The mathematics of the Phillies’ situation suggest that the season is not over, but those of us who have watched this team try to salvage a playoff berth from the detritus of a hugely disappointing season know better. Nine games left. Five games back. Four teams to beat. It’s over.
Now, it’s time to take a hard, honest look at the Phils’ prospects in 2013, understanding that the team needs some serious upgrades at several different positions and refusing to let the idea that injuries and bad luck were the main reasons for poor play this year. Sure, if Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Roy Halladay were healthy all season, the Phillies would have been better. But even with them, this is not a World Series team, and in Philadelphia, that’s the standard now, like it or not.
What the 2013 Phillies Need: INFIELD
It would be nice to find an established third baseman and let Utley handle second, but that doesn’t work for two reasons. First, there isn’t much out there on the third base market, and second (and more important), Utley’s cranky knees won’t let him stay at second. He can’t move well laterally.
We’re left with a starting infield of Howard, Freddy Galvis, Jimmy Rollins and Utley. It’s not awful, but it is fraught with trouble. Who knows whether Galvis’ solid debut was due to the PEDs for which he tested positive or his answering the call to step up his game in the majors? Utley’s knees will benefit from a move to third, but there are questions about whether his arm is strong enough to do the job there. Howard is likely to be improved once his Achilles tendon is fully healed, but there is no guarantee he will ever approach his production of 2011, much less 2006-09. Hall of Famer Barry Larkin has said that he was never the same hitter after his Achilles repair, a sobering assessment for the Phils. And though Rollins’ big September helped key the Phils’ wild-card flirtation, he was shaky for much of the year and will be 34 when 2013 dawns. He hasn’t hit .270 since 2008.
That’s not a bad group – on paper. But age, injury and the continued uncertainty of Galvis at the plate (.226 average) make it unlikely the contingent will be outstanding. The bench of Kevin Frandsen and Ty Wigginton/Michael Martinez/Pete Orr isn’t bad, but none of those players should be counted on to play long stretches.
What the 2013 Phillies Need: OUTFIELD
How GM Ruben Amaro handles this area will show whether he grasps the severity of the situation or believes (erroneously) that the outfield is in pretty good shape. John Mayberry Jr., Nate Schierholtz, Laynce Nix and Juan Pierre are all fine bench players. Trouble is, you can’t have four outfielders on your bench. Three of them have to start. And none of those four is good enough to do that.
One regular will be Domonic Brown, whom we must hope will continue to blossom. That leaves two spots for Amaro to fill. Let’s hope he doesn’t try to sell us on a platoon of the aforementioned bench players in left, with the hope that Darren Ruf and his big bat can somehow grab the spot. That won’t work. The Phillies need an established, productive hand there. The same goes for centerfield. Bring in a proven major-leaguer. Then decide which of the bench players you want to keep.
What the 2013 Phillies Need: STARTING ROTATION
A quintet of Cole Hamels, Halladay, Cliff Lee, Vance Worley and Kyle Kendrick sounds pretty good. But a closer look reveals the possibility for trouble. Right now, Halladay is telling us his shoulder pain is “minor”. Even if he doesn’t require off-season surgery, Halladay can no longer be considered a Cy Young-caliber ace capable of throwing complete games regularly. He will become an old-school “pitcher”, who must rely on his experience and command to thrive. If there is something more seriously wrong with his shoulder, then Amaro must get another established starter and not someone from the discount rack.
Hamels is ready to be The Ace, and Lee looked just fine during the second half of the season. Kendrick was pretty darn good after June, too, and we must trust he can continue to pitch the same way in ’13. Worley should be fully recovered from elbow surgery and ready to be a contributor. Throw in Tyler Cloyd, who showed flashes of talent during his September audition but must still work on his toughness, and the Phils should be fine here – if everybody stays healthy.
What the 2013 Phillies Need: BULLPEN
There was no area more frustrating in 2012, and that can’t be the case in ’13. Say what you want about all the “young arms” in the organization, but there are no reliable pitchers in the ‘pen, other than closer Jonathan Papelbon–and even he needs to tighten it up next year when not throwing in save situations.
The Phillies will make a huge mistake if they think they can head into next season with the same cast. They must find a veteran, reliable eighth-inning man. Must. But that’s not enough. Josh Lindblom is a long-ball machine. Jake Diekman, Phillippe Aumont, Justin De Fratus and Jeremy Horst are too unpredictable. The bullpen needs two more arms, minimum, and that’s assuming lefty Antonio Bastardo is reliable enough to retain.
The Phillies don’t need an overhaul, but there is work to be done. If Amaro neglects any part of it, another year of trouble and disappointment loom. The 2012 season is over. Get started on ’13.
- Michael Vick took a horrific beating in Sunday’s loss to the Cardinals, and it wasn’t all his fault. In fact, by the fourth quarter, very little of it was his fault. The Eagles’ offensive line was awful, and with two stopgaps starting, the trouble could continue next Sunday against the Giants and their aggressive front four. Maybe Howard Mudd can coach ‘em up, but this does not look good going forward, especially for a QB that doesn’t excel in reading blitzes before the snap. Of course, Vick could be preserved some if the Eagles ran the ball more, but why would anybody want to do that?
- NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s arrogance seems unending. No matter how poorly the scab refs perform, he refuses to acknowledge their growing liability for the league. Sunday night’s debacle in Baltimore was just one example of how the game is suffering without the real officials. If this keeps up, the season will be known more for the refs’ inept work than for the players’ performances. Unfortunately, it appears as if that’s fine with Goodell, so long as the dough keeps rolling in.
- Neither Penn State nor Temple looked particularly good in the Nittany Lions’ win over the Owls Saturday, but the teams are headed in opposite directions. PSU is 3-1 and heading into the soft Big Ten with confidence, if not a loaded roster. The 1-2 Owls are struggling to curb mistakes and find a way to score points, while playing a pile of youngsters. It’s too early to predict doom for the season, but Temple needs significant improvement to be competitive in the Big East, which is hardly the SEC.