Archive for March, 2014

2014 MLB Predictions

Posted: March 29, 2014 in Uncategorized

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AL East

New York Yankees – 94-68
Boston Red Sox – 92-70
Tampa Bay Rays – 88-74
Baltimore Orioles – 84-78
Toronto Blue Jays – 73-89

AL Central 

Detroit Tigers – 98-64
Kansas City Royals – 89-73
Cleveland Indians – 85-77
Chicago White Sox – 71-91
Minnesota Twins – 70-92

AL West

Texas Rangers – 87-75
Oakland Athletics – 87-75
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim – 84-78
Seattle Mariners – 79-83
Houston Astros – 62-100

NL East

Washington Nationals – 95-67
Atlanta Braves – 86-76
Philadelphia Phillies – 79-83
New York Mets – 78-84
Miami Marlins – 66-96

NL Central 

Cincinnati Reds – 92-70
St. Louis Cardinals – 89-73
Milwaukee Brewers – 83-79
Pittsburgh Pirates – 81-81
Chicago Cubs – 70-92

NL West

Los Angeles Dodgers – 98-64
San Francisco Giants – 87-75
Arizona Diamondbacks – 82-80
San Diego Padres – 76-86
Colorado Rockies – 73-89

Wild Cards

Red Sox OVER Royals
Giants OVER Cardinals

League Division Series

Tigers OVER Red Sox
Rangers OVER Yankees

Dodgers OVER Giants
Nationals OVER Reds

League Championship Series

Tigers OVER Rangers

Nationals OVER Dodgers

World Series

Tigers OVER Nationals

League Awards

AL MVP
1B Prince Fielder, Texas Rangers

NL MVP
1B Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds

AL Cy Young
RHP Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers

NL Cy Young
LHP Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

AL Rookie of the Year
RHP Masahiro Tanaka, New York Yankees

NL Rookie of the Year
OF Oscar Taveras, St. Louis Cardinals

AL Manager of the Year
Ned Yost, Kansas City Royals

NL Manager of the Year
Bryan Price, Cincinnati Reds

For Brewers GM Ron Roenicke, 2014 is a big year.

After winning 96 games and their first playoff series since 1982 during his first year on the job, Roenicke’s team fell to 83-79 in 2012 and 74-88 a year ago. If he wants to keep his job secure, he’ll have to lead Milwaukee back into the playoff chase, and he just might have the team to do it.

brewers2011 NL MVP Ryan Braun returns from his mandated 50-game suspension poised to lead a talented offense with an improved pitching staff also in tow. The 30-year old hit pretty well a year ago (.298-9-38) prior to his ban. He’ll be joined by 36-year old slugger Aramis Ramirez (.283-12-49) and sweet swinging outfielder Carlos Gomez (.284-24-73). Ramirez and Braun played a combined 153 games, so keeping them on the field is Milwaukee’s first priority. Jean Segura, a young and blossoming shortstop, will look to mimic his solid first half of 2013 (.325 first half, .241 after).

One place where Milwaukee has absolutely improved is starting pitcher. The signing of Matt Garza from Texas made sure of that. Garza’s no ace. But, his ability to rack up strikeouts is perfect for a #2 or #3 starter. Yovani Gallardo and Kyle Lohse also return to make a very formidable combination at the top of the rotation. Marco Estrada, who won 7 games last year, and Wily Peralta, will make up the rest of the rotation.

Jim Henderson had 28 saves a year ago. He’s back for another go as the Brewers’ closer. The team also inked Francisco Rodriguez to help out in the bullpen. “K-Rod” was magnificent with Milwaukee a year ago, posting a 1-1, 1.09 line in 25 games.

Key Arrivals

1B/3B Mark Reynolds (Yankees)
1B Lyle Overbay (Yankees)
RHP Matt Garza (Rangers)
RHP Frank Francisco (Mets)

Key Departures

OF Norichika Aoki (Royals)
RHP Burke Badenhop (Red Sox)

Projected Lineup and Rotation (with Stat Projection)

OF Carlos Gomez – .273-24-61
SS Jean Segura – .297-11-66
OF Ryan Braun – .286-26-92
3B Aramis Ramirez – .282-19-81
C Jonathan Lucroy – .297-17-78
1B Lyle Overbay – .251-8-36
OF Khris Davis – .261-21-70
2B Scotter Gennett – .264-9-38

