Regular Season Record: 85-77,
2nd in the NL East, 12 games behind the New York Mets
Home Ballpark: Citizens Bank Park
3B Wes Helms (two-year contract)
SP Adam Eaton (three-year contract)
C Rod Barajas (one-year contract)
OF Jayson Werth (one-year contract)
SP Freddy Garcia (acquired in trade)
OF Lou Collier (Minor League deal)
2B Brent Abernathy (Minor League deal)
C Ryan Buddle (Rule 5 draft)
OF Javon Moran (acquired in trade)
3B Brad Key (acquired in trade)
3B Greg Dobbs (claimed off waivers)
RP Antonio Alfonseca (one-year contract)
OF Karim Garcia (Minor League deal)
Looking for Greener Pastures Elsewhere
SP Gavin Floyd (traded to White Sox)
SP Gio Gonzalez (traded to White Sox)
1B Jeff Conine (traded to Reds)
C Mike Lieberthal (free agency)
SP Randy Wolf (free agency)
RP Aaron Fultz (free agency)
OF David Dellucci (free agency)
RP Rick White (free agency)
The Skinny: The Phillies through the Abreu years have typically been above average teams with talent, but have not quite been able to ascend to the next level to get into the playoffs. In 2006 the Phillies, led by Ryan Howard, made a valiant effort chasing down the Wild Card after dealing star rightfielder Bobby Abreu, but ultimately came up short. Heading into 2007, the lack of a true starting rightfielder could cause some regression from last year’s offense, so the Phillies will be relying on improved depth in the starting rotation to push them forward.
Strengths: The Phillies are a team that can score a lot of runs. There’s some serious power in this line-up. Howard has as much power as anyone on the planet, but he’s not carrying the team in this department. Utley, Burrell, and Rollins all hold their own with home run totals in the 25+ range, and Rowand, Barajas/Ruiz/Coste, and Helms should be comfortably in the double digits. In addition to hitting the ball hard, the Phillies are a patient team that draws a lot of walks, helping them get on base at a very good rate. There will be some regression in this area, as the potential rightfielders aren’t in the same class as what Abreu/Dellucci gave them. On the other hand, Wes Helms should be an offensive upgrade over the feeble production they got at third last year. Overall I don’t expect them to be quite as potent offensively in 2007, but will still be very good.
The starting rotation also looks pretty strong to me, particularly in terms of depth. There’s no true ace, but there’s a couple guys in Myers and Hamels who are close, with upside potential. With Garcia, Moyer, Eaton, and Lieber, the Phillies have six respectable starters, giving them a little insurance or an arm to fill a hole. The numbers may look a little high due to their home ballpark, but they should nonetheless be able to rank up far more quality innings this year. It’s not really a high-profile rotation, but the Phillies may very well have the top rotation in their division.
Weaknesses: The bullpen on this team is questionable. Gordon, while still effective, is nearing 40 with concerns about his shoulder, making him a regression risk. Geoff Geary’s been pretty reliable, but there are question marks after that. Arthur Rhodes is no longer the pitcher he once was, and it’s been a few years since Alfonseca’s done anything of worth. That said, it’s not a problem without solutions. With the overhauled rotation, Ryan Madson will be able to return to the pen, where he’s had more success, and there’s the possibility of using one of the potential starters out of the bullpen. It won’t be a terrible bullpen when it works itself out, but the lack of a true relief ace will cause Phillies fans a few headaches.
And speaking of headaches, the other weakness this team has is their strikeouts. This, however, is likely to be more of a perceived weakness as opposed to something that will cause them real problems. While a player like Pat Burrell’s strikeouts can be maddening to watch, it’s worth noting that the Phillies grounded into very few double plays last year, despite being second in the league in on-base percentage. Given the power in this line-up, the strikeouts really aren’t an issue, even if they’re plentiful.
SS Jimmy Rollins
RF Shane Victorino
2B Chase Utley
1B Ryan Howard
LF Pat Burrell
CF Aaron Rowand
3B Wes Helms
Keys to Success: The first key to success will be that the bullpen has to perform. The offense and rotation should hand them quite a few leads, so it’s important that they’re able to close out those leads. It’s been lack of consistency, rather than lack of talent, that’s kept the Phