Monday, March 9, 2009

Manuel confident Phillies can repeat

By Todd Zolecki

Originally Published at:

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Charlie Manuel is getting greedy, and that's not a bad thing.

He has talked constantly this spring about the Phillies defending their World Series championship. No team has won back-to-back titles since the Yankees won three in a row from 1998-2000.

Winning one World Series is tough enough. Repeating? That takes a special kind of team.

Manuel thinks he has that team in Spring Training. talked with Manuel about his 2009 Phillies, and why he thinks they can repeat their October glory. No National League team has won back-to-back World Series since the Reds in 1975-76. Why do you think the Phillies can repeat as World Series champions?

Manuel: I think at the end of last year, our pitching definitely went to another level. I think our starting pitching with [Cole] Hamels ... he was consistent during the season. He threw 262 innings (including the postseason). The second half of the season, [Brett] Myers settled in. He should have learned something about himself.

We got young starters like [Carlos] Carrasco and [J.A.] Happ and [Kyle] Kendrick. We've got Chan Ho Park, who can start or pitch out of the bullpen. Our bullpen last year definitely proved it can handle tough games at the end of the season. They came through. That's the first time in my first four years that we did that. We should have learned a lot from our pitching.

We have a solid defense. We scored 800 runs, and in the second half of the season, I feel like we definitely didn't hit like we were capable of hitting. We ended up hitting something like .255. Offensively, I think we're a .270 to .280-hitting team. We definitely can do better offensively. I think if our pitching just stays consistent, I don't see any reason in the world why we can't win our division and go onto the World Series. If I was picking a team in our league, I'd pick the Phillies, and that's not because I manage them. You've always talked about the importance of balance in a lineup, but yet you say you're not concerned about having another left-handed bat in the lineup in Raul Ibanez. Why aren't you concerned?

Manuel: If you've followed us the last four years, we've always found a way to offset that. We always come up with something. There's always somebody we can plug in like a [Jayson] Werth. We're talking about people with good ability. Werth can have a better year than he had last year. [John] Mayberry definitely looks like a good, young hitter. Somewhere along the line this year, he definitely can help us. We can definitely offset our lineup. But looking at that another way, you look at the right-handed pitching in our league. We can really load up on the righties. Somebody better stop that left-handed-hitting team. Does the same hold true for the balance on the bench, where you're also left-handed-heavy with Greg Dobbs, Geoff Jenkins and Matt Stairs? Or do you feel you must have another right-handed bat on the bench?

Manuel: Offensively, we're really strong -- and power strong -- on the bench. The part where our bench will come into play is when we use [Eric] Bruntlett for defense or pinch-running or hitting. Once we use him, we need somebody who can run or play defense, and if he's a right-handed hitter, it would help. But at the same time our bench would be powerful if we carried Stairs, Dobbs and Jenkins. That would be a bench. Of the hitters you have not managed before, who has impressed you this spring?

Manuel: Right now, Mayberry has been getting some hits. He's been good at the plate. Ibanez is a proven hitter. His swing is there. I'm not worried about him at all. [Marcus] Giles had a big game the other day. [Miguel] Cairo had a big game for us. Guys have drawn our interest. But this is what Spring Training is about. We have 30-some games left, and they're going to get to play a whole lot. By the end of the spring, we should be able to get a real good read on these guys. You mentioned the team hitting .255 last year. Do you think the offense underachieved?

Manuel: I don't think we underachieved because although we only scored 200 runs in the second half, think about how we hit. We got big hits. It was a team effort. Everybody on our team contributed. Our starters. Our bench. We got hits at the right moments and that carried through the playoffs. Can we be more consistent and hit better? Yeah. We did not have a .300 hitter last year. We've got three or four guys. We had some guys who had off years. It wasn't a bad year because we got big hits, but we can do better. Our offense can be more potent. In the battle for the fifth starter's job, is it as simple as the best man wins? Or are there going to be other factors involved in the decision-making process?

Manuel: I'd say with the team we've got in Spring Training and the starts these guys are going to get, I'd say more than likely it's going to come down to the best pitcher. You won't have J.C. Romero until June 1. How concerned are you about the bullpen being able to get along without him?

Manuel: That's a concern of mine. [Ryan] Madson definitely came into his own last year. He showed he can pitch in the back end of the bullpen. I think that can take care of the eighth inning, but at the same time, Scott Eyre will be pushed into the seventh, maybe even enter the eighth inning. [Chad] Durbin had a tremendous season last year. He has to pitch just like he did last year, but we need one more guy who can throw at least two innings for us. That can be between [Clay] Condrey and whomever. We've got to prove that we can plug that hole. I don't think we'll have any problems doing that, because we've got that guy right here in camp. We just have to find him. What's your biggest concern in camp right now?

Manuel: I want every one of these guys ready to play. When we talk about being ready, I'm talking about coming out of the gate and being ready to play. I was talking to [general manager] Ruben [Amaro Jr.] and sometimes we have players on the bench who -- because they don't get into the game until late -- seem like they're sharper than the regular players. And that's where we want the regulars to be. We want to be healthy and we want to be prepared to win Opening Day just like we were last year. Champions in any sport can become complacent the following year. Have you seen any signs of that?

Manuel: They've been absolutely outstanding. If complacency, sets in, I think it's up to myself and my staff and some of the players on the team -- the leaders we have on the team -- those are some of the things we have to look for or be ready for and nip them in the bud. That definitely hasn't been a problem here. Do you like the way the rivalry between the Mets has developed?

Manuel: It's fine. I think it's good. I think it's good for that area of the country. I think that the fans are very similar up there, because there's such a short distance between the two points. I think it's real good. There's nothing wrong with it. Sometimes you might talk too much about it. But when you get on the field you've got to prove it. For some guys, it's put up or shut up.

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