RHP Yovani Gallardo – 10-8, 3.74
RHP Kyle Lohse – 9-7, 4.01
RHP Matt Garza – 10-8, 3.75
RHP Marco Estrada – 10-8, 3.70
RHP Wily Peralta – 7-7, 4.16

RHP Jim Henderson – 2-2, 3.60, 26 Sv

Outlook

The Brewers have all the necessities of a solid contender. Their offense has solid contributors throughout, their defense is brewersoldoutstanding, and their pitching is vastly improved. The problem is, they lack a real grasp on consistency. Segura was brilliant during the first half last year and barely viable after the All Star Game. Braun’s suspension really threw a kink in their plans. As did Ramirez’s injury. But, the Brewers still lacked enough pitching depth to be successful in 2013. With the addition of Garza, they boosted that weakness.

I foresee the Brewers winning between 80-86 games this season. But, it probably won’t be enough in a very talented NL Central.

Six long years, gone in an instant.

Today, the Philadelphia Eagles released Pro Bowl WR DeSean Jackson with three years remaining on his contract. Jackson, 27, was coming off of the best season in his career. Early reports on the transaction suggested that the decision was not football related.

Of course, rumors had run rampant of late suggesting that Philadelphia was shopping the enigmatic receiver. But, the fact that the Eagles just released Jackson without any compensation is rather awe inspiring. Yes, Jackson is your unfriendly neighborhood receiver; complete with rocket like speed and a mouth that never quits. But, his ability to keep defenses honest was certainly a benefit to Philadelphia, whose offense ranked 2nd in all of football a year ago. Philadelphia is now left with Riley Cooper, Jeremy Maclin, Demaris Johnson, and Arrelious Benn as their only remaining options at Jackson’s position. With free agency all but dried up, the team will likely have to use an early pick on a receiver.

Philadelphia Eagles v Arizona CardinalsNow, Jackson certainly didn’t endear himself to the organization. There have been numerous cases where Jackson cost the team dearly. But, his talent and ability could hardly be questioned. Perhaps no moment was more magnificent than in 2010, when Jackson doused the New York Giants’ division dreams with a walk-off punt return at the Meadowlands. Though, Jackson’s touchdown against Arizona in the NFC Championship Game during his rookie season could have been a nominee.

For all the great moments, Jackson suffered through many sour ones. The receiver all but admitted to taking entire games off during the team’s on-again-off-again 2011 “Dream Team” season because he was upset about his contract. He was also flagged numerous times for personal foul penalties, most notably during that same 2011 season against the Giants. Who could forget his massive mistake against Dallas in 2008, when Jackson dropped the ball a foot short of the goal line after a long catch?

Then, there’s the gang connections. Now, the specifics of this story are still in question. So, I’m not going to speculate that much on the situation. I also don’t think it was a major reason why the team released him. The receiver, for all of the negatives, has also done some pretty amazing things for kids who are bullied. We’ll see which side the pendulum swings on that story when all is said and done.

No, the reason the Eagles cut bait on Jackson was because he’d become more of a headache than an asset. His $10.5 million contract for the next three years could better be used to improve the defense more, as well as pay QB Nick Foles when the time arrives. His recent squabbles about a new contract only served to arouse déjà vu out of the Eagles, who remembered those same gripes prior to his mediocre 2011 campaign. Then, there were the arguments on the sideline between Jackson and coaches. Chip Kelly is trying to build a system in Philadelphia, one built on a foundation of teamwork and determination. Clearly, Jackson had shown that those weren’t the most important traits to his game.

In the end, time will tell whether or not Philadelphia made the wise choice. Jackson will have interest throughout the league. We already know that the New York Jets, with Michael Vick under center, are interested. Other possibilities include the San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, and New England Patriots. Carolina, on the other hand, has already declined interest according to ProFootballTalk.com. The receiver will be a solid addition “on the field” to any team that lands him. Whether or not he’s in line off the field is another story.

