Season Preview

Early National Picks: Phillies Not Favored

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Fri, April 03, 2009 11:50 AM Comments: 40

I predicted the Phillies are in great shape to defend their world championship.

Most people, however, don’t believe this is true.

Last season the Braves were on everyone’s mind. This season the 72-win Braves are again picked by many to finish above the 92-win Phillies; meanwhile, almost all experts love the Mets’ chances to finally take back the National League East.

Two of Beyond the Box Score’s writers have the Phillies winning the East. Three, however, think the Braves will overtake the Phils and push them to third place. Explanation from Graham Goldbeck:

Early injury to Cole Hamels does not bode well, his large workload increase last year may already be showing. I think the Braves rotation has made enormous strides, more on the Lowe side than the Vazquez side (a player can only underachieve his FIP for so long before something is just up). The Mets are just the most solid team all around and since they’ve held the divisional lead in Sept. two years running now, third time should be the charm right?

I understand the concern about Hamels, but didn’t Johan Santana have the exact same concerns a week before Hamels? Yes the Braves improved with Lowe, but is he (and Vazquez) enough to push them from 72 to approximately 88 wins? And the Mets are not the “most solid team all around.” Sorry. They have glaring holes (outfield, rotation, middle relief) that the Phils don’t have.

At CBS Sportsline two of the four writers like the Phillies in the East, while the other two like the Mets. Three have the Phillies in the playoffs, but none say pennant. For what it’s worth, three of the four writers think it’s finally the Cubs’ year to win the whole thing.

And at SI.com, four of their 13 writers like the Phillies. All other nine? Mets. At least 12 of the 13 think the Phillies will make the playoffs (12 of the 13 writers like either the Phils or Mets to take the Wild Card). Two of their writers like the Phillies in the National League.

So yes, after winning two consecutive division championships, an NL pennant and a world championship, the Phillies are … yet again … solid underdogs.


The Initial Prediction: They’re Extremely Good, Right?

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Fri, April 03, 2009 10:18 AM Comments: 28

It’s funny what a trophy will do to you.

Last season at this time, I couldn’t decipher whether the Philadelphia Phillies were a 95-win or 85-win team. I bought the fervor about the Braves. I thought the Mets would rebound nicely. I didn’t want to put the Phillies in third place, but I wrestled with it, and I decided upon that fate.

So I was wrong.

The Phillies proved to be better. Chase Utley and Pat Burrell proved to carry the team in April and May. Pitching ran with the ball all season, almost never handing in a letdown anywhere near those seen in 2007. Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard stepped up in August and September, with the big man carrying the club into another postseason berth and a second-straight division crown. Ninety-two wins. Pretty impressive.

Since the Phillies won that 92nd game on a murky Sunday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park, they morphed into an elite franchise, disposing of MIlwaukee, Los Angeles and Tampa Bay en route to winning its second world championship. And since then they’ve illustrated they’re approximately the same team that left us in 2008. Exit Pat Burrell, enter Raul Ibanez. Exit Adam Eaton, enter Chan Ho Park. Exit Geoff Jenkins, enter Miguel Cairo. Exit Rudy Seanez, enter … well … the point is, 21 players have returned. This team is pretty close to the one that won it all.

There are changing variables, of course. Utley and Rollins are back, but they were injured through most of 2008. Werth and Victorino are back, but they played very well during crucial stretches. Hamels is back, but his output in 2008 resembled a modern-day Wilbur Wood. Things won’t be the same as 2008. They can’t. But the sum can be the same.

Let’s start from the bottom. Since 2003, the Phils have been an over-.500 team each season, joining only the Yankees and Red Sox in that club. With its current nucleus and depth, the Phils should continue that streak.

It used to be that the Phils were measured by 86 wins – that’s the magic number the Phils ended up finishing with three times in the past eight seasons. The 2007 team – with a beleaguered bullpen and spotty rotation – finished with 89 wins. On paper, this 2009 team has a much better bullpen with mostly defined roles (though that’ll be tested with JC Romero out the first 50 games) and a rotation that, at least, knows its job (get into the sixth if at all possible). Add the potent offensive core and it’s likely the Phillies are better than 89 wins.

