Spring training is upon us, and soon the Phillies will start their quest to become this year’s World Series champions. They have made some changes to the pitching rotation, as well as the outfield, that I will be keeping my eye on. The team is also getting Ryan Howard and Ben Revere back from injury. I am excited to see how this Phillies team performs now that everyone is healthy.
The new additions of Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez and A.J. Burnett help stabilize a rotation that has seen the departure of ace Roy Halladay. Burnett made 30 starts last year with the Pirates, posting a 3.30 ERA. He should fit in behind Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels as the number three starter. Gonzalez is more of a mystery man. The 6’3” pitcher from Cuba received a lot of hype surrounding him during free agency. Since he signed with the Phillies, expectations have been tempered a bit. Gonzalez may either work his way into the fifth starter spot or he can make his debut in the minors to launch his season. I assume that he’ll be tested in the minors first, to see how he looks in game action. He has not played in a game in nearly two years, so I imagine there is some rust to be dealt with.
The Philly outfield is an area of concern. The team did bring in veteran Marlon Byrd, but he is just an average player and not much of an upgrade over Darin Ruf. They will both get their fair share of playing time in left field, and Ruf can also fill in for Howard at first base if Howard needs a day off. Revere will be back in center field and as leadoff man, as his speed will be needed at the top of the lineup. Domonic Brown has right field locked down. If he continues to improve at the plate it would benefit Howard, who would be batting before him in the cleanup spot.
Howard is returning from yet another injury to man first base. Upon entering the league, the Phillies are 13 games over .500. Needless to say, if he can remain healthy and learn to hit a breaking ball, he’ll improve their playoff chances. Second baseman Chase Utley and shortstop Jimmy Rollins are joining Howard as the core of the infield. Third baseman Cody Asche, on the other hand, will have some competition with Maikel Franco. Franco is an outstanding talent that could end up forcing Asche to move to shortstop. Carlos Ruiz is back behind the plate, with Wil Nieves added as a reserve wielding some power.
The Phillies bolstered their bullpen by signing Brad Lincoln and Roberto Hernandez. Mike Adams will be returning after missing most of the 2013 season because of a hernia and shoulder injury. All three veterans can help a group of young talent like Justin De Fratus, Jake Diekman and Michael Stutes develop into reliable arms. Jonathan Papelbon remains the closer, but the set-up position before him is still up for grabs. Antonio Bastardo will be the likely set-up man if he can demonstrate some consistency.
I believe that if the Phillies can stay relatively injury free, they can prove many of the doubters wrong. Their biggest competition may prove to be the Atlanta Braves and the Washington Nationals — both good organizations that have seemingly gotten even better. On paper, the Mets also look like a club that may be hard to beat. With the tough competition in the National League East it won’t be easy, but I’d say the Phillies are experienced and talented enough to indeed have a shot at making it to the World Series.