This is the first of a bunch of MLB previews, predictions and all that cool stuff. We’ll be breaking down the Yankees and Phillies lineups and pitching staffs in depth. We’d do the Mets, but what’s the point of discussing a 5th place team? Yes, sorry to their fans who read us they will finish last in the NL East this year, but that’s not important let’s get into the two teams that have a realistic shot at winning the World Series, we’ll start with the Philadelphia Phillies.
Most fans would be thrilled with what the Phillies did last year. They had the most wins in Major League Baseball, won their 4th straight NL East Championship, and made their 3rd straight trip to the National League Championship Series. Fans got to watch Roy Halladay throw a perfect game against the Marlins, a playoff no-hitter versus the Reds and become just the fourth Phillies pitcher to win the Cy Young Award. Despite a season Pirates fans would cut their legs off for, everyone looked at last year as a failure. If you would tell me ten years ago that people would consider losing in the NLCS a failure, I’d smack you. I remember sitting through the Desi Relaford, Rico Brogna, Abraham Nunez, Benito Santiago, and Rickey Otero days thinking I may not see the Phillies have a .500 season in my lifetime.
Instead fans have been treated to success. And now all they except is success. The Phillies have had 3 straight 90 win seasons and have been above .500 in nine of their last ten seasons. So I guess that’s what makes last year so hard to swallow. Seeing Ryan Howard standing there with his bat resting on his shoulder, baffled by the low and away cutter is a sickening picture. And that is what makes success great. Ten years ago that strikeout would be on fan appreciation day in front of 20,000 people, 17,000 of whom just wanted to win a years supply of Tastykakes. But this strikeout was in front of 46,062 fans living and dying pitch by pitch anticipating something great. It happened in 08′ and nearly happened in 09′, but last year wasn’t meant to be. A failure? To some yes, but a playoff loss beats watching a team fighting to win 70 games with AAA players on the field.
I’m going to do my best to break down the Phillies hitting today and Captain Dan will be taking the pitching side. I’m sure his preview could just be two words, FOUR ACES, and that would suffice, but we’ll give a solid preview and perspective from two of the biggest Phillies fans you’ll ever meet.
Project Opening Day Lineup
1. Jimmy Rollins, SS
2. Placido Polanco, 3B
3. Raul Ibanez, LF
4. Ryan Howard, 1B
5. Shane Victorino, CF
6. Ben Francisco, RF
7. Carlos Ruiz, C
8. Luis Castillo, 2B
Injuries (both starting season on DL): Chase Utley, Dominic Brown
Opening Day Bench
– Ross Gload
– Brian Schneider
– Michael Martinez
– Wilson Valdez
– John Mayberry
Player by Player Analysis/Projections after the jump
Jimmy Rollins, SS
– Every year people say Jimmy Rollins is the key to the Phillies winning. He was one of the biggest long shots to ever win MVP in 2007, and since that year he’s been a huge disappointment. Jimmy played in just 88 games last year hit .243 and stole just 17 bases. When on, he can hit for power and is one of the best runners in baseball. When he’s off he’s swinging at way too many first pitches and popping the ball up to the shortstop. Where he’ll end up in lineup is another mystery. Due to the injury to Chase the Phillies lineup could see many different variations until Chuck finds something he likes. Leaving J-Roll at the top of the order where he can steal bases and score runs is better than J-Roll the power swinging 3rd hitter.
ESPN Projected Stats: .263 AVG. 13 HR. 77 Runs. 61 RBI. 31 SB.
The Tim Parker Projection: .273 AVG. 19 HR. 102 Runs. 59 RBI. 42 SB. 109 Pop outs on first pitch swinging.
Placido Polanco, 3B
– Peanut heads return to Philly was what every Phillies fan was expecting. Hits around .300, plays good small ball, doesn’t strike out a lot, plays gold glove defense. Those were the comments when the Phillies signed Polanco last year. He went on to hit .298. Put the ball in play 86.9% of his at-bats and in my opinion could have won a gold glove committing only 5 errors with a .986 fielding percentage. He did all this with a bone spur in his elbow which required off-season surgery. He was healing well until March 15th when he tweaked the same elbow on an awkward swing. The Phillies have said the injury is fine, but Polly is 35 and who the hell knows with this team and their luck with injuries thus far.
ESPN Projected Stats: .292 AVG. 6 HR. 81 Runs. 59 RBI.
The Tim Parker Projection: .301 AVG. 3 HR. 70 Runs. 48 RBI. Will play second half of season without a left elbow.
Raul Ibanez, LF
– Third Phillies player I’ve written about, 3rd one coming off an injury filled season. Get the theme? Pat The Bats replacement’s second year was not nearly as smooth as the first. The cheers of Rauuuuuul were quickly replaced with Boooooos after he hit just .246 with 3 HRs in April/May. Compare that to 2009 where he was hitting .331 with 17 HRs through the first two months. Raul righted the ship in the second half of the year, gained back many Raaaauuuuul chants and finished with respectable numbers. Then during the offseason he grew an “I’m a badass motherfucker” beard, worked out like a machine and has said this is the healthiest/best he’s felt in a long time. Another guy who’s lineup spot is in question, but an increase in his production is crucial to balance the loss of the bearded wonder.
ESPN Projected Stats: .269 AVG. 15 HR. 77 Runs. 86 RBI.
The Tim Parker Projection: .290 AVG. 26 HR. 75 Runs. 95 RBI. Will replace Jayson Werth’s production not only at the plate, but with a solid speckle gray bad ass old man beard.