Of course we have to factor in the Mets, Marlins, Braves and Nationals. The Mets improved their bullpen with Francisco Rodriguez and JJ Putz, but ignored their starting rotation and outfield holes. For now I call it a wash – the best they can do is 89 wins. The Marlins are scary, and their core players are all in line for breakout seasons. But they added nothing of value to help the foundation. They might be able to improve on last season’s 84 wins, but it’ll take some herculean efforts from some unsung heroes. The Braves should be improved with their rotation, though their bullpen and offense are relatively static. They’ll be better than a 72-win team. The Nationals actually made the most additions of any NL East team, but they won’t shock the world. They’ll just be tougher to beat.

That all said, the Phils can still beat the Nationals. They should still beat the Braves. And they should overcome a Marlins charge. The Mets? It’ll be another fight toward the finish, but ultimately, the Phillies have more players in the absolute primes of their careers and more depth throughout the organization, let alone experience and confidence. They should win more than 90 games. They could win a couple more.


That’s my initial prediction: They’re better than 86, better than 89, better than what their division foes should present. Are they the best team in the National League? To start, that’s something we can debate with Chicago fans. But to write it simply, the Phillies are in great position to defend their crown. Great position.


PN 2009 Season Preview: Mid-Week Predictions

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Wed, April 01, 2009 10:00 AM Comments: 11

For those of you who read this blog last year at this time, I wisely predicted the Seattle Mariners would win the American League and own the AL’s best record.

Ahem …

This year I did not learn my lesson. Tomorrow we’ll take a look at Chad Durbin’s season on the brink; Friday we’ll look at Jimmy Rollins. But today, the 2009 all-league predictions. Twitter style (140 characters or less):

American League West

1. Oakland Athletics – 87-75
Call me an idiot, but the A’s young rotations are cyclical. Their offense is just enough with Holliday to win a weak division.

2. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim – 85-77
They played over their heads in 2008. Offense is older. Pitching is weaker, and I don’t trust that bullpen. Lackey’s injuries will catch up.

3. Seattle Mariners – 73-89
A bad team who played even worse than they should’ve. Speed, speed, speed, some improved pitching. This has to be Felix’s year, right?

4. Texas Rangers – 70-92
Same old story: Pretty good offense, horrendous pitching. Despite an improved bullpen with Francisco, can’t bank on Padilla and Millwood.

American League Central

1. Cleveland Indians – 88-74
Injuries flattened them in 2008. This team is better — balanced offense, strong pitching and a standard but solid bullpen. Carmona? Yes.

2. Minnesota Twins – 85-77
The Twins will once again lose on the division, but they’re good. Watch Liriano tear it up fully healthy. Tight team, good mix.

3. Detroit Tigers – 82-80
Very good offense, especially from one to six. But the pitching remains the question, and it’s very uncertain. Porcello might be a stud.

4. Chicago White Sox – 80-82
Love Carlos Quentin, love Alexei Ramirez, but the rest? Not sold on pitching at all. Seems every other year the Soux fall flat. This is it.

5. Kansas City Royals – 73-89
As much as I love these young guys, they aren’t competing yet. Alex Gordon has to break out; once he does, it’ll take them three years.

American League East

1. Boston Red Sox – 93-69
They always find a way to win, but it’s the pitching that separates. Rotation should patch together good year; bullpen will be outstanding.

2. New York Yankees – 91-71
Talent=success, at least here. Pitching is strong, but bullpen has its issues. That lineup can mash, and if healthy, should go to playoffs.

3. Tampa Bay Rays – 85-77
Fall back to Earth. Great young team, but they’ll have hiccups, especially in a tougher division. Watch for big year from Matt Garza.

4. Toronto Blue Jays – 81-81
Any other division they win a couple more games, but this time this team’s pitching can’t cut it. Halladay is Cy Ever. They’ll struggle.

5. Baltimore Orioles – 69-93
Line up and beat on the Orioles. Sorry kids, but you’re in the East. This team should be success once the age rubs off the Sawx and Yanks.

National League West

1. Los Angeles Dodgers – 86-76
Manny will fuel them. Pitching will win the day. They’re a good team, but not a great team, in the worst division in baseball.

