Phillies’ fantasy vs. reality

Posted: April 01, 2013

The storm clouds gathered early last March. Ryan Howard was fielding ground balls on a stool. Chase Utley was conspicuously absent from Grapefruit League games. Roy Halladay’s velocity was down. The Phillies had no obvious leftfielder, no veteran setup man, and an aging third baseman who had struggled to stay on the field the previous season. The fan base was understandably nervous. My answer to all who asked: It wouldn’t surprise me if this team won 100 games, and it wouldn’t surprise me if it lost 80.

This year, the answer is the same, minus the 100 wins part. That would shock me. Even 95 wins is a threshold that would require an extraordinary amount of positive fortune. Halladay, Utley, and Howard all would have to perform like they did in 2010, when the ace won a Cy Young, the second baseman posted a .387 on-base percentage and .445 slugging percentage, and the first baseman hit 31 home runs and drove in 108 runs. Domonic Brown would have to do what Jayson Werth did (27 home runs, .921 OPS), and either Delmon Young and Michael Young would have to equal the production of Raul Ibanez (16 home runs and a .793 OPS) and Shane Victorino (18 home runs and a .756 OPS), and Carlos Ruiz would have to continue to do what Carlos Ruiz has done the past few seasons, but with 25 fewer games. And perhaps more important than anything, Mike Adams and Jonathan Papelbon would have to stay off the disabled list.

And, keep in mind, the Phillies were hovering around .500 in July of that season before trading for Roy Oswalt and finishing with 97 wins.

So let's forget the fantasy and focus on a realistic scenario that gets this year's Phillies back to the postseason.

1. Roy Halladay makes 32 starts: The Phillies do not need Halladay to be dominant to win games, and that is a good thing, because any hope of him returning to his 2010-11 form evaporated over the course of the spring. That's not to say he cannot be an effective No. 3 pitcher. In fact, he needs to be an effective No. 3 pitcher. And Halladay is smart enough, tough enough and experienced enough to be effective with diminished stuff. The Phillies need a guy who can finish the season with about 190 innings and an ERA somewhere around 4.00. Think Joe Blanton in 2009.

2. Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels stay off the disabled list: The biggest thing this Phillies team lacks that previous incarnations enjoyed is the ability to withstand an injury at the top of their rotation. Barring a dramatic performance by a young fill-in like Adam Morgan, they do not have the depth to deal with the loss of one of their stars.

3. Domonic Brown and Michael Young both come close to reaching their potential: These are two legitimate wild cards that the Phillies need to pay off. Young had a miserable season in 2012, but in 2011 he hit .338/.380/.474 and drove in 106 runs for the Rangers. Ibanez had a huge season for the Phillies at the age of 37. Young is 36. Brown, meanwhile, spent the spring showing everybody exactly why he was rated as the No. 4 prospect in the game at one point. Of course, the regular season is a lot different than the Grapefruit League, so do not pencil him in for a .900 OPS and 25 home runs. But he needs to be a productive everyday player with decent power for the Phillies to contend.

4. Delmon Young plays like he did in 2010: That season, Young hit 21 home runs, drove in 112 runs, and batted .298 with an .826 OPS for the Twins. He also played 149 games in the outfield, something he did not do in 2011 or 2012. Before any of this, he needs to get healthy, which probably will not happen until closer to May.

5. The seventh-inning relievers pitch a lot like the guy in the eighth: Adams and Papelbon represent one of the more talented setup/closer combinations in the game. But if the Phillies aren't going to have Halladay regularly pitching seven innings, they are going to need a performance out of their bullpen like the one they got in 2008, when J.C. Romero and Chad Durbin both excelled in front of Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge.

If all of these things happen, and if Utley plays between 120 and 140 games at a level similar to how he has performed the last couple of seasons, and if Howard is the same player before he ruptured his Achilles' and then spent 2012 playing his way into shape, then it would surprise me if the Phillies did not at least qualify for the postseason as a wild card. And after that, with Lee and Hamels at the top of the rotation, everybody in the National League would have to take them very, very seriously.

But Vegas has the over/under on Phillies wins at 83 1/2. And until we have a couple of months to evaluate Halladay, Brown and the Youngs, I'm not putting any money on the over.


" @HighCheese

Blog: philly.com/HighCheese

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