For the Eagles, at least one new receiver is a guarantee. They clearly believe that Zach Ertz is going to be a prime option to line up out there at times. But, their depth is slim outside. Expect Philadelphia to look hard at taking a target in round one.

reds1Back-to-back playoff appearances weren’t enough to save Dusty Baker’s job with the Cincinnati Reds. The longtime MLB skipper was fired shortly after last season despite his team’s second consecutive 90+ win season. Cincinnati’s failure to close out a 2-0 series lead against eventual World Series champion San Francisco in 2012 was followed by their 1-0 N.L. Wild Card Game loss to Pittsburgh last October. Baker finished 509-463 (.524) in six years with the club. Those are lofty shoes for former pitching coach (and first time manager) Bryan Price to fill. But, he’ll certainly have a talented roster with which to set forth this new venture in his baseball career.

The Reds return much of their potent offense from the last two years. Joey Votto (.305-24-73) and Jay Bruce (.262-30-109), the two left handed mashers in the middle, are back. They’ll be joined by Brandon Phillips, Ryan Ludwick, and Todd Frazier, who struggled to mimic his outstanding rookie campaign of 2012. This is a very skilled and deep Cincinnati offense. They’ll now have speedy OF Billy Hamilton at the top of their order from the get go. Hamilton shattered minor league base stealing records in 2012. Cincinnati will have to hope that he can prove his ability to get on base at the major league level.

The pitching staff was going to be deep before injuries took their toll on the club. Johnny Cueto has been battling nagging injuries this spring (what else is new). But, it looks like the right hander will be making the team’s opening day start. Fresh off signing his new contract, Homer Bailey went down with an injury early this year. The good news is that he is scheduled to be back in time for the start of the season. The bad news is that groin injuries often have a way of recurring during the course of a long season. Finally, Mat Latos, who missed most of the spring, is scheduled to return by the third week of the season.

These additions to their rotation are key, as Cincinnati doesn’t have much experience at the other spots with the departure of Bronson Arroyo to Arizona. Mike Leake and Tony Cingrani are expected to round out the rotation. The latter pitched brilliantly as a rookie last year when he was called upon to spell Cueto.

Finally, the team’s bullpen took a major blow last week when LHP Aroldis Chapman was struck in the head by a line drive. He’s expected to up to two months. Setup men J.J. Hoover and Sean Marshall will shoulder the load until the flamethrowing Cuban lefty is set to return.

Key Arrivals

C Brayan Pena (Royals)
OF Skip Schumaker (Dodgers)
OF Roger Bernadina (Phillies)

Key Departures

OF Shin-Soo Choo (Rangers)
RHP Bronson Arroyo (Diamondbacks)

Projected Lineup and Rotation (with Projected Stats)

OF Billy Hamilton – .242-3-41
2B Brandon Phillips – .277-16-67
1B Joey Votto – .292-22-91
OF Jay Bruce – .265-30-104
OF Ryan Ludwick – .249-12-47
3B Todd Frazier – .256-20-74
C Devin Mesoraco – .268-10-42
SS Zack Cozart – .270-12-67

RHP Johnny Cueto – 9-6, 3.60
RHP Homer Bailey – 13-8, 3.47
RHP Mat Latos – 11-7, 3.39
RHP Mike Leake – 11-10, 3.99
LHP Tony Cingrani – 11-8, 3.60

LHP Aroldis Chapman – 2-2, 2.31, 21 Sv

Outlook

Even with the injuries to their pitching staff, Cincinnati should be confident reds2enough in their offense that they shouldn’t take too hard a blow in the standings. If the Reds can keep pace with St. Louis and Pittsburgh until June, the addition of Chapman at the back end along with the continued progression from their rotation should be enough to keep them in the division race until the end.

Make no mistake, this isn’t an easy division to capture. Cincinnati has to deal with the defending NL Champion Cardinals and the same Pirates team that doused them in last fall’s Wild Card Game. But, the Reds have the superstars on offense and the depth in their rotation to overcome a few early season injury woes. Keep an eye on Hamilton, who brings his exciting style of play to Great American Ballpark for a full season.

I foresee the Reds winning between 90-96 games to make the postseason in Bryan Price’s first year at the helm.

cubsPresident Lyndon B. Johnson was born on August 27th, 1908. Less than two months later, the Chicago Cubs defeated the Detroit Tigers in five games to capture their second consecutive World Series title. Little did their Chicago faithful know that, over 105 years later, they’d still be searching for their third.

Coming off of a 66-96 season, it’s unlikely that the Lovable Losers will see the Curse of the Billy Goat come to end in 2014. Under GM Theo Epstein, the Cubs are effectively rebuilding their organization. With the offseason hiring of Rick Renteria as their new manager, Chicago will be under the influence of their third manager in four years.

