Why I Can’t Come To Terms With This Phillies Team

In yesterday’s preview of the NL East, I wrote the Phillies were going to win 85 games in 2008.

That’s the pessimistic prediction.

The Phillies lay somewhere between 85 and 100 wins; yes, Jimmy Rollins, your 100-win forecast isn’t totally ridiculous. I could just put the Phils in the middle — at 92 wins — and call it a day, but that would be unfair to all of you readers. And it would be unfair to me, because I have no idea what to think about this team. I’ve covered them — I say it loose enough to forgive the newspaper and online beat writers who get paid for this, and loose enough to forgive my fellow fan bloggers out there — since November here, and I’ve followed them more than ever since last season opened. I’ve seen the trends, I can almost predict everything that happens.

But something happened last year — sometime around September 15 — the Phillies stopped being predictable.

Last year’s Phillies would’ve made the valiant push. They would’ve reached as close as a game back, but the Mets would’ve taken care of the Nationals and Marlins. Moreover, the Phils would’ve lost that 13-11 game against the Cardinals (you know, the one where they had a big lead and the bad half of the bullpen almost gave it all away?); they would’ve found a way to lose that night game against the Braves — maybe Antonio Alfonseca would’ve let a couple hits by; and they would’ve been three back going into September 30, and they would’ve lost a heartless game to the Nationals. They would’ve been 86-76. Again.

Somehow that didn’t happen. Somehow they pulled out that Cardinal game, they won on a flurry against the Braves, and Brett Myers leaped in the air after throwing a picturesque curveball to Wily Mo Pena. Somehow they took the crown.

Here’s what happened for them to do it: Kyle Kendrick appeared and threw quality start after quality start; Kyle Lohse kept the team in games down the stretch; Tadahito Iguchi came from heaven to keep them at bay when Chase Utley went down; JC Romero became the best setup man in baseball for two months; Tom Gordon didn’t get injured; Jimmy Rollins socked a bunch of triples and ran on speed pills; Jayson Werth became a deadly hitter and fleet-footed pinch man; Michael Bourn got a chance to steal a load of bags; the rotation somehow held together when Cole Hamels missed three starts; JD Durbin became an impossible stopgap; Ryan Howard pulled it together to swat homers late in the season; and oh yeah, Pat Burrell became the best hitter in Major League Baseball for an entire half of the season.

How the hell can all that happen again?

It can’t. It won’t. And sadly, the front office didn’t do enough to make all that unnecessary. They said the main concern was pitching, pitching, pitching: They grabbed Brad Lidge and moved Brett Myers to the rotation. Good. They re-signed JC Romero (for too much buck). OK. Then what? Tim Lahay? Travis Blackley? Rule V picks? No David Riske. No Ron Mahay. Not even an effort. They low-balled Hiroki Kuroda, most likely. Fine they didn’t get Kyle Lohse back, but no attempts to get anything else. The pitching staff entering 2008 is the same as the one that left 2007, only Brad Lidge is Kyle Lohse. An upgrade, yes, but —

How can we expect another drop-dead performance by Romero? And Gordon’s a year older and a few high fastballs from a 6.00 ERA. Ryan Madson is a good arm; he’s solid, but he’ll get overworked because of Romero, Lidge and Gordon. Mark my words: Ryan Madson will be considerably hurt by July.

Then there’s a questionable rotation. Brett Myers has been nothing short of ace-worthy since moving back to the rotation, and it’s pretty certain Cole Hamels will have another solid season (then again, he’s never played a full one, and this spring wasn’t completely a good one). But Kyle Kendrick hasn’t shown any indication he’ll go the full ride without letting up hit after hit. Jamie Moyer, at 45, will be figured out just as much as Kendrick. He may get over five innings … I don’t know … four times this season. That isn’t enough. Forget the fifth starter mess — while that’s not a big concern, I know what’s going to happen: Either JA Happ or Drew Carpenter get overthrown into the role by July, or Eaton stinks it up with a 5.50 ERA, or they grab some waiver special to stem the tide. It’s Myers and Hamels and pray, just pray things work.

For all that, though, it’s very possible Kendrick settles into a groove and becomes Brandon Webb-lite. It’s very possible Moyer’s starts are quick and he can get into the sixth inning. It’s very possible Eaton has waves of good stars complementing his bad ones, en route to a 4.80 ERA or something. It’s not entirely hard to imagine. But I see more games getting out of hand after Kendrick, Moyer and Eaton exit and Tim Lahay and Clay Condrey enter. And this offense will not be able to rebound.

It’s a damn shame, too, because this offense is unreal. Ryan Howard is primed for a 60-HR season. The line might read 61 HR, 141 RBI, .315 and a surefire MVP. And Chase Utley will be the same old top 2B he is. Pat Burrell should smoke through a good first half, maybe wilting at the turn, but still put up his 29 HR, 102 RBI, .258 line. Shane Victorino is a star in the making, and he’ll swipe at least 40 while making probably 25 diving stops. I don’t expect much from Geoff Jenkins or Pedro Feliz or Jayson Werth or Greg Dobbs, but if they can each put together 15 HR, 40 RBI, .265 seasons, it’ll be enough.

By the way, Carlos Ruiz is going to have a career season. So Jenkins, Werth, Dobbs and Feliz won’t be big concerns.

Then there’s Jimmy. I can’t think he’ll duplicate last year’s gold mine of a season — and he could very well match it enough — and it sucks, because his production is what matters. If he’s not on base, Victorino swings for the fences and Utley and Howard are looking at lots of 1-run home runs and doubles left on base. Moreover, I don’t know why, but an injury keeps looking me in the eye. This is the year — if any — that Jimmy loses considerable time. I don’t know why I think so, but it’s coming. And once he goes down, there goes the offense. We could put up with losing Howard and Utley, but who’s backing Jimmy? Eric Bruntlett? Chris Woodward? Good freaking luck. I don’t know why, but I see it.

Then again — and this is why the 100-win mark is still doable — Rollins has another great year and the rest of the offense follows suit. The offense should win this team 50 games if it’s like last year’s, which is very possible. I think — especially if Jimmy goes down — they win 43 or 44. Can the pitching staff win more than that? I really can’t think so.

That’s what it comes down to: pitching. It always does. Last year’s team played on fire, and the reason they ultimately won was because the bullpen locked it down in September. If it happens a second-consecutive year, I’ll eat my words and we’ll win the division, but like I’ve said, I’ve seen the trends, I know this team. I just don’t see another victory.

At best, this team remains healthy, the bullpen gives a yeoman’s effort, the rotation stays together and the Phillies win 98 games. They cruise into the NLDS and blow away the Dodgers, then win a hard-fought NLCS with the Mets. (That seems to be destiny, right?) Then they win the Series — a 4-2 clip over the Indians. That’s best case. Worst case is what I wrote yesterday — third place, 85 wins, welcome Carlos Carrasco to the rotation and Scott Mathieson to the eighth inning.

I could amend my 85 wins and say this team wins 89 and the Wild Card. I was close to doing that yesterday; I fought valiantly to write it, but I couldn’t. The Braves are too balanced and the Mets just seem so destined to take the East. I’ll say this — of these three teams contending in the East, each has the potential to win at least 95 games, and each has the potential to win at most 85 games. Two will do it. I know that. Three days ago I was thinking Phillies and Braves; yesterday I was wrestling with Mets and Phillies; now I’m going Mets and Braves. For now, that’s my prediction.

I hope I’m wrong, and I hope this team wins 95, 100 games. I really hope.

All I know is — with everything I wrote — we know nothing. It’s a long season, and may the baseball gods be with us again. Strap in and enjoy the ride, fans.

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