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35 For 2008: 5 In The Foundation

This week, I’m previewing the 2008 Phillies by presenting the 35 players — as of today — who will mean most for repeated success. I say “as of today” because this list will definitely change. Last year, a list like this wouldn’t have mentioned JC Romero or Kyle Kendrick, and would’ve mentioned Matt Smith and Rod Barajas.

For the series, I divided the 35 players into seven groups, each one to be presented daily. The groups have a common thread, which each player seems to follow as his 2008 mission. So I present to you part seven of the week-long series.

Day 1: Something To Prove
Day 2: The Villagers
Day 3: Great … Or Good Enough
Day 4: Rubber Rodents
Day 5: More Integral Than You Think
Day 6: B-Minus
Today: The Foundation

The Foundation: Cole Hamels, Chase Utley, Brett Myers, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard
These five guys are the team’s best players. No question. Each brings something intrinsic to the team that cannot be measured; meanwhile, they all possess loads of talent. For what they do, they’re among the game’s best. The most impressive thing about these five, above all, is that they were all Phillies draft picks. And four by Ed Wade. Yes, how about that?

Cole Hamels (SP)
Role: Ace Starter
Acquired: Drafted by Phillies, 2002

Ahhh, King Cole. When drafted by the Phils, the hope was he’d overcome injury and attitude and be one of baseball’s elite starters. The Phillies track record said “good luck.” Even, I, sitting in the stands as Hamels was unveiled to Philadelphia on a hot day in 2002, said “good luck.” What happened? Hamels only became one of the game’s best pitchers, right up there with Smoltz, Bedard and Carmona in Tier Two of the elite.

Obviously, Hamels — barring injury, and cross your fingers guys — will be the opening day starter for the 2008 Phillies. He has a quick fastball, a take-out-the-garbage changeup and a yet-to-be-refined curve. That’s all he needs. Still, Hollywood swagger makes him the Total Package.

Injury concerns must be remembered. He sat out three starts down the stretch (how did they overcome that?), and has a history of injuries. And I’d say in all likelihood, Hamels should finish a full season and be a Cy Young candidate, but we’ve seen other guys go down the path of mediocrity. Still, I’ll go on the side of greatness.

Predicted 2008: 221.2 IP / 21-5 / 0 SV / 3.20 ERA / 1.020 WHIP

Chase Utley (2B)
Role: Physical Leader and Best Player
Acquired: Drafted by Phillies, 2000

Growing up, my favorite baseball player was Cal Ripken Jr. He played my positions (third base, shortstop), hit like me (singles and doubles with some power), and played the way I wanted to (intense all the time). Ripken represented how baseball was meant to be played. Respected by all, he’s one of baseball’s most cherished figures.

Today’s carbon copy is Chase Utley. A gamer, Utley does everything necessary to win games: He gets hit by pitches, swings oddly for bloop singles when necessary, makes heady defensive plays, knocks homers, gets clutch hits. With his good looks, great-looking wife and penchant for causes, Utley is fast becoming one of baseball’s popular entities.

Last year, Utley was on the fast track to a definite MVP, but a broken hand stopped him. This year, people are looking at Utley to win the MVP, and while most players would perform badly under the pressure, our man should thrive. Will 2008 be like most of 2007? Maybe. If anything, Utley will again have a consistent wire-to-wire season and remain undoubtedly the game’s best offensive second-bagger since at least Ryne Sandberg.

Uber-positive? I guess, but I see no reason not to be.

Predicted 2008: 653 AB / .333 AVG / 32 HR / 110 RBI / .988 OPS

Brett Myers (SP)
Role: Righthanded Top Starter
Acquired: Drafted by Phillies, 1998

For a long while, Brett Myers was a young glimmer poised to be a star. But some harrowing personal issues and seesaw play has made him just a very good player. A stint as closer in 2007 showed him to be a fired-up specimen, one worthy of such an honor as the ninth inning.

To be sure, Myers loves theatrics; moreover, he loves himself. There’s nothing Myers likes more than being center of attention. As a closer, he relished the joy of recording the team’s last out in 2007; as a starter, he relished polishing a strong opening day start. This year, he won’t be the star. That’s Hamels now. You know what that means? Myers is poised.