As for the Cubs’ roster now, there’s actually plenty to be excited about. Chicago returns Anthony Rizzo, a talented and powerful first baseman that Epstein poached from San Diego. Rizzo’s batting average is pedestrian (.233). But, the 24-year old slugged 23 homers to lead the team in 2013. He’s poised for more Wrigley Field bombs this summer. Starlin Castro is Chicago’s other franchise cornerstone. The shortstop struggled through a .245-10-44 season a year ago. But, his career averages suggest that 2013 might have been an outlier.

Nate Schierholtz (second on the team with 21 HR), Wellington Castillo (.349 OBP – 2nd on team), and Darwin Barney return to the starting lineup. They’re joined by Junior Lake, a 24-year old outfielder with loads of potential coming off a .284-6-16 line in 64 big league games in 2013.

Outside of Rizzo and Castro, the Cubs’ complimentary pieces aren’t much to write home about. Though, they’ll have plenty of reserves ready to go in case the starters fail. Mike Olt, acquired from Texas in last summer’s Matt Garza deal, is a power hitting third baseman once considered one of the premier prospects in baseball. Joining him as top prospects nearly ready for big league action are INF Javier Baez, 3B Kris Bryant, and OF Jorge Soler.

The Chicago pitching staff is once again headlined by former Notre Dame star Jeff Samardzija (8-13, 4.34). The RHP set a career high with 214 strikeouts, even if his traditional stat line wasn’t all that impressive. Travis Wood, the team’s lone southpaw in the rotation, broke out after joining the team from division rival Cincinnati. The 27-year old set career highs in wins (9), ERA (3.11), and strikeouts (144). Also continuing his career in Chicago is Edwin Jackson, who signed a long term deal with the team prior to last season. Jackson promptly followed up his new found riches with a mediocre 8-18, 4.98 mark. Epstein and Co. will hope for better performances from the veteran in 2014.

Chicago’s premier offseason addition was RHP Jason Hammel, who joined the team from the Orioles. On his fourth team, Hammel has never tossed more than 177.2 IP in any of his eight big league seasons. So, expecting anything more than a fourth starter is a reach for the former Rays draft pick.

Key Arrivals

INF Emilio Bonifacio (Royals)
OF Justin Ruggiano (Marlins)
RHP Jason Hammel (Orioles)
RHP Jose Veras (Tigers)
LHP Wesley Wright (Astros)
RHP James McDonald (Pirates)

Key Departures

C Dioner Navarro (Blue Jays)
OF Donnie Murphy (Rangers)
RHP Kevin Gregg (unsigned)

Projected Lineup and Rotation (with Stat Projections)

SS Starlin Castro – .278-9-49
3B Luis Valbuena – .255-10-36
1B Anthony Rizzo – .273-22-86
OF Nate Schierholtz – .272-16-68
OF Junior Lake – .260-10-51
OF Ryan Sweeney – .266-6-44
C Wellington Castillo – .251-9-44
2B Darwin Barney – .247-5-40

RHP Jeff Samardzija – 10-9, 3.64
LHP Travis Wood – 8-10, 4.28
RHP Edwin Jackson – 8-8, 3.80
RHP Jason Hammel – 6-8, 4.50
RHP Carlos Villanueva – 4-4, 4.05
RHP Jake Arrieta – 5-7, 4.61

RHP Jose Veras – 2-2, 3.75, 22 Sv

Outlook

While the Cubs actually have legitimate starting pitching depth and a hoard of talented youngsters currently competing in the high-minors, their lack of established offensive talent will plague them through what will likely be another long 2014 season.

cubs2Chicago’s starting rotation, while lacking that shutdown ace pitcher, is strong throughout. Samardzija, Wood, and Jackson make an above average top-half. Meanwhile, the team has the flexibility to go with any of Hammel, Carlos Villanueva, Jake Arrieta, Chris Rusin, or James McDonald on the back end. The bullpen was also seemingly improved by signing Jose Veras, who was solid as the closer for lowly Houston before establishing himself as a quality setup man for the Tigers during their playoff run.

But, the Cubs’ lack of experience on offense will truly be their undoing, if you can call it that. After all, no one expects Chicago to compete since they’re not really trying to. Come 2016, this will be a very difficult team to play against. High draft picks like Kris Bryant and valuable young acquisitions like Jorge Soler will be primed to get their feet wet later on in 2014. In a few years, they’ll be the new faces of Chicago Cubs baseball with the hope of finally ending over a century of misery at Wrigley Field.

