The Phillies finished with a franchise record 102 wins in 2011, but it ended up not mattering at the end of the day, with the team losing in five games to the eventual World Champion St Louis Cardinals in the NLDS. Furthermore, the team suffered a huge blow at the end of the NLDS, with star first baseman Ryan Howard tearing his Achilles tendon in the series’s final at bat.
Depth Chart (as of 3/15)
C: Carlos Ruiz
1B: Ty Wigginton
2B: Chase Utley
SS: Jimmy Rollins
3B: Placido Polanco
LF: John Mayberry Jr
CF: Shane Victorino
RF: Hunter Pence
SP: Roy Halladay
SP: Cliff Lee
SP: Cole Hamels
SP: Vance Worley
SP: Joe Blanton
CL: Jonathan Papelbon
The Phillies big offseason signing was a new closer, and they went for the biggest fish in the pond: former Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon. The team brought in a pair of auxiliary replacements for Ryan Howard at first base in the versatile Ty Wigginton and the aging Jim Thome. Laynce Nix was also brought in by the team to platoon with John Mayberry Jr in left field. The Phillies also brought in two more veteran bullpen arms to fill out the middle of their pen in Dontrelle Willis and Chad Qualls.
Former closer Ryan Madson left town after a contract snafu with management led to an offer being pulled and the team going with Papelbon instead. Former starter Roy Oswalt was a free agent, didn’t get any offers he loved, and decided to sit out until the middle of the season. Left fielder Raul Ibanez also left town after his huge three year deal with the Phillies expired this offseason. The Phillies also lost another former closer in World Series hero Brad Lidge. Utility man Wilson Valdez was also traded this offseason, a move that earned the ire of a certain batch of Phillies fans.
The Phillies? Play rookies? Ha! He’s not a rookie, but former top prospect Domonic Brown is major league ready….and of course, the Phillies are going to let him play in AAA instead of the majors. The rest of the Phillies prospects that could contribute this year are mostly bullpen types, like Justin De Fratus and Phillippe Aumont, or bench bats, like Freddy Galvis
It’s really not a battle per say, but the team never even gave Brown a chance to earn a slot starting in left field, and will instead roll out a platoon of Mayberry and Nix. At first base, Wigginton will get most of the starts until Howard comes back, but Jim Thome should get some playing time, even with his limited defensive skills at this point in time.
Howard doesn’t appear to be close to returning from his torn Achilles. At the start of spring camp, he was participating in light baseball drills, but was ordered to stop after an infection to the wound around his injury. If he’s back by the beginning of June, the Phillies should consider themselves lucky. Brown injured his thumb last week, but he’d be fine for Opening Day…if he was in the majors. After offseason elbow surgery, reliever Jose Contreras is questionable for Opening Day, which could give his slot in the bullpen to one of the aforementioned rookiesi.
Is the Phillies offense going to be as disappointing as it was last season, or will they rebound and be above average again?
The Phillies top three starting pitchers dominate the league again, the offense is at least league average, and the Phillies coast to yet another NL East title.
One of Halladay, Lee, or Hamels get hurt and the Phillies are forced to give Kyle Kendrick 25 starts. The offense struggles without Howard, and the Phillies get caught up in the rat race that will be the NL East in 2012.
The Phillies are contenders at worst, and they’re the favorites (again) going into the season. But with the improvements made by the Marlins and Nationals, and the Braves continuing to put out a solid roster, they probably won’t win the division by double digit games in 2012.