Last season the Phillies won a franchise record 102 games with an average offense and great pitching staff. Expectations were high heading into the season with Cliff Lee joining the fold and those expectations didn’t change as the season went along. On September 17th,Philadelphia defeated the St. Louis Cardinals 9-2 and clinched their fifth consecutive NL East title. Following the win, the team went on an eight game losing streak that scared a lot of the fan base, however others mention that they had nothing to play for as a big factor. The Phillies finished the season on a four game winning streak, sweeping the Atlanta Braves and actually knocked them out of the playoffs on the final day. This allowed the St. Louis Cardinals to win the NL Wildcard and set up a first round matchup against the Phillies. The Cardinals finished up 16-5 to conclude the season en-route to passing the Braves.
Game 1 of the NLDS did not get off to a great start for Roy Halladay and his teammates. Lance Berkman hit a three run home run in the first inning before some people even got to their seats. However, Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez woke up a sleeping offense that exploded for ten runs in their final three at bats to win Game 1 11-6. Game 2 was a disaster for the Phillies as Cliff Lee couldn’t hold a four run lead and thus allowed the Cardinals to tie the series at 1. Game 3 was a pitchers’ duel between Cole Hamels and Jamie Garcia. In the 7th inning, Ben Francisco hit a pinch hit three run home run which gave the Phillies a 3-2 win and a 2-1 series lead. In Game 4, after scoring two runs in the first inning off Edwin Jackson, the Phillies’ offense fell asleep at the wheel and Roy Oswalt wasn’t sharp. The Cardinals won 5-3 and even the series at 2.
Game 5 would feature two of the best pitchers in the game, Roy Halladay and Chris Carpenter. With the best pitcher in world going and the game taking place at home, it’s a lock for the Phillies right? No, of course it wasn’t. Rafael Furcal led off the game with a triple and was followed by a Skip Schumaker RBI double to make it 1-0. The Phillies’ offense, non-existent for most of the series, was shut out by Carpenter. They managed three hits and the game ended with Ryan Howard grounding out to end the series. Howard tore his Achilles tendon just to add to the Phillies’ misery. The Cardinals went on to beat the Milwaukee Brewers in the NLCS and went on to face the Texas Rangers in the World Series. Down 3-2 in the series, the Cardinals were down to their final strike twice in Game 6, however came back and won one of the greatest World Series games ever played. As if it were destined to happen, the Cardinalswon Game 7, becoming World Champions for second time since 2006. In case you were keeping track at home, that’s seven champions that Philadelphia sports teams have to lost to in the playoffs since 2009.
There would be some changes in the off-season for the Phillies. Ryan Madson was a free agent and would certainly garner some interest on the open market. Roy Oswalt, Raul Ibanez and Brad Lidge were not welcomed back. Who would play shortstop if Jimmy Rollins didn’t come back? Who’s going to play left field? Would anything be done to help the bench? Also, who’s going to play first base with Howard being injured?
All these answers would come soon enough. In early November, the Phillies signed Jim Thome to help the bench. It was unknown at the time how much Thome could play first base because he had mainly been a DH for the past few years in the American League. Even if he doesn’t play an inning at first, he helps a bench that provided a lot of automatic outs aside from John Mayberry Jr. in 2011. Around the same time, it came out that Ryan Madson and the team were on the verge of a four-year, 44 million dollar contract. However, not long after that, the Phillies went on to sign Jonathan Papelbon to a four-year, 50 million dollar deal. Papelbon became the highest paid reliever in baseball history. The contract is ridiculous, given that Madson signed with the Reds for one year and 8 million dollars. However if Papelbon saves 40 games for the next three years, I guess it’s easier to swallow. What happened to the Madson deal with the Phillies? Scott Boras, Madson’s agent, said the Phillies went back on their offer. Ruben Amaro, Phillies GM, said no offer was ever made. Someone is lying and we’ll likely never find out. My guess is that Boras tried to throw something in the contract at the last-minute that Ruben didn’t like which made Amaro go after Papelbon. In Spring Training, Madson blew out his arm, needing Tommy John surgery. It’s a tough break for Madson, who will likely never see 44 million dollars again. I thought for the longest time that he couldn’t be an effective closer, but he obviously shut me up in 2011. At least Reds fans won’t have to listen to Journey in the 9th inning during save situations.
In December, the Phillies signed Laynce Nix to a two-year contract for reasons unknown to anyone. Nix is a bench player who hit 16 home runs last year in 324 at bats, but his .244 career batting average and .288 career on-base percentage hardly scream two-year contract. This is also bring ups the fact that Dom Brown is hated by everyone in the Phillies’ front office. Is he possibly worse than Laynce Nix? For a team that stated they wanted to change their approach at the plate, sending Brown, one of the few players in the organization that can take a walk, to the minors seems odd. About a week after signing Nix, the Phillies traded Ben Francisco for a minor league pitcher. Francisco, who came over in the first Cliff Lee trade, was an effective 4th outfielder, but wasn’t cut out to be a starter. His best moment was the 2011 NLDS Game 3 home run. Dontrelle Willis was brought into the fold to possibly be a lefty specialist out of the bullpen, but it didn’t work out. Willis struggled with his command in Spring Training and was eventually cut. It’s a shame his career has taken the wrong path because he’s such a likable guy.