Unfortunately, that misery will continue for at least another season. I foresee Chicago winning between 69-75 games, a minor improvement on their dreadful 2013 season.

nations1Despite their 86-76 finish a year ago, the Washington Nationals have gone about rebuilding the right way. Teams like the Edmonton Oilers and Cleveland Browns wish they could be this successful after years upon years of top draft picks. The Nationals lost 100+ games in 2008 and 2009, earning the top pick in the subsequent season’s draft. Unlike other mediocre franchises, Washington cashed in on those picks by selecting RHP Stephen Strasburg and OF Bryce Harper. Both have become franchise cornerstones, and they’ll look to lead the Nationals back to the playoffs for the second time in three years.

In 2013, the Nationals’ offense was porous, as their run production dipped from 731 in 2012 to 656. Granted, offensive production was down as a whole in the National League, so it’s not as though Washington was alone in their struggles. They’ll look for bounce back campaigns from outfielders Denard Span (.279-4-47) and Harper (.274-20-58). The latter dealt with numerous nagging injuries, so one shouldn’t be surprised to see him return to his former glory in 2014.

Jayson Werth performed up to his contract for the first time, hitting .318-25-82 in just 129 games. If he can keep that up, it will give youngster Anthony Rendon time to get acclimated to a full season at the MLB level, as the 24-year old takes over as the full time second baseman.

The pitching staff behind Strasburg, who went just 8-9 last year despite sparkling peripherals (3.00 ERA, 191 K, 56 BB), is the best in the division and perhaps in the entire league. Jordan Zimmermann (19-9, 3.25) is coming off of the best season of his career. He’s had injury issues in the past, so one has to keep an eye on that. Lefty Gio Gonzalez (11-8, 3.36) was once again a godsend in the rotation. Though, much like Strasburg, he was hurt by poor run production. The loss of Dan Haren to free agency didn’t deter the Nationals, who traded a package of prospects to Detroit to land 6’9″ RHP Doug Fister. A workhorse with tons of postseason experience, Fister went 14-9 with a 3.67 ERA in the American League last year. So, one could expect even better peripherals moving to the Senior Circuit in 2014.

The bullpen is as deep as ever, with Rafael Soriano (3-3, 3.11, 43 Sv) being set up by the talented right handed duo of Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen. Veterans like Jerry Blevins, Ross Detwiler, and Mike Gonzalez provide support.

All in all, this rendition of the Washington Nationals is one of the most talented rosters in the league. There’s little doubt that they’ll be in contention all the way to the end.

Key Arrivals

2B Jamey Carroll (Royals)
OF Nate McLouth (Orioles)
RHP Doug Fister (Tigers)
LHP Jerry Blevins (Athletics)

Key Departures

C Kurt Suzuki (Twins)
RHP Dan Haren (Dodgers)
LHP Fernando Abad (Athletics)

Projected Lineup and Rotation (with Projected Stats)

OF Denard Span – .292-4-47
3B Ryan Zimmerman – .275-22-64
OF Bryce Harper – .286-28-93
OF Jayson Werth – .273-20-73
1B Adam LaRoche – .256-21-69
SS Ian Desmond – .273-19-77
2B Anthony Rendon – .265-12-68
C Wilson Ramos – .281-21-56

RHP Stephen Strasburg – 14-7, 3.08
LHP Gio Gonzalez – 14-8, 3.47
RHP Jordan Zimmermann – 13-7, 3.46
RHP Doug Fister – 13-7, 3.36
RHP Tanner Roark – 7-7, 3.76

RHP Rafael Soriano – 3-3, 3.75, 35 Sv

Outlook

The Atlanta Braves may be defending NL East champions. But, the Nationals are unquestionably the most well-rounded team heading into 2014. Whether or not they put it all together is another story. But, all signs point to Washington contending for a playoff spot yet again this year.

nations2Their offense is rife with power throughout, with the lone exception being their leadoff hitter, Denard Span. The team expects to get more consistent at 2B with Rendon playing the whole season over the platoon of Danny Espinosa and the recently traded Steve Lombardozzi. Meanwhile, talented offensive catcher Wilson Ramos returns after slugging 16 homers in just 78 games last year.

