It looks bad for the Phillies right now, I know. The offseason moves they made are lackluster, their core players will be eligible for senior discounts sooner than not, and they are coming off a season in which they finished fourth in the N.L. East.
But before jumping off the Ben Franklin Bridge, ponder this for a minute: The Phillies might actually be a decent team this year.
No, I’m not some overly optimistic fan who refuses to give up the elation that this team brought three, four, five years ago. I’m not saying they will win the World Series, or even that they will make the playoffs, but at the very least this year could be an interesting and exciting one down the stretch.
Ruben Amaro Jr. constantly talks about how the Phillies aging core needs to produce again, and he is right. He is also correct in saying that it absolutely could happen. We are not talking about Ryan Howard hitting .313 with 58 bombs again, or Jimmy Rollins hitting .296, stealing 41 bags and legging out 20 triples, but more of a happy medium between those MVP years and the injury ridden, slump-filled seasons the Phillies infield had last year.
It is not as implausible as one would think.
Let’s start with Howard, who last year missed a large portion of the season with a knee injury and finished with a respectable .266 average but just 11 homers and 43 RBI. He also was still feeling some effects of his Achilles injury, such as weakness in the legs, etc.
That is behind him now. Howard admitted recently to Scott Palmer that for the first time in a long time, he is healthy and he knows it. He has been working out in Florida this offseason, and has lost 15 pounds, which only will help his legs further. In addition, the Big Piece has been participating in baseball activities, and according to Palmer is hitting 70 percent of balls to the opposite field in practice.
Is it much to go off of? No, not really. But what part of it is bad? What part of Howard’s health makes it seem like he will only be able to play in less than half of the games this year? Many players his age have been able to have 35 homer, 100 RBI seasons before, and there is no reason Howard won’t be able to if he is healthy.
Health is many fans’ concern about Chase Utley too, mainly his knees. The thing is, his knees are fine.
Well, not “fine,” but after two frustrating seasons of trying to figure out a way to deal with the cartilage deterioration in his knees, he appears to have found the right type of stretching and workout. Did he have any knee problems last year? No. In fact, barring an oblique strain (which can happen to anyone in baseball) he was healthy pretty much all year, and he had a fine year at the dish. In fact, if he had played in, say, 150 games rather than 131, his numbers would have looked more like his career 162-game average of 27 homers, 97 RBIs, and a .287 average.
That leaves us with Rollins. Let’s assume he will probably pull a hammy a few times, per usual (although last year he played in 160 games). Injury is not a concern with him, usually. His lack of effort was the problem, and quite honestly, it could be the biggest concern among the three infielders. But who better to try to fix that than Larry Bowa, who tolerated none of Rollins’ lack of hustle when he was manager.
Rollins is not so old that he can’t produce, and Bowa should be able to milk any last talent out him that is in there.
The pitching rotation is certainly respectable, the bench is better than it was last year, and we finally have a third baseman who looks like he will be around for a while. The outfield and bullpen are a bit shaky, but remember, we are not talking about a perfect team here.
The recipe is there for success this year, but it just depends on a ton of factors. The Phillies could certainly be a good team.
But if that recipe isn’t followed, they will certainly be worse.
Kenny Ayres is a fourth-year student majoring in communication studies with a journalism minor. He can be reached at KA739433@wcupa.edu.