Ryan Howard, 1B
– Another Phillie coming off injury blah blah blah. Howard had his worst offensive season of his career and still hit .276 with 31 HRs and 108 RBI. Not bad considering he missed nearly 20 games. He also had the lowest number of strikeouts in his career. All in all it wasn’t his best season, but it was respectable. The key to seeing Ryan Howard Cadillac his way around the bases is simple. Pitch selection. Without Jayson Werth protecting him God knows he won’t see any pitches to hit this season. If Ryan can lay off the bad pitches and is selective he could have an MVP year, if not and he’s tries to do too much we could be looking at another 200 strikeout season.
ESPN Projected Stats: .269 AVG. 36 HR. 93 Runs. 123 RBI.
The Tim Parker Projection: .258 AVG. 46 HR. 95 Runs. 139 RBI. Will consume 162 (one for each regular season game) Big Philly Cheesesteakes during the season.
Shane Victorino, CF
– Shane-O had an interesting season in 2010. He set a career high with 18 HRs and had 34 steals while winning his third straight gold glove, yet he hit just .259 and walked nearly 30 fewer times than he did the previous year. Shane’s performance this year will have a huge impact on how this offense flows. He needs to be on base more using his speed rather than swinging for the fences every at bat. The difficulty with that is Shane, much like Jimmy doesn’t want to be a bunting, base running machine he’s trying to do his Ryan Howard impression. However, I think that will change this season.
ESPN Projected Stats: .279 AVG.15 HR. 98 Runs. 65 RBI. 34 SB.
The Tim Parker Projection: .260 AVG. 11 HR. 103 Runs. 58 RBI. 36 SB. Will charge the mound at least twice this season, once against the Mets after being hit by an R.A. Dickey knuckleball.
Ben Francisco, RF
– Ah the wild card. Everyone had their opinions on Jayson Werth’s departure. Everyone gave Dom Brown the starting job. Everyone freaked out when Rube didn’t get another right-handed outfield bench player. And everyone forgot about my boy BenFran. Many things have fallen into place in order for Francisco to be the Phillies Opening Day right fielder. While some people feel as if he defaulted his way into the lineup that is far from true. This spring began as a competition for that role following Werth’s departure. That changed once Dominic Brown was injured, but it didn’t stop BenFran’s surge. He has hit .385 this spring with 4 HRs including a bomb in the final Grapefruit League matchup which hit the tiki bar out in left field. I’m excited for BenFran and while he may not put Werth’s numbers, he’ll be close.
ESPN Projected Stats: .272 AVG. 16 HR. 61 Runs. 55 RBI. 13 SB.
The Tim Parker Projection: .268. 23 HR. 70 Runs. 85 RBI. 9 SB. Will develop a weird, wild power swing in which he falls to one knee and corkscrews himself into the ground.
Carlos Ruiz, C
– I wasn’t the biggest Chooch fan prior to last year. In the playoffs he’s as clutch hitter as you could ask for and obviously he is one of if not the best defensive catcher in baseball, but his offensive skills during the regular season were..well really not too good. That changed last year. Chooch increased his average nearly 50 points from 09 and managed to increase his walk rate as well. This meant the Phillies turned the lineup over more and that’s all you can ask from the bottom of the order. However, Chooch is here for his defense and anything more is a bonus.
ESPN Projected Stats: .282 AVG. 11 HR. 45 Runs. 55 RBI.
The Tim Parker Projection: .269 AVG. 8 HR. 40 Runs. 42 RBI. Will get so excited during one of Roy Halladay’s starts he’ll have to run into the stands and get a cone of Phillies Graham Slam Ice Cream.
Luis Castillo, 2B
– UGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHH. The fact that I’m writing about this guy being in the Phillies opening day lineup makes me want to get on a boat, float to an undiscovered island and cry for the next 8 months. He slaps at the ball. Hits dinks and flares every time he makes contact. He’s just a weird dude as I’ve said a million times before. And above all he isn’t Chase Utley. I’ll be nice and leave it at this.
ESPN Projected Stats: 184 AB. .255 AVG. 0 (yes zero which shouldn’t be a surprise) HR. 26 Runs. 13 RBI. 7 SB.
The Tim Parker Projection: 120 AB. .242 AVG. 1 HR. 12 Runs. 9 RBI. 2 SB. 32,112 fans will boo him on opening day, then cheer him after he hits a walk-off home run, his only one he will hit all season off of Brandon Lyon.
Chase Utley, 2B & Dominic Brown, OF (The Injury Buddies)
– Hard to predict anything for these two due to the uncertainty of their injuries. I’ll say this much though, if Chase is out into May I wouldn’t be shocked. If he does have surgery I will first jump off a roof and the Phillies playoff hopes won’t be far behind me. As for Dom, who knows. He sucked during Winter Ball and continued it in Spring Training. If Francisco is atrocious Brown might be forced back into the lineup, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see him in the minors upon his return.
As far as the hitting for this team goes it comes down to people doing their jobs. J-Roll and Shane don’t need to hit 25 homers a piece they need to both have .350+ OBP. Ryan Howard/Raul Ibanez need to be selective on their pitches and attempt to hit the opposite field as much as possible. And I’ll end this book on the 2011 Phillies hitters by saying please baby Jesus let this team get healthy. Any more injuries or funk Luis Castilloish signings will make my head explode. Stay tune over the next few days for more previews and predictions for the upcoming MLB season.