Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Philadelphia Phillies 2009 Preview

By Michael Rushton

For just the second time in franchise history, the Philadelphia Phillies will enter a season as defending World Series Champions.

It had been a long drought for the City of Brotherly Love. Twenty-five years and 100 seasons between titles, the Phillies gave their city its first championship since the Philadelphia 76ers in 1983. It was also just the Phils second title since forming in 1883 and first since 1980.

Not that it came easy.

After overcoming a seven-game deficit with 17 games to play in 2007 to win its first National League East title since 1993, Philadelphia was swiftly bounced out of the playoffs in the first round.

Last season saw much of the same. Philadelphia again trailed the New York Mets heading down the stretch, finding itself 3 1/2 games back on September 10. Doubters will say the Mets collapsed for a second straight season, but optimists counter with the fact that the Phillies won 13 of their final 16 regular-season games to secure their second straight NL East title.

Philly didn't slow down in the postseason either. Behind a strong rotation, consistent hitting and one of the top bullpens in baseball, the Phils went 11-3 in the postseason and captured the title with a Game 5 victory over the surprising Tampa Bay Rays.

The good news for Phillies fans is the club returns basically the same squad that won it all just one season after becoming the first franchise to reach 10,000 losses.

Seven of the eight position players who saw significant playing time return for 2009, including Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins, and some will argue that swapping in Raul Ibanez for 2008 everyday left fielder Pat Burrell (now in Tampa Bay) will make the lineup more consistent.

On the rubber, the rotation will be again anchored by ace left-hander and 2008 World Series MVP Cole Hamels, with closer Brad Lidge ready to lock things down in the ninth inning after a perfect season a year ago.

With some much young, returning talent, long-suffering Philadelphia fans might not have to wait long for another championship.

Below we take a capsule look at the 2009 edition of the Philadelphia Phillies, with a personnel evaluation and prognosis included therein:

2008 FINISH (92-70) - First Place (NL East)

KEY OFFSEASON ADDITIONS: LF Raul Ibanez, SP Chan Ho Park, RP Gary Majewski, INF Marcus Giles, OF John Mayberry, INF Miguel Cairo, RP Jack Taschner

KEY OFFSEASON SUBTRACTIONS: LF Pat Burrell, OF So Taguchi, RP Tom Gordon, SP Adam Eaton, RP Les Walrond

PROJECTED LINEUP: Jimmy Rollins (SS), Shane Victorino (CF), Chase Utley (2B), Ryan Howard (1B), Raul Ibanez (LF), Jayson Werth (RF), Pedro Feliz (3B), Carlos Ruiz (C)

PROJECTED ROTATION: Cole Hamels (LHP), Brett Myers (RHP), Jamie Moyer (LHP), Joe Blanton (RHP), Chan Ho Park (RHP)/J.A. Happ (LHP)


MANAGER: Charlie Manuel


Few infields can compete with the talent loaded between the bases for the Phillies.

First baseman Ryan Howard brings as much power as he does frustration, but as far as getting runs across the plate nobody does it better than the 29-year- old former NL MVP.

Howard got off to another slow start in 2008, as he was hitting just .163 on May 7 and didn't break .200 until May 22. However, he hit .276 after the All- Star break and still went on to finish with major-league leading totals in homers (48) and runs batted in (146) while finishing second in MVP voting.

There are some other negatives working with Howard too. He fanned 199 times for a second straight season and his walks dipped to 81 after posting 100-plus free passes over the previous two seasons. Howard also committed 19 errors last year, but that didn't stop the Phils from avoiding arbitration with their slugger by signing him to a three-year deal worth $54 million.

Philadelphia's double-play combination is also deadly. Second baseman Chase Utley played most of last season with a right hip injury that required offseason surgery, but still ended with a .292 average and a career-high 33 homers while driving in 100-plus runs for a fourth straight season.

Utley hit .352 in April last season and had 19 homers and 49 RBI by the end of May before his hip injury slowed down his power surge. He had surgery on November 24 and was thought to be lost until at least May, but the All-Star might now return by Opening Day.

One year removed from his 2007 MVP honor, shortstop Jimmy Rollins was slowed early last year but an ankle injury and hit .277 with just 11 homers and 59 RBI in 137 games after posting .296/30/94 in '07. However, the back-to-back Gold Glove Award winner did steal a career-high 47 bases last year.

Third baseman Pedro Feliz was a power disappointment in his first season with the Phils, going deep just 14 times in 133 games after posting four consecutive seasons of 20-plus homers. However, those numbers could go up after November 20 back surgery.

Catcher Carlos Ruiz (.219, 4 HR, 31 RBI) isn't going to wow people at the plate, but he handles the pitching staff well. However, teams can run on Ruiz.


A fixture in left field with the Phillies since 2000, Burrell left as a free agent to join the Rays after the club brought in Ibanez from Seattle. Ibanez hit .293 with 23 homers in 162 games with the Mariners last season and his 110 RBI marked his third straight season of driving in more than 100 runs.