The best news of the off-season occurred on December 20th when Jimmy Rollins was resigned for three years. Ruben, for the first time in his life, was patient on the Rollins market, waited for his ludicrous demands to come down, and signed the shortstop to a team friendly deal. There were whispers of the team being interested in Aramis Ramirez of the Cubs, but it appeared that it was just a smokescreen to drive down Rollins’ price. As 2011 turned into 2012, the Phillies resigned Kyle Kendrick to a two-year deal for about 7 million dollars. Kendrick was solid in his role last year, but he’s certainty not worth 3.5 million dollars. The team also signed Chad Qualls to help out the bullpen, a move that Mike O and I both hate. Qualls’ ERA away from Petco Park was over 5. One of the more interesting moves of the off-season was the signing of Juan Pierre. Pierre, known for speed, signed a minor-league deal and made the team. It’s likely he’ll be one of the several platoon players in left field. Thankfully, one of the players that won’t be in contention for at bats in left field is John Bowker. Bowker was cut in January and signed with a team in Japan. He stunk.
The 2012 Spring Training was one Philadelphia would like to forget. The team went 14-16, not that it matters, but injuries were the story. Ryan Howard, recovering from his injury, had an infection near his Achilles, which led to a setback. He was supposed to join the team in May, but that timeline is now unknown. At the start of spring, it was announced that Chase Utley wouldn’t start in games just to rest his knee. Ruben Amaro came out and said that Utley should be able to start with the team on Opening Day. Well, that was a lie. A few days later, Chase left camp because his rehab reached a plateau. He was experiencing pain in both knees. Hey it’s okay though, the Phillies got Wilson Valdez and Michael Martinez to help bridge the gap until Utley gets back. Nope, Valdez was traded to the Reds and Martinez broke his foot during Spring Training. To Ruben’s defense, he traded Valdez before this Utley and Martinez news broke. This brings up to Freddy Galvis, a young shortstop prospect in the system. Galvis was going to be the favorite to take Rollins’ spot in case he didn’t resign. Scouts have often said that Freddy can play defense at the Major League level right now, but have questions about his bat. Philaelphia, with literally no other options (Pete Orr doesn’t count), basically gave Galvis the 2nd base job until Utley gets back. Currently, Utley has gone to Arizona to continue rehab on his knees. For Howard, he’s taking ground balls and his progress is a littler further along. It looks like the combination of Mayberry, Thome and Nix will get the at bats at first base. The Phillies will go into the season with Howard, Utley,Martinez, Justin De Fratus and Jose Contreras on the disabled list.
Yesterday, the team’s 25 man roster was announced with a few surprises. The two surprises included Joe Savery and Peter Orr making the team. Savery, the former pitcher/1st baseman/ and now pitcher again, made the staff as the second lefty in the bullpen. Orr, had a solid spring, but was outplayed by Hector Luna. However, Orr made the team likely because he was on the team last year and has the ability to play multiple positions.
Roy Halladay– A report from Ken Rosenthal came out in the spring that quoted two scouts saying they didn’t like what they saw from Halladay. Roy struck out 27 in the spring and only walked 3, so his lights out control is still there. I’m not worried about Halladay and expect another great season out of him.
Cliff Lee– Lee had two of the greatest pitching months in baseball history last year in June and August. Lee went 5-0 in June and gave up one earned run. In August, he went 5-0 and gave up two earned runs. He finished the year 17-8 with a 2.40 ERA. He’s a year older, but there’s no reason not to expect a similar season but perhaps a little more consistency from month to month.
Cole Hamels– The most intriguing part of Hamels will be his impending free agency. With Matt Cain getting huge money, I imagine Cole will get just as much if not more. If Hamels ever gets the run support, he could easily win 18-20 games.
Vance Worley– Worley was a surprise for a lot of people. Worley’s walks were a little high at 3.1 per nine innings pitched, but he could get away with it because his strikeout rate of over 8. I expect him to take a slight step back in ERA, but I think he’ll be fine as the team’s third starter.
Joe Blanton– It looks like Big Joe will start the season in the bullpen, but if he’s healthy I don’t think 12 wins is out of the question. As long he keeps the ball down in the zone, Blanton will always be one of those guys who keeps you in a game, but not a shut down guy.
