With yesterday’s signing of A.J Burnett, the front office of the Philadelphia Phillies has shown belief that the 2014 edition of this team has the chance to go from two straight non-winning seasons, to a contender. Is that just motherly love or do the Phillies hold some viable tools and assets to contend this year? A lot of national pundits have picked them to finish in the bottom half of the standings, but here’s why I think they’re wrong.
Ryan Howard is due for a bounce back season. Injuries have derailed his last two campaigns, and even when he was in the line-up, he wasn’t fully healthy. I don’t expect him to hit 58 homeruns again, or even reach the 40 plateau, but a line of 30 homers with a 100 RBI’s is very attainable for this former all-star. If he does that, he makes everyone in the line-up around him better.
Domonic Brown, Marlon Byrd and Ben Revere form the best outfield this team has had in a few years now, which is something people aren’t taking into account. Revere (if he stays healthy) could continue to be the perfect leadoff hitter he showed early in the second half last year, and could mix in 30-40 stolen bases. Brown could be Philly’s next great power hitter. He showed what he’s capable of last year (27HR’s, 83 RBI’s) and a repeat of those numbers, if not more, is to be expected. Byrd is the wild card in it all. He normally hits for a decent average(.280 lifetime) and in a small ballpark, might have some pop left in him. If injuries or inconsistent play affect this trio, Darin Ruf will be waiting in the wings.
Jimmy Rollins and Carlos Ruiz are both looking to rebound from down-seasons. Not being suspended for the first 25 games, and hopefully avoiding injuries, should allow Carlos Ruiz to regain some of his power (he’ll definitely hit more than five homeruns) and you would think his average will climb back over the .280 mark, considering last season was the first time since 2009 that he hit under .283.
Rollins, like Ruiz, is still an elite fielder, that saw rapid decline at the plate last year. Unlike Ruiz, who only played 92 games in 2013, Rollins played 160 games last year. He seemed to have a decline in approach last year, which saw him only hit six homeruns and drive in 39 RBI’s in 600 at-bats. I’m not sure Rollins will climb back to the 23 homeruns he hit two seasons ago, and he doesn’t hit for nearly as high of an average as he used to, but there is no reason he couldn’t bat .260 this year and hit 15 homeruns, which would be pretty productive out of a guy who will likely be the number two hitter in the lineup.
Most people think that lineup will be the Phillies Achilles heel in 2014, but if they can stay even remotely healthy (which is a big if), this lineup has the chance to be the most productive lineup the team has had since 2011, when they won 102 games. That wasn’t a great offense, but they were good enough to compete because they had great starting pitching. I’m not saying that they are going to win 102 games, but why can’t that be the formula for the 2014 Phillies?
With the addition of A.J Burnett, the Phillies have three really experienced starters at the top of their rotation–all of whom are still pitching at a high level. Remember, Burnett was the second best arm on a Pirates team that won 94 games last year, but will be slated as the number three in this rotation behind aces Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee in Philadelphia. If Hamels tendinitis issues don’t affect his season too much, then the Phillies have a great top three. Kyle Kendrick will slide back to the number four spot where he is more suited and Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, Jonathan Pettibone, and Roberto Hernandez will compete for the fifth starting spot in Spring Training. If the Phillies can get 25 plus starts from the top trio then this staff should help this team win a lot of games.
The bullpen is the only real question mark to me. There are the arms for the bullpen to be potentially elite, but with Hamels having arm issues, and Burnett and Lee both over the 35 year-old mark, the ‘pen will have to eat a lot of innings this year. A return to form from both Mike Adams and Jonathan Papelbon will help this team immensely, as it would solidify the eight and ninth innings. I also expect a good season from Jake Diekman, who showed some flashes of what he’s capable of last year. If these three can hold the bullpen together, and get contributions from Antonio Bastardo, Justin De Fratus, and B.J. Rosenburg, then the Phillies could win some games in the late innings.
As pitchers and catchers begin workouts today, the season seems full of “what ifs” for these Phillies. Injuries have played a major part in their downfall the last two years, and if they can stay healthy (again, that is a big if) at least being in the playoff race in September might not be out of the question.