Phillies 2014: What to expect
Maya Hughes | 3/30/2014, 11:58 p.m.
The 2007-11 period was arguably the greatest five-year stretch in Philadelphia Phillies franchise history, but since then they've seen their win total drop from 102 to 81 to 73. Last year's squad finished in fourth place and was out of the race by July. Long-time manager Charlie Manuel was replaced by rookie skipper Ryne Sandberg, who had the interim tag removed over the winter and is entering his first full year at the helm. This year's roster is designed to win now, but lacks talent for the future.
Offense: The core group of the Phillies are back, but if Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins can’t turn things around after disappointing years, it's going to be another season of relying on second baseman Chase Utley and young outfielder Domonic Brown to carry a lackluster offense. Utley was once again very good in 2013 while Brown dominated in spurts in his first full season. Still, the Phillies finished 27th in runs scored as their power and plate discipline numbers fell off. If Howard and Rollins are not going to contribute more, it's tough to see much improvement on that ranking. The Phillies also signed right fielder Marlon Byrd during the offseason to help the Phillies with its outfield woes.
There are a few interesting younger pieces that are ready to contribute in 2014. Fan favorite Cody Asche will be the starting third baseman after tearing up Triple-A last season, with top prospect Maikel Franco hot on his heels. Slick fielding middle infielder Freddy Galvis continues to impress the Phillies, as he showed last year he has the chops to handle shortstop when needed.
Behind the plate, Carlos Ruiz signed a team-friendly extension after a subpar 2013 season. He missed the first 25 games of the season after testing positive for Adderall and took a while to get going afterward. Wil Nieves will be the primary backup, but 25 year old Cameron Rupp looks to be the backstop of the future in Philadelphia.
Rotation: The Phillies still boast one of the best 1-2 punches in baseball in aces Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee. Hamels likely will not be ready for the start of the season due to a biceps injury. The Phillies solidified the middle of their rotation by signing A.J. Burnett to a one-year deal. The signing allows right-hander Kyle Kendrick to slide into the fourth spot, provided he's able to fully return from the shoulder problem that ended his 2013 season a few weeks early.
The effects of the Burnett signing trickle down to the back end of the rotation, creating a competition for the fifth rotation slot. Cuban pitcher Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez will compete with Roberto Hernandez and (possibly) Jonathan Pettibone. Gonzalez arguably has the highest ceiling of the three, though some scouts see him as nothing more than a solid bullpen arm.
Regardless of who starts, the Phillies will be expecting a lot of their rotation. Their bullpen allowed the second-highest ERA in the National League last season and were in the bottom third of the league in save percentage. Closer Jonathan Papelbon was a major culprit, blowing seven saves in 36 chances. He struck out less than a batter per inning for the first time in his career in 2013.