This article is in a Point/Counter-Point series. The opposing viewpoint can be found here.
Sure, at face value, the Phillies don’t look great. But that’s not to say they couldn’t make a run. Baseball is not totally predictable. When the Angels signed Pujols, they looked like overwhelming favorites to breeze into the playoffs. But it didn’t pan out, despite having three of the best players in the league in Pujols, Trout, and Hamilton; the woeful Angels finished 18 games out of first in their division.
Already, the Phillies are showing some upside. Chase Utley is knocking the cover off the ball, with an incredible .489 average, 10 RBI, and an OBP of .549. If he can stay healthy, he’s an excellent second baseman, especially offensively. If Utley pulls it together for one more season, then his contribution could help the Phillies make a push towards the top of the division and maybe sneak into a wild card spot.
Same with Ryan Howard. His injury woes are well-documented and unfortunate, but if he can have just an average season and stay in the lineup, he’s a valuable asset in the lineup. Though his average is currently an ugly (and, to be honest, expected) .240, Howard is capable of batting in the .260s, and that would be perfectly acceptable, assuming his power numbers stay consistent with what he has put up in previous healthy years (anywhere from 30 to almost 60 home runs).
The Phillies also have several other offensive weapons. Carlos Ruiz leads the team in runs scored early on; and he’s been cleared to use the “banned substance” that he was suspended for last year now, so perhaps the excellent offensive numbers that he put up two years ago are within reach. Chooch suffered after a 25-game suspension last year stemming from his use of ADHD medication. He is now allowed to use the amphetamine. The Phillies are also looking for another great year from Dominic Brown, who broke out of his mediocrity last year and became the most feared active power hitter on the roster last year. Marlon Byrd, though old, can still hit (somewhat), and could have a productive season. Look at what Raul Ibanez did in 2009 (MVP-caliber first half, before pulling his groin), even though he was 36.
The pitching staff has considerable potential as well. Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, and AJ Burnett are all experienced, established veterans who have appeared in the World Series. Kyle Kendrick can be spotty, but he’s not going to lose every single game either. If the Phillies’ veteran-heavy offense puts up runs, the team will win games. That sounds obvious, but it’s very true. The rotation won’t get lit up every time out, but in all likelihood the Phillies will not be winning many games 1-0 either.
No matter how good your starting rotation is, however, it doesn’t matter if the bullpen can’t hold the lead. This WILL be (and already has been) a major issue for the Phillies. Ruben Amaro, Jr. is going to have to make some sort of trade (or a brilliant, moneyball-esque signing) to shore up the bullpen. Through the first thirteen games, the bullpen has blown two saves and has an impressive record of 0-4 with an ERA of 5.53! Not only have they blown leads late in games, but the leaky bullpen continues to allow opponents’ leads to grow in the post-starter innings of the game. Some of the pen shows competence; Antonio Bastardo (one of the greatest baseball names ever, second only to maybe Enos Slaughter or Rollie Fingers), Jake Diekman, and Jonathan Papelbon are established in the league as more than serviceable relievers (sorry, I wrote most of this before the whole Dan Uggla Grand Slam fiasco with Diekman, and even though Papelbon has been mediocre at best during his time in Philly he still has the pedigree of an elite pitcher). But, three guys can’t pitch every inning of relief. Eventually, injuries or fatigue will catch up with those guys if they are used too much. The Phillies absolutely need to get them some backup.
In all honesty, it isn’t likely that the Phillies will make the playoffs. BUT, that’s not to say that it’s impossible. All they need is some lucky breaks, good health, and perhaps an addition or two from outside the major league team to strengthen weakness areas like the bullpen.