2009 PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES PREVIEW
The Phillies couldn’t have hoped for a better year in 2008. They ran off a 92-70 record in the regular season and won the National League East Division. They then continued their great play into the postseason and won the World Series, Philadelphia’s first championship in any major sport in more than two decades. It was nothing less than a dream season.
Unfortunately for the Phillies, they’re going to have to wake up from that dream season and realize that they’ve got a new year ahead of them and there is now a big target on their back. While most of the team returns, the Phils did bid adieu to leftfielder Pat Burrell and brought in outfielders Ramon Ibanez and Matt Stairs as replacements. Otherwise, the World Series team returns all but intact for another run this season.
The Phillies’ rotation is a solid group but they are not the most intimidating group you will ever see. Cole Hamels (16-10, 3.09 ERA, 33 starts, 227 IP, 196 K in 2008) is the staff ace and has pitched very well in a difficult home setting (Philadelphia’s stadium is notoriously hitter friendly). Expect another great year from him in 2009. Behind him, Brett Myers (10-13, 4.55 ERA, 30 starts, 190 IP) will look to improve upon a solid but unspectacular 2008. The third spot will be held down by 47 year old Jamie Moyer (16-7, 3.71 ERA, 33 starts, 196 IP), who is coming off one of the best seasons of his career and shows no signs of slowing down. Joe Blanton (9-12, 4.69 ERA, 33 starts, 197 IP) is a solid 4 th starter and has the stuff to take a big step forward. The fifth spot will be won by either J.A. Happ (1-0, 3.69 ERA, 4 starts), Chan Ho Park (4-4, 3.40 ERA, 54 Gm) or Kyle Kendrick (11-9, 5.49 ERA, 30 starts, 155 IP). Park pitched well in relief last season and seems the most likely of the three to end up in the bullpen. Kendrick lost his rotation spot late last year to Happ, whose four starts were all Philadelphia wins down the stretch. Expect both to get a shot at some point this year but Happ seems the favorite coming out of Spring Training. The Phillies have a good rotation but they aren’t nearly as intimidating as their rivals in Queens and also play in a tough home ballpark. This is a good rotation but it isn’t the best that the division has to offer.
The bullpen last year was historically good. Closer Brad Lidge (1.95 ERA, 72 Gm, 96 K) went a Major League record 41 out of 41 in Save Opportunities. That’s right; he didn’t blow a save ALL SEASON. That’s the definition of excellence. As cynical as this sounds, it also means that he has nowhere to go but down. However, Lidge should still be an elite closer for the Phils this year. Behind him in the bullpen is a solid group that doesn’t really capture the imagination but will get plenty of runners out. The Phillies should have a good bullpen this season.
The strength of the team is in the infield, where the Phillies are arguably the National League’s best. First baseman Ryan Howard (.251, 48 HR, 146 RBI, .399 OBP) was a monster last year and will look to improve his batting average this season. He is one of the best first basemen in baseball. Second baseman Chase Utley (.292, 33 HR, 104 RBI, .380 OBP) had a spectacular year last season and was one of the most productive second basemen in all of baseball. He had surgery during the offseason but shouldn’t miss much time at the start of this year. Shortstop Jimmy Rollins (.277, 11 HR, 59 RBI, .349 OBP, 47 SB) is a great leadoff hitter who will score a ton of runs for the Phils. At third base, Pedro Feliz (.249, 14 HR, 58 RBI, .302 OBP) is a solid but unspectacular performer and should have a similarly good year. Cather is the only question mark, as Chris Coste (.263, 9 HR, 36 RBI, .325 OBP) will platoon with Carlos Ruiz (.219, 4 HR, 31 RBI, .320 OBP). Expect neither to be spectacular but Philadelphia should receive good defense and decent hitting from behind the plate. The Phillies have a great infield.
The Phillies have a good outfield as well. Despite the loss of Burrell, the Phillies acquired Raul Ibanez (.293, 23 HR, 110 RBI, .358 OBP) in free agency and should find more than adequate run production from the former Mariner. Centerfielder Shane Victorino (.293, 14 HR, 58 RBI, .352 OBP, 36 SB) is a very good hitter who should pair with Rollins at the top of the lineup to wreak havoc on the base paths. Right fielder Jason Werth (.273, 24 HR, 67 RBI, .363 OBP, 20 SB) is also a solid contributor. Geoff Jenkins (.246, 9 HR, 29 RBI, .301 OBP) and newly acquired Matt Stairs (.252, 13 HR, 49 RBI, .341 OBP) should also provide good depth. The Phillies should get plenty of run production from this group.
OUTLOOKThe Phillies might actually be a better team on paper this season than their World Championship addition from a year ago. All the principal players are back and some of their younger players should only be better with another year of experience. Unfortunately, they barely held off a flawed Mets team last year and then sat relatively still and watched the Mets aggressively improve themselves during the offseason. While the Phillies should still win 90-95 games, it won’t be enough this year to win the National League East, though a wildcard berth is definitely a possibility. Expect the Phillies to finish second in the Division and have a chance to defend their World Series crown in October
By Matt Baxendell
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