Something in me thinks Myers will feel the challenge presented by Hamels’ new star. Another former Phillie found his way through young struggles to be a huge big-game pitcher. His name is Curt Schilling. Myers, to me, will do the same. He possesses the attitude and talent to deliver. And as a No. 2, he should do that with great results.

Predicted 2008: 208 IP / 16-9 / 0 SV / 3.63 ERA / 1.181 WHIP

Jimmy Rollins (SS)
Role: Emotional Leader and Offensive Sparkplug
Acquired: Drafted by Phillies, 1996

We know the story: Jimmy Rollins said we were the team to beat; he lived up to the statement and posted big numbers across-the-board. He nailed 30 homers, stole 40-plus bases, sped to 20 triples, broke a baseball record for times settling into the batters box, and, yes, won the National League MVP award. At his pace, he’s becoming a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and — sorry Bowa — he’s the franchise’s greatest shortstop.

So what for an encore? Nobody expects a carbon copy; then again, this is Year Three of his prime, the year most men of his build and talent obliterate all past marks. So while a slight descent is more possible, another amazing year is also possible. Nobody can rightfully tell.

Rollins’ newfound power should continue in 2008, and his swipes may decrease as he begins life in his thirties. But if he’s healthy, he’ll do what’s necessary to be a huge contributor and the team’s offensive pacesetter.

Predicted 2008: 686 AB / .291 AVG / 27 HR / 86 RBI / 38 SB / .779 OPS

Ryan Howard (1B)
Role: Cleanup Hitting Masher
Acquired: Drafted by Phillies, 2001

After the MVP season in 2006, Howard did decline, but not by much. He still hit 47 HR, driving in over 130 and providing huge contributions late in the season. Of course, he also struck out a baseball-record 199 times. And yes, he missed two weeks. Imagine.

Howard is without a doubt baseball’s most-feared slugger. Forget Papi, Prince and A-Rod. If the bases are juiced and Howard is the last option for a game-winning granny, chances are Howard will be walked before he can lock in. Of course, Howard is the game’s premiere three-true-outcomes player, striking out, homering or walking in 54 percent of his appearances in 2007.

He could always decline quickly like Prince’s father, but with the pressure off him and the results of the last two seasons in mind, it’s likely he’ll continue to be a force. And luckily, with bats like Rollins, Utley, Burrell and Jenkins around him, there’s hope his average will rise once again.

Predicted 2008: 659 AB / .302 AVG / 48 HR / 124 RBI / 1.011 OPS

Now that my predictions for all 35 players has finished, here are all of them, listed below:

Jimmy Rollins (SS): 686 AB / .291 AVG / 27 HR / 86 RBI / 38 SB / .779 OPS
Shane Victorino (CF): 561 AB / .281 AVG / 14 HR / 49 RBI / 49 SB / .770 OPS
Chase Utley (2B): 653 AB / .333 AVG / 32 HR / 110 RBI / 7 SB / .988 OPS
Ryan Howard (1B): 659 AB / .302 AVG / 48 HR / 124 RBI / 1.011 OPS
Pat Burrell (LF): 496 AB / .282 AVG / 33 HR / 103 RBI / .904 OPS
Geoff Jenkins (RF): 381 AB / .258 AVG / 16 HR / 49 RBI / .776 OPS
Pedro Feliz (3B): 449 AB / .249 AVG / 17 HR / 51 RBI / .712 OPS
Carlos Ruiz (C): 419 AB / .252 AVG / 13 HR / 50 RBI / .697 OPS

Jayson Werth (OF): 352 AB / .312 AVG / 15 HR / 54 RBI / 5 SB / .864 OPS
Greg Dobbs (IF): 284 AB / .260 AVG / 7 HR / 30 RBI / .715 OPS
Chris Coste (C): 193 AB / .264 AVG / 5 HR / 28 RBI / .753 OPS
Wes Helms (IF): 176 AB / .260 / 3 HR / 19 RBI / .733 OPS
So Taguchi (OF): 136 AB / .286 AVG / 2 HR / 22 RBI / .702 OPS
Eric Bruntlett (IF): 87 AB / .229 AVG / 1 HR / 6 RBI / .648 OPS
Chris Snelling (OF): 57 AB / .280 / 1 HR / 9 RBI / 2 SB / .794 OPS
Brandon Watson (OF): 29 AB / .241 / 0 HR / 3 RBI / 5 SB / .729 OPS

