Can the Phillies Win 90 Games in 2014?

Posted: January 27, 2014 in Uncategorized

All offseason, the general consensus has been that the Philadelphia Phillies are entering another disappointing season in 2014. Fresh off their worst campaign since 2000, Philadelphia is labored with robust contracts to fading veterans. Despite the negatives, there remains a shimmering light at the end of the tunnel for the Phillies. Yes, the expectations are low. But, the reality is that this is a much better roster than the team thathoward broke camp last spring. If the stars can stay healthy, the Phillies could reasonably win 90+ games in 2014. The Red Sox did it in 2013, going from worst to first in a very difficult AL East division. If Philadelphia gets what they expect out of their top-end talent, then October could be red again this fall.

First and foremost, any chance that Philadelphia has of competing in an uber-difficult National League East will depend on their ability to stay healthy. The last two years, health has been a fleeting fiction for the Phillies. Injuries to key players crippled any chance of success over that time frame. In fact, only one starter played more than 130 games in 2012. That was Jimmy Rollins (156). Other than Juan Pierre (130), John Mayberry (149), and Carlos Ruiz (114), nobody played more than 100 games that year. In 2013, the sad story continued. Of the players expected to start in the Phillies’ opening day lineup, only four played over 100 games (Rollins, Domonic Brown, Chase Utley, and Michael Young). Granted, the rapidly accelerating age of the unit as a whole doesn’t suggest that these injuries will desist. But, one can hope that the infusion of youth in the form of Brown, Ben Revere, and Cody Asche could aid whatever illnesses injuries bring to the Phillies in 2014.

As for those who missed time a year ago, the news heading into spring training is good. Ruben Amaro was quoted last week as saying that “Ryan Howard is 100% healthy.” The health of Howard is likely the key to any success over the next year. The former MVP has played just 151 games combined since the beginning of 2012, contributing 25 home runs and 99 RBI in that time frame. If Howard can play 140 games for the first time since 2011, the Phillies will have solved most of their offensive woes. The additions of Asche and Marlon Byrd should only serve to improve a lineup that relied far too heavily on Mayberry, Delmon Young, and Kevin Frandsen a year ago. Keep an eye on Darin Ruf, as well. The 27-year old slugged 14 homers and drove in 47 in just 73 games last year. It’s not out of the realm of possibility for Ruf to spell Howard against lefties at first base. A combination of Ruf and Howard at first could conceivably go for 40+ homers and 130+ RBI, if both remain healthy.

What’s clear is that the Phillies’ offensive difficulties of 2012-13 should be less of a liability this season. As for their pitching staff…well, that’s another story. Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee (a combined 22-22 in 2013) should be on top of their game again. Hamels dealt with pathetic run support during the team’s woeful run scoring drought. Expect a strong bounce back from him. Meanwhile, which Kyle Kendrick we see this season is an entirely different story. The righthander signed a one year deal to avoid arbitration and is heading into his free agent season. It’s not out of the question to think that K.K. could put together a banner season in his walk year. But, that remains to be seen.

Behind the three veterans at the top is a cluster of question marks. Offseason signing Robert Hernandez is a veteran righthander with postseason experience and solid numbers in the past. But, he’s coming off a dreadful year in Tampa Bay and whether or not he survives pitching at home in Citizens Bank Park is still up in the air. Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, Amaro’s big international free agent signing from last August, has a good chance of making the team out of spring training. His repertoire suggests a solid 3 or 4 starter with the possibility for upside. It’s unlikely that he becomes Jose Fernandez so swiftly. But, Gonzalez has got to be considered a significant wild card in 2014. Joining Gonzalez in the quest for the fifth rotation spot are Ethan Martin and Jonathan Pettibone. The former was dynamite at the AAA level before struggling as a starter in Philadelphia in 2013. Martin could be used primarily as a reliever, depending on how his spring training goes. As for Pettibone, he remains a candidate to earn the fifth spot after a surprisingly successful campaign a year ago. The 23-year old right hander went 5-4, 4.04 in 18 MLB starts. Although his stuff isn’t as good as Gonzalez or Martin, his ability to attack hitters and show no fear on the mound gives him a possible edge over the more inexperienced duo he’s competing with. The Phillies also have youngsters with high upside in Adam Morgan, David Buchanan, and Jesse Biddle waiting in the high-minors.

Finally, the new faces in the bullpen are minimal. The team acquired righthander Brad Lincoln in December. 29 in May, Lincoln is a former first round pick converted to a rather successful reliever. His best year came in 2012, when he went a combined 5-2, 3.68 with Pittsburgh and Toronto. He will be expected to fit right into the 7th inning role. Joining Lincoln in the Phillies’ bullpen will be familiar faces Jonathan Papelbon, Mike Adams, Jake Diekman, Justin De Fratus, and Antonio Bastardo. Expect more cameos from Joe Savery, Phillippe Aumont, and Jeremy Horst, as well. The Philadelphia bullpen isn’t as strong as Amaro would like. But, with live arms like Martin, Luis Garcia, Kevin Munson, and BJ Rosenberg in reserve, it’s deeper than it’s been in years.

The Phillies were 20-22 under Ryne Sandberg in 2013. While that doesn’t seem all that impressive, it’s important to note that they were 14 games below .500 under Charlie Manuel. The team also was incredibly banged up and in the midst of a firesale when the former Chicago Cubs second baseman took over. If Sandberg can continue to lead this team with the vigor of a lieutenant, then Philadelphia could defy the odds in 2014. Can this team with 90 games this year? That question remains up in the air.

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