The 37-year-old Ibanez is even an upgrade at defense for the Phillies, as Burrell was often substituted for late in games, shortening the club's bench.

However, there are few balls that center fielder Shane Victorino can't track down. Coming off his first-career Gold Glove Award, the Hawaiian had a .994 field percentage in center field and his speed allowed him to score a career- high 102 runs last season. Victorino also posted a career-high 14 homers and 58 RBI in '08, while his .293 average was the best he has hit in his three full seasons in the majors.

Jayson Werth should see most of the time in right field after appearing in a personal-best 134 games last season in what was supposed to be a platoon situation with left-hander Geoff Jenkins. Werth, a right-handed hitter, hit a career-high 24 homers with 67 RBI to go along with a .273 and appears to have fully recovered from wrist ailments that almost ended his career.


A healthy 2008 allowed Hamels to turn in his expected breakout season. The 25- year-old lefty went 14-10 last year, but was often the victim of poor run support as evident with his 3.09 earned run average. The lefty made 33 starts and threw 227 1/3 innings a season ago and fanned 196 batters while holding hitters to a .227 average.

Hamels then shined in the postseason, going 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA in five playoff starts, fanning 30 and walking nine over 35 innings. He didn't allow more than two runs in any of his playoff outings and won NLCS MVP honors as well.

However, injury concerns have begun to surface already in 2009. Hamels returned to Philadelphia in mid-March to have his left elbow looked at and though he got a clean bill of health, he might not be able to make his slated Opening Day start.

Philadelphia hopes that the Brett Myers of the second half is the one that follows Hamels and not the early-season 2008 form of the right-hander. Myers, returning to the rotation last year after serving as the closer for the latter part of '07, was just 3-9 with a 5.84 ERA through his first 17 starts before he and the club worked out an agreement for him to go to the minors to work out of his funk.

Putting his ego in check, the 28-year-old returned with a vengeance in late July and went 7-4 with a 3.06 ERA and one shutout in 13 second-half starts.

As valued for his experience as much as his left arm, the Phillies brought back 46-year-old Jamie Moyer to the rotation. The ageless vet went 16-7 with a 3.71 ERA in 33 starts last year. Right-hander Joe Blanton will pitch behind Moyer after going 4-0 with a 4.20 ERA in 13 starts with the Phillies following his acquisition from Oakland prior to last season's trade deadline.

Right-hander Chan Ho Park and left-hander J.A. Happ are battling for the fifth spot in the rotation.


Though the Phillies boast one of the better lineups in the National League, the strength of the 2008 squad was its bullpen, keyed by closer Brad Lidge. An afterthought in Houston, Lidge was traded to the Phillies prior to the 2008 season and was a perfect 41-for-41 in save chances during the regular season with a 1.95 ERA before locking down all seven of his postseason save attempts as well.

Philadelphia will be missing one key piece of last year's bullpen, as lefty J.C. Romero will miss the first 50 games of the season for testing positive for a banned substance after going 4-4 with a 2.75 ERA in 81 games a season ago. That will put more pressure on right-hander Ryan Madson (4-2, 3.05 ERA), who emerged as a key setup man late last season. Scott Eyre, meanwhile, becomes the primary left-handed man out of the pen while Romero is out. Eyre went 3-0 with a 1.88 ERA in 19 games with the Phillies after coming over last season from the Chicago Cubs.

The Phillies managed to acquire a second left-handed pitcher in late March, getting Jack Taschner from the Giants in exchange for catcher Ronny Paulino.

Chad Durbin (5-4, 2.87 ERA) pitched in 71 games of relief last year for the Phils and returns this year, as does Clay Condrey. Park could serve as the multi-inning man if he does not make the rotation.


Like their lineup, the Phillies bench is left-handed hitting heavy. Led by Greg Dobbs, who was tops in the majors with 22 pinch-hits last season, the bench also features Matt Stairs and Jenkins as power-hitting options from the left side, while Eric Bruntlett fills the utility infield role. However, the righty does not feature much power, similar to backup catcher Chris Coste, who held off Paulino for the position.

The Phillies are still in search of some right-handed power, but may open the season with Miguel Cairo as one of the righty options.


Repeating in baseball is tough to do anyway, but the Phillies march to another title will go through what is shaping up to be a very tough NL East. The Mets bullpen is reloaded, the Braves are hungry after missing out on the postseason the last few years and the Marlins are always dangerous despite a low payroll. Add in a Nationals club that opened its wallet a bit and Philadelphia has its hands full.

However, the Phils are not short on talent themselves and it is tough to argue against a club that basically brings back the same team that won it all a year ago. A quick start is key for Philadelphia, which can't count on a third straight collapse by the Mets. The Phils, though, will enter this season with the swagger of a champion, something that the City of Brotherly Love hasn't had in a long time.

Source: seattlepi.com

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