Other offensive possibilities: Jason Jaramillo, Greg Golson, Jason Donald

Cole Hamels (SP): 221.2 IP / 21-5 / 244 K / 3.20 ERA / 1.020 WHIP
Brett Myers (SP): 208 IP / 16-9 / 202 K / 3.63 ERA / 1.181 WHIP
Kyle Kendrick (SP): 188.2 IP / 10-9 / 103 K / 4.05 ERA / 1.344 WHIP
Jamie Moyer (SP): 162.1 IP / 8-7 / 88 K / 5.02 ERA / 1.401 WHIP
Adam Eaton (SP): 131.2 IP / 7-9 / 99 K / 5.12 ERA / 1.594 WHIP

Kris Benson (SP): 102 IP / 6-5 / 60 K / 4.50 ERA / 1.302 WHIP
Chad Durbin (SP): 73.2 IP / 4-4 / 39 K / 5.25 ERA / 1.401 WHIP
Josh Outman (SP): 72 IP / 3-5 / 41 K / 5.00 ERA / 1.409 WHIP
James Happ (SP): 41.1 IP / 2-3 / 20 K / 5.66 ERA / 1.591 WHIP
JD Durbin (SP): 29 IP / 1-2 / 11 K / 4.34 ERA / 1.402 WHIP

Brad Lidge (CP): 77.2 IP / 4-5 / 39 SV / 94 K / 3.59 ERA / 1.221 WHIP
JC Romero (RP): 77 IP / 2-4 / 1 SV / 49 K / 3.82 ERA / 1.398 WHIP
Ryan Madson (RP): 59.1 IP / 3-2 / 2 SV / 41 K / 3.78 ERA / 1.309 WHIP
Tom Gordon (RP): 58.2 IP / 3-2 / 3 SV / 53 K / 4.48 ERA / 1.378 WHIP
Fabio Castro (RP): 34 IP / 1-0 / 0 SV / 27 K / 4.21 ERA / 1.393 WHIP

Scott Mathieson (RP): 53.1 IP / 4-2 / 0 SV / 4.09 ERA / 1.211 WHIP
Francisco Rosario (RP): 31.1 IP / 1-1 / 0 SV / 3.74 ERA / 1.311 WHIP
Mike Zagurski (RP): 20.1 IP / 0-1 / 0 SV / 4.84 ERA / 1.498 WHIP
Shane Youman (RP): 15.1 IP / 0-2 / 0 SV / 5.28 ERA / 1.531 WHIP

Other pitching possibilities: Clay Condrey, Travis Blackley, Drew Carpenter

Postlude: Looking at these numbers altogether, boy, am I reaching on some of these guys. Mainly the at bat and inning numbers. Could Josh Outman, Kris Benson and Chad Durbin put together that amount as spot starter? Nah. Will Greg Dobbs get that many at bats this year? Probably not.

I may have been generous on a few ERA numbers, as well — maybe Kendrick, Eaton and Castro. But let’s total it up — according to the totals, my Phils would hit 224 home runs, which would beat last year’s mark by 11. That is possible with the power-hitting Jenkins and Feliz in the lineup. They’d also drive in 793 runs, less than last year’s 835. And looking at the pitching, I have the Phillies’ 2008 record at 93-77. Which is obviously impossible.

Clearly my predicted numbers aren’t correct, but they’re very preliminary, and maybe a little optimistic for the most part. But that’s the fun in doing this before Spring Training gets underway. Now, as Phillies’ pitchers and catchers report, we’ll start to see the puzzle take form. We’ll see if Eaton’s ERA can get under 5.50, if Hamels can turn 21 wins, if Howard can get above .300 again, if Burrell can knock 33 homers. And that’s the fun part.

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