With a deep rotation and a bullpen filled with talented arms, there aren’t a lot of weaknesses to speak of in our nation’s capital (besides Congress). Washington, barring injury, will be the class of the East for the second time in three seasons. I foresee the Nationals winning between 90-96 games to capture the division crown.

phillies2Gone are the days of Philadelphia’s hegemony over the NL East. Following their 102 win campaign of 2011, the Phillies experienced a dramatic decline in success. Their slip to 81-81 in 2012 was followed by an injury plagued and offensively challenged 73-89 campaign a year ago. Now, the Phillies begin their first season without Charlie Manuel at the helm since 2004, their first at Citizens Bank Park. New skipper Ryne Sandberg brings a drastic alteration in philosophy and mentality, and his benching of franchise cornerstone Jimmy Rollins during Spring Training is just one example of the Hall-of-Famer’s hard-nosed attitude in the dugout.

GM Ruben Amaro Jr. knew that 2014 would be a make-or-break year for his tenure as GM of the Phillies. He took the reigns following the team’s 2008 World Series championship, and they have ironically regressed every single season since. In 2009, the team lost to New York in the World Series. A year later, their run fell short in the National League Championship Series. In 2011, the St. Louis Cardinals shocked Philadelphia en route to another championship. Finally, a .500 2012 campaign was followed by the team’s first losing season since 2000. Injuries have had plenty to do with those woes. Though, Amaro’s reliance on high priced free agents certainly hasn’t helped.

This offseason, Philadelphia once again dove into the free agent pool to land aging veterans coming off strong campaigns. Marlon Byrd returns to the franchise that he began his career with over a decade ago. His career seemed about over following a dismal 2012 season. But, a renaissance by the outfielder with New York and Pittsburgh was enough to convince Amaro to take a risk on the boom-or-bust right handed slugger. The 36-year old hit .291-24-88 a year ago, and he’ll need to mimic that production in Philadelphia to make his 2 year, $16 million deal worth it to a team already dealing with a plethora of bad contracts.

Joining Byrd as the team’s only other high profile free agent signing was fellow former Pirate AJ Burnett. The 37-year old signed a one year, $15 million contract in February, hoping for one last shot at a championship after he helped derail the Phillies’ hopes in 2009 while a member of the Yankees. Burnett fizzled out in New York. But, he was ace-like in Pittsburgh over the last two seasons, and started game one of the NLDS with the Pirates a season ago. If Burnett can keep up his production from his time in Western Pennsylvania (13-10, 3.41 average per season), Philadelphia’s rotation has a chance to be the best in the division.

Burnett will sit behind Cliff Lee (14-8, 2.87), who was a Cy Young candidate on a brutal team a year ago. Cole Hamels figures to be the team’s #2 starter once he returns from injury in mid-April. The 30-year old struggled to factor into the win column in the first year of his new contract (8-14, 3.60). But, his peripherals were strong, and fans should expect the same old southpaw once he’s healthy. With Roy Halladay’s retirement and the Spring Training struggles of offseason signing Roberto Hernandez, the back end of Philadelphia’s rotation remains in flux. It’s possible that the team could go with Jonathan Pettibone once he recovers from his own spring injury woes. Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, Jeff Manship and David Buchanan remain possibilities for the team’s fifth starter spot until Hamels returns. Kyle Kendrick, who’s in the final year of his contract, is cemented into the rotation again after an up-and-down 2013 season.

Offensively, Philadelphia’s success will depend on the ability of their aging veterans to stay healthy, something that has eluded them in recent years. Ryan Howard hasn’t played a full season since signing his five-year megadeal in May, 2010. A return to the days of 40+ home runs seems unlikely. But, just having Howard’s presence in the lineup is enough to improve the Phillies over the garbage they had out there last year. With the loss of Freddy Galvis (MRSA) and Darin Ruf (oblique), the Phillies’ offensive depth took a major hit, at least early in the season. Cody Asche earned the starting nod at 3B almost by default. He’ll team up with Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins to make up the team’s starting infield. With their release of Ronny Cedeno on Tuesday, it looks like one of Reid Brignac or Cesar Hernandez will break camp with the club as the backup middle-infielder.