2. San Francisco Giants – 83-79
Don’t sleep on the Giants. They’re getting younger and they’ll have their problems, but in this division they’ll have their moments.

3. Arizona Diamondbacks – 83-79
This team can win 90 games, but they can also win much less. Lineup is shaky despite its exuberance. Pitching? Good, not great. Bullpen bad.

4. Colorado Rockies – 73-89
They have hitting problems. They have pitching problems. They lose Holliday and they’re going even more south. Tulo should rebound.

5. San Diego Padres – 65-97
Better than last year, sure, but not much. Still no offense. They’ll probably show fervor late in season, hinting at a 2010 resurgence.

National League Central

1. St. Louis Cardinals – 87-75
Again, am I crazy? Pitching is suspect, but Duncan gets the best of his men. Offense will be fine with Pujols. It comes down to solid pen.

2. Chicago Cubs – 86-76
It’ll be a dead heat in an inspired division race. Cubs look great on paper, but rotation is paper thin. Bullpen, too. Piniella a time bomb.

3. Cincinnati Reds – 84-78
Tough to project this team. Good rotation. Seemingly good offense. But it never adds up. Won’t again. Still, love Cueto-Volquez-Harang.

4. Milwaukee Brewers – 83-79
Good explosive team with too many small holes, including bullpen. This is a team that could really suffer with one or two big injuries.

5. Houston Astros – 73-89
Complete explosion at Minute Maid this season. Too many large holes. Pitching suffers after Oswalt. No depth behind the first 25. Ugh.

6. Pittsburgh Pirates – 64-98
Who’s on this team? Seriously, question marks everywhere. Look no further than rotation. Nate McLouth gets dealt before season ends?

Of course, no National League East today.


PN 2009 Season Preview: Injury or Bust-Through For Werth

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Tue, March 31, 2009 11:00 AM Comments: 12

Of the many moments that defined the once-in-a-lifetime 2008 season, the most stupendous individual moment was likely the night Jayson Werth lit up the cloudy sky with three home runs. Like a youngster, Werth trotted around the bases with the wind tearing away from his back, a confidence growing that would balloon throughout the season. It capped in the World Series, game four, when he slammed a ball into the left field seats, exclaiming the Phils victory with a raised arm and single finger.

Yes, he broke through the glass ceiling and turned into a profitable player in 2008. But Jayson Werth remains a huge, huge risk.

The good numbers are good. In 482 plate appearances in 2008 Werth homered 24 times, drove in 67 runners and stole 20 bases. But the bad numbers stick out. In those same 482 appearances Werth struck out 119 times. That’s almost Howardesque. But that’s not the worst number — no, it’s the 482 that hurts the most.

Werth missed time between May 23 and June 6. He sat at times in June, partly in a platoon, partly still hurt. Go back to 2007, when he missed most of late June and the entirety of July. Before those seasons, Werth was often injured; in fact, injuries seemed to conclude his career until he came back with the Phillies. The bottom line: Nobody can be sure Werth will make it a whole year as a healthy commodity.

And what if Werth can’t make it? Can Geoff Jenkins pick up the slack on a dime? Is John Mayberry Jr. the solution? There’s a difference between being a conscious everyday player and having to step in immediately at the major league level. Moreover, there is small concern that Werth now remains the most important bat in the Phillies lineup, now that Pat Burrell is in Tampa Bay. Old-boy supporters of the left-right balance argue the Phils need a greater right-handed presence in the lineup. While this argument may not be fully fleshed, there is something to be said about getting production from both sides.

Of course, we all received a large helping of sighs as Werth struggled to find his form early in camp, staying out of lineups during the first two weeks. Now Werth is fully entrenched, and is finishing his Grapefruit League stint with impressive numbers (56 AB, .304 AVG, 5 HR, 11 RBI). The goal, of course, is to get him through an entire season without injury. If that happens, you could … could … be looking at a 30-home run player, a run producer with speed and defense to boot.

If the injury bug hits, though, there might not be another step up for Werth.


