Michael/Male/26-30. Lives in United States/Pennsylvania/Wexford/Christopher Wren, speaks English. Spends 20% of daytime online. Uses a Fast (128k-512k) connection. And likes baseball /politics.
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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Journey North: Are the Phillies Ready? 

Thursday I was watching ESPN’s coverage of last week’s Phillies – Red Sox game from Clearwater when I heard one of the announcers comment that Charlie Manuel was worried that the Phillies were playing sloppy and weren’t focused. As if right on cue, Jimmy Rollins boots a routine ground ball to short and fails to convert the 6-3 put-out. Mentally the Phillies don’t seem to be clicking. Their 9-16 spring training record is pretty meaningless, until you back it up with those observations of the team’s lackadaisical attitude towards the game at the moment.

It doesn’t seem like the Phillies are prepared, mentally, for the long haul of the season ahead. They’ve been sloppy this pre-season. They don’t seem like they are hitting the ball well and there have been a raft of injuries.

1. Freddy Garcia, the Phillies major off-season acquisition, may or may not be prepared to start the season due to a biceps injury. I tend to think that Garcia will be ready to go, but a major injury (or even just a long-term nagging one) to Garcia would be a major blow to the Phillies, who brought Garcia to Philadelphia in exchange for two outstanding pitching prospects, knowing that they were just renting him for the ’07 campaign. This is garcia’s walk year and he’ll probably expect to command millions upon millions of dollars on the open market. Dollars the Phillies cannot match, so they need Garcia to be healthy to justify the price they paid.

Ironically, the likely replacement for Garcia and Adam Eaton, the Phillies other major acquisition, Jon Lieber, is out indefinitely with an abdominal muscle, precluding the Phillies from swinging a deal to ship him somewhere in exchange for a middle relief pitcher.

2. Carlos Ruiz was also suffering from a biceps injury, but is expected back soon. Ruiz uncertain status might be good news for many Chris Coste fans out there in the blogging world: Ruiz’s status might encourage the Phillies to keep Coste with the team when it heads north.

3. Ryan Howard. Disturbingly, the 2006 N.L. MVP has been slumping at the plate recently, going 0-for-17, and apparently losing his temper when he talked with a sports writer. Howard is 12-for-52 this spring with just two home runs. Coming off of a season in which he clubbed 58 home runs, perhaps a little of a let-down was to be expected, but I think that Ryan Howard might be in for a bigger decline than we all anticipated. Between teams pitching around him and the natural regression to the mean, Howard might slump into the 35-40 home run range … If I played major league baseball, I’d be estatic hitting just ten home runs, but Ryan Howard and the Phillies would be very, very disappointed.

The 2007 Bill James Handbook doesn’t see much of a chance for Howard to slump, however: they project Ryan Howard to hit 56 home runs, 148 RBIs and have 167 Runs Created in 2007, basically what he had in 2006 (58, 149, 138). I can’t help but wonder if that is wildly optimistic.

4. Aaron Rowand & Pat Burrell are both really struggling (.169 with a home run, three doubles and eight RBIs, and .178 with a home run, three doubles and seven RBIs, respectively). Burrell I am less worried about: he’s never had a particularly high batting average because he draws a lot of walks. For Rowand, who drew 18 walks in 2006, this is a major, major cause for concern. Rowand could be a major, major anchor on the Phillies offense. Let’s hope his defense makes up for it.

A few weeks ago I was feeling very optimistic as the Phillies broke camp. Best offense in the majors, a revamped pitching staff … this team was primed to contend. Now I look and I wonder if the Phillies pitching will be healthy, and I see major problems with the Phillies 4, 5, & 6 hitters.


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