In the outfield, the Phillies will once again rely on Domonic Brown to be an offensive force. The 26-year old finally broke out last season (.272-27-83), although most of that production was accumulated during his torrid month of May (.303-12-25). Byrd and holdover Ben Revere round out the starters with John Mayberry and Bobby Abreu acting as their backups. The team has been shopping the former for months with no takers. Meanwhile, Abreu didn’t even play in the majors last season and is slower than Franklin the Turtle in the outfield.

Carlos Ruiz returns behind the plate after a disappointing 2013 season. The veteran missed the first 25-games after testing positive for Adderall the season prior. With a fresh contract, Ruiz will need to bounce back both behind the plate and at the dish if the Phillies have any hopes of contending in the NL East. Defensive wizard Wil Nieves will act as his backup.

Finally, the Phillies bullpen, beleaguered over the last few years, returns a familiar face in Jonathan Papelbon. Overcoming a brutal second half that featured a flat fastball and diminished velocity will be key for “Paps.” He’ll be setup by Antonio Bastardo with a little help from Mike Adams and offseason trade acquisition Brad Lincoln.

Key Arrivals

C Wil Nieves (Diamondbacks)
INF Reid Brignac (Yankees)
OF Marlon Byrd (Pirates)
OF Bobby Abreu (D.N.P)
RHP AJ Burnett (Pirates)
RHP Roberto Hernandez (Rays)
RHP Brad Lincoln (Blue Jays)

Key Departures

C Erik Kratz (Blue Jays)
OF Roger Bernadina (Reds)
RHP Roy Halladay (Retirement)
LHP John Lannan (Mets)
RHP Tyler Cloyd (Indians)

Projected Lineup and Rotation (with Projected Stats)

OF Ben Revere – .303-0-42
SS Jimmy Rollins – .253-10-58
2B Chase Utley – .273-14-65
1B Ryan Howard – .243-19-67
OF Domonic Brown – .273-25-83
OF Marlon Byrd – .269-17-69
C Carlos Ruiz – .286-7-43
3B Cody Asche – .249-14-51

LHP Cliff Lee – 13-8, 2.84
LHP Cole Hamels – 10-7 3.33
RHP AJ Burnett – 11-7, 3.17
RHP Kyle Kendrick – 8-8, 4.18
RHP Roberto Hernandez – 6-6, 4.20

RHP Jonathan Papelbon – 2-2, 3.15, 35 Sv

Outlook

The team’s signings of Ruiz and Byrd were met with rampant skepticism. After all, this was already an aging and inconsistent unit before those deals. But, the February acquisition of Burnett received positive acclaim. After all, it effectively replaced Roy Halladay for the 2014 season and gave fans enough hope to buy a few tickets to games this summer. Gone are the days where Citizen’s Bank Park was the place to be on summer evenings, as the team’s long shutout streak has come to an inglorious end.

phillies1Philadelphia’s hope, as dim as it is, will rely on Rollins, Utley, and Howard. If they can all stay healthy and produce at a clip reminiscent of their former glory, then the Phillies can absolutely contend for a playoff spot. Their pitching is good enough that even moderately above-average offense and defense will be enough to win them 85 games. The problem is that the offense has been in a tailspin for years now, and bringing back the same guys and expecting a different result is, after all, the definition of insanity.

Cody Asche and Domonic Brown represent the only youth in the starting lineup, so anything above their expected stats will be a plus to Philadelphia. The former played relatively well in his first stint at the major league level, especially considering that at this time two years ago, Asche had never played above the single-A level. Brown was an All Star a year ago, and the team will expect similar if not better production now that he has a little more protection in the lineup with a healthy Howard and a rejuvenated Byrd.

The Phillies’ glory days are gone, and no one is quite sure how good the team will have to be to save Amaro’s job come October. Sandberg’s record last year (20-22) was impressive considering the dearth of talent that made up the Phillies’ roster by the time he was hired. Maybe, he’s just the man for the job to lead a bunch of underachieving veterans back to the Fall Classic, where many of them made their names six years ago. So far, Sandberg hasn’t been able to motivate Rollins, who continues to emit his laissez-faire attitude onto the rest of the clubhouse. But, winning can cure all heartache, and Philadelphia needs a fast start out of the gate to avoid the media and fan backlash that will rip down Broad Street like a hurricane.

I foresee the Phillies winning between 77-83 games. If I had any confidence that the offense could stay healthy, I’d give the team a shot at a postseason appearance. But, until the old guard moves on, the results will likely remain the same.