Kyle Kendrick– I don’t know how a guy who gave up an average of 11 base runners per nine and only struck out 4.6 batters per nine managed to have an ERA of 3.22, but Kendrick pulled it off. I expect Kendrick to fall back to his career norm of a 4.41 ERA. Perhaps he’ll be helped by the fact, he’ll get some time in the bullpen, but he’ll likely be a spot starter at times.
David Herndon– Herndon isn’t well liked by the Philly faithful because his rookie year was below average at best. His 2011 April was pretty awful as he posted a 9.28 ERA. From June until the end of the year, he posted a 2.18 ERA. Perhaps this the year, he puts it all together and is finally used in high leverage situations.
Chad Qualls– Any pitcher who gives up a home run to Michael Martinez, like Qualls, I simply don’t trust. Qualls, a Padre last season, had an ERA over 5 away from Petco last year. He does have a lot of experience closing, but I simply don’t like his abilities.
Mike Stutes– Stutes will likely start the year on the DL, but he was a pleasant surprise last year. He fell off towards the end of the last year, but that’s not a surprise for the rookie. If he can cut down on his walks, he’ll be a very nice piece for the bullpen.
Antonio Bastardo– Bastardo was lights out for a majority of the year last season. He’ll be relied on to be the setup guy for Papelbon. Say a prayer for left-handed batters against Bastardo as they have no shot against him.
Joe Savery– The team trotted out a lot of lefties to nail down the second lefty spot in the bullpen, but Savery looked the best. He’ll become a fan favorite if he sticks because of the great story behind him.
Jonathan Papelbon– As long as he doesn’t do the Irish Jig, we’re on good terms for now.
Placido Polanco– Polanco had a great start last season, but fell off a cliff because he was dealing with injuries. Health will be the biggest issue for him at this point of his career along with many of his fellow Phillies. If he stays healthy, I see a .290 average and many runners moved over because of him.
Jimmy Rollins– Rollins still plays outstanding defense. Fans would be surprised that his offense ranks as one of the better shortstops in the game. He’s no Tulo, but he’s a very nice option. Charlie will likely start him in the 3rd spot, which I don’t see lasting very long.
Freddy Galvis– I asked Bill Baer of Crashburn Alley on twitter what to expect with 450 at bats for Galvis and he said a .650 OPS. That’s not great, but considering Galvis is 22 and we know he’s not ready; the fans will have to deal. If he plays outstanding defense, any offense out of him is a bonus.
Jim Thome– Charlie has stated he would like to restrict Thome’s at bats to around 200-250. With that, he’ll likely start a few games at first and if he provides some pop off the bench, a solid signing.
Ty Wigginton– Michael Cuddyer came into Philadelphia for a visit and left without a contract. He signed a three-year, 31.5 million dollar deal with the Rockies. Wigginton, acquired in a trade, will cost the Phillies six million dollars over the next two years if they pick up his option next season. Wigginton plays a lot of positions, but not all that well defensively, similar to Cuddyer. Cuddyer is a slightly better offensive player, but not by 25 million dollars.
Carlos Ruiz– Ruiz will always have a really good OBP because he bats 8th in front of the pitcher. He’s a very good defensive catcher and the pitchers love throwing to him. He has a team option for 2013 which the team will likely pick up.
Brian Schneider– Meh. He’s a backup catcher. Good with young arms, bad with the bat.
John Mayberry Jr. – Mayberry was the best bat off the bench last season while pretty much splitting time with Raul by the end of the year. The Phillies expect similar power numbers from him this year even though he struggled in the spring.
Laynce Nix– I’ve already went over my displeasure with the signing. Hopefully, he provides some pop against right-handed pitchers.
Hunter Pence– Pence is not a .300 hitter, nor is he a .390 OBP guy. Expect Pence to hit around 25-30 home runs with over 100 RBIs. He’ll probably hit around .285 with an OBP close to .360.
Juan Pierre– This is not the Juan Pierre from 2003. Pierre has never been a high OBP guy and actually led the league in caught stealing last season. Used effectively, Juan will be a valuable piece on a team that is desperate for more speed.
Shane Victorino– Victorino led the team in OPS last year and had a career year. With this being a contract year, I don’t think it’s crazy for him to put up similar numbers.
There is your state of the Phillies address for 2012. I get the worries about the offense, but interestingly enough the team was tied for 2nd in the National League in runs scored after the All-Star Break last year. That leads me to the belief that the playoff series against the Cardinals was one really bad week. This year’s offense won’t be as good, but they can hold their heads above water until Utley and Howard get back. This team is still the best team in the division, but the gap is closing quickly. I see around 90-95 wins and a sixth NL East title. The rest of National League got worse with Fielder and Pujols leaving, so it wouldn’t shock me to see the Phillies back in the World Series. Whether they win it or not, I’m not sure, but if they can get any resemblance of timely hitting, they certainly have a realistic chance and that is all you can ask for going into a season.
Written by Warren Croxton
Editing by Mike Orzechowski