PN Season Preview: From The Twitter

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Tue, March 31, 2009 10:58 AM Comments: 1

Questions from Tweetsville:

PhillySportsGuy@philliesnation Whats your take…will they carry 12 pitchers pr go with 11 and keep Cairo?
@PhillySportsGuy 11 and cairo, but they still might trade stairs (more than jenkins) before sunday. park, taschner up. happ down.

iAims@philliesnation Will Werth have a decent season this year?
@iAims All comes down to health. That said, he’s in line for a possible career year. 30 HR isn’t out of question. I’d say 24 or so. 80 RBI

Got questions? Tweet us.


PN 2009 Season Preview: Issues – Injuries

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Mon, March 30, 2009 01:00 PM Comments: 0

Now, let’s look at the first of five major issues concerning the 2009 Phillies: Injuries.



PN 2009 Season Preview: Myers Must Deliver

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Mon, March 30, 2009 11:00 AM Comments: 13

To say 2009 is a defining season for Brett Myers is quite the understatement. The right-hander, drafted by the Phillies and seasoned to be an ace, has fallen somewhat short of those expectations, defined more by his personality and off-the-field moments than his pitching prowess.

For a time, that prowess was completely gone. Than it almost magically returned — all it took was a month and a couple minor-league starts. Seriously, that was it?

Why is Myers so mysterious?

“I knew it would come down to who would make the first mistake and unfortunately I made it.”

“You can write I stink if you want. I feel like that was my best pitch to get Cliff (Floyd) out right there. He didn’t swing at it and it got past Carlos (Ruiz). … Nine times out of 10 Carlos blocks that ball.”

“I can’t put together back-to-back good starts and I don’t know what the problem is. That’s frustrating. I don’t know. I made some good pitches they hit, I made some bad pitches they crushed. I don’t know.”

“I got no excuses. I flat-out stunk. It’s frustrating. I feel I’m not myself. I feel I lost that Rottweiler aggression. I’m pitching like a scared dog. I’m sorry the fans had to watch that. It was terrible.”

The weird thing? Most of those quotes are from before 2008.

Brett Myers has always played head games with himself. He’ll question his pitches, shake off his pitches, think about his pitches, then get frustrated, then rear back and fire. When he reared back and fired in 2008, he got crushed. Crushed hard.

Before his demotion, Myers barely threw his best pitch: the curveball. According to the Hardball Times, he threw the curve 13.3 percent of the time to right-handed hitters and 21.2 percent of the time to lefties. After his demotion? 23.3 percent of the time against righties and 32.5 percent of the time against lefties.

What did he stop throwing? His slider, which is barely a slider and moves more like a horizontally-tailed fastball. Clocking it at under 90 miles per hour, it’s a hittable meatball. When Myers was most successful he was primarily tossing the fastball and curveball, throwing in sporatic sliders, sinkers, changeups and cutters to mess with hitters.

Most of all, Myers positioned his fastball to the outside corner against right-handed hitters, while keeping the curve to the outisde zone against lefties. As we know, hitters’ timing is affected greatly when battling against outside pitches.

Interestingly, reports from spring training indicate Myers is throwing his cutter a lot. That pitch is practically his slider.

If Myers wants to be successful in 2009, he’ll figure out the effectiveness of his slider and cutter quickly. If they don’t work, he must banish them and stick to a fastball-curveball-changeup repertoire. If they are working, however, look the heck out.

Basically, Myers is capable of two possible lines (completely guessing) in 2009:

Best: 20-7 / 3.04 ERA / 232 K / 61 BB
Worst: 8-13 / 5.32 ERA / 119 K / 92 BB

The difference between those lines is his critical thinking. Ironically, that’s what gets him in a mess. Bottom line? How Myers pitches in 2009 will determine the remainder of his baseball career.


PN 2009 Season Preview: Tweet Me

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Mon, March 30, 2009 09:45 AM Comments: 0

Want to get some answers about the 2009 Phillies?

Check out our Twitter page and ask me a question. I’ll be on all day answering as part of our 2009 Season Preview.


PN 2009 Season Preview: Introduction

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Mon, March 30, 2009 06:00 AM Comments: 3

Welcome to the Phillies Nation 2009 Season Preview.

Today we open the preview, but first, an introduction as to what’s coming:


Follow us all day at Twitter and e-mail me at tim@philliesnation.com.

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