2014 Major League Baseball season kicks off, the Philadelphia Phillies will be living by the motto “age is just a state of mind”. An aging veteran core mixed with young prospects will have to gel together in order for the Phillies to climb back into the postseason after a two year absence.
Here’s the 25-man roster the Phillies took into their 14-10 over the Texas Rangers today:
Catchers: Carlos Ruiz, Will Nieves
Infielders: Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Cody Asche, Jayson Nix, Cesar Hernandez
Outfielders: Domonic Brown, Marlon Byrd, Tony Gwynn Jr., John Mayberry Jr., Ben Revere
Starting Pitchers: Cliff Lee, A.J. Burnett, Kyle Kendrick, Roberto Hernandez
Relief Pitchers: Justin De Fratus, Brad Lincoln, Jeff Manship (Possible 5th starter), Jonathan Papelbon, B.J. Rosenberg, Antonio Bastardo, Jake Diekman, Mario Hollands
Players Starting Season on DL: Cole Hamels, Freddy Galvis, Darin Ruf, Mike Adams
Strengths: Ruben Amaro Jr. did an excellent job of piecing together a veteran pitching staff that will be one of the best in baseball when Cole Hamels returns from the disabled list at the end of April. Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels are both workhorses, A.J. Burnett is coming off one of his best seasons even though his 10-11 record would not indicate so, Kyle Kendrick has won at least 10 games in every season where he has been a starter for the entire length of the season, and Roberto Hernandez adds veteran experience to cap off the rotation.
Experience matters in sports; and there is no doubt that the Phillies have experienced winners in the clubhouse. Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins will be the hearts and souls of the 2014 Phillies. These three will have to stay healthy and produce night in and night out for this team to contend, mentoring the young players while providing the team with leadership. End of discussion.
Weaknesses: The Phillies have no depth whatsoever coming off the bench, especially with Darin Ruf and Freddy Galvis starting the season on the disabled list, and their bullpen is inconsistent and unpredictable from top to bottom. Kevin Frandsen was a huge loss to the Phillies bench and clubhouse with his ability to play any infield position as well as his upbeat energy heading over to the Washington Nationals. Tony Gwynn Jr. and John Mayberry Jr. are serviceable backups considering both can play all three outfield positions, but neither have proven that they can remain consistent over an extended period of time making them useless if Brown, Byrd, or Revere were to go down with an injury. Earlier this week, Phillies’ fans only knew that Jayson Nix had a brother Laynce Nix, but that is about it. The guy is not serviceable by any means, and Cesar Hernandez has only played in 34 big league games entering this season.
Inconsistency and unpredictability from the bullpen could also lead to the Phillies demise in 2014. Their anchor in closer Jonathan Papelbon still has a velocity that sits in the low 90s, while continuing to lose control on his off-speed pitches, an issue that caused him to set a career low in saves last year with only 29. Mario Hollands has yet to sniff a big league field, and Brad Lincoln, Justin De Fratus, Jake Diekman, along with B.J. Rosenberg have been the definition of inconsistent up to this point in their big league careers.
Predictions: There are two potential teams that could finish the 2014 season for the Phillies. First, there is the team that stays healthy and consistent for the length of the season. That Phillies team will be in contention until the very end, having a shot to win the National League East or snag a Wild Card spot. Should the veteran core in Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Carlos Ruiz, Marlon Byrd, A.J. Burnett, and Cliff Lee stay healthy, the Phillies will be a surprise team. Once Cole Hamels, Freddy Galvis, Darin Ruf, and Mike Adams return from their present injuries, more depth in the bench and in the bullpen will be added to make their weaknesses stronger, and the pitching rotation will jump to being one of the best in baseball.
Projected Record: 88-74 with a Wild Card bid
Then there is another potential scenario for the Fightin’ Phils that includes injuries, inconsistency in the bullpen, and a lack of run production. This Phillies team loses their relevance before the calendar turns to September. Key injuries to any position player or starting pitcher cannot be afforded, especially when it comes to the lineup. Any significant time missed by Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, or Dom Brown will cause the lineup to implode, leading to an immediate lack of run production. The Phillies need their position players to stay healthy, or else they will become too reliant on a pitching staff that includes an inconsistent bullpen.
Projected Record: 79-83
Final Thoughts: The Phillies will either shock the baseball world, or implode because of inconsistent play and injury issues, losing their relevance by September. Everyone has low expectations for the Phillies because of their old age and past injury history, but that is why Uncle Drew once said: “Age is just a state of mind”. Let that Liberty Bell ring.
Image Source: Sports Illustrated