It could be a long year for the Phillies’ nine.
That does not mean that it will, but as the Phillies take the field for their opening series against the Texas Rangers, there is not exactly a burst of optimism. The team that once dominated the National League and monopolized national media attention has receded back into the shadows with two straight sub-par seasons.
For a variety of factors, 2014—which originally was thought to be a possible resurgence year for the Phillies—does not look very promising.
It started with a free agency period in which the Phillies made less of a splash, and more of plop. In what was supposed to be a building block of sorts for the team, the Phillies came up empty handed in terms of difference makers.
Back-up players such as Reid Brignac, Will Nieves, Bobby Abreu, Tony Gwynn Jr. and Jayson Nix were all signed around the Phillies’ biggest offensive free agent pick up of the winter—a 36-year old Marlon Byrd, coming off a career year with the Mets.
They made better progress signing pitchers—inking veterans A.J. Burnett and Roberto Hernandez—but it hardly matters.
With the exceptions of Byrd and Burnett, these are not difference makers. Some of them did not even make the Opening Day roster. Even those two signings, though solid, are not huge.
What the Phillies did this offseason appeared to be worked around the notion that their regulars were going to be healthy and were going to produce.
And that, ultimately, is what is causing the doubt going into the 2014 campaign.
Start with injuries. Roy Halladay retiring left a hole in the rotation that would have been filled with a guy like Burnett. That would have made a starting rotation of Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, Burnett, Kyle Kendrick and then either Jon Pettibone, Roberto Hernandez or Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez. On paper that is an exceptional rotation.
The only problem is half of those pitchers are injured. Hamels was shut down early in Spring Training due to shoulder fatigue, and will likely miss the first month of the season. Pettibone, who missed the last part of the 2013 season with shoulder soreness had recurring symptoms and was shut down, and Gonzalez, in addition to not nearly being ready to pitch in the Major Leagues as evident by his first few games, is currently on the 60-day disabled list with? You guessed it, shoulder soreness.
So the rotation is just a shell of what it could have been right now. Hamels will be back and the top three will be intact, but a month is a long time to ride two, maybe three established starting pitchers and expect to win.
To do it, the offense would need to drastically improve from 2013, when the Phillies hit .248 as a team and finished 27th of 30 teams in runs scored.
Spring Training was not a great indicator that those numbers would be any better.
The team is still built around the core that led them through the early and mid 2000s—Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, and Chase Utley. They are the big guns. The statistics prove that the Phillies are much more successful when they are in the lineup and producing.
For the first time in a long time, they all appear to be healthy. But healthy does not mean being productive.
Howard and Rollins both tied for the team lead in homers in Spring Training with three, but it is a misleading stat. Those home runs came within the last week of training, and their other numbers show how dismal they were during the spring. Howard finished with .227 average, which was best of the three. Rollins was benched for three straight games for his apparent lack of leadership, and finished with a paltry .173 average and .271 OBP, and Utley managed to pull his average up to .217 with a strong final Spring Training game.
Not what the team needs from its core.
Of course, it is just Spring Training and putting stock in spring stats is foolish. But the lack of performance, health, motivation and urgency early on certainly is something to be concerned about, and it could translate into the worst year the Phillies have had in quite some time.
Kenny Ayres is a fourth-year student majoring in communication studies with a journalism minor. He can be reached at KA739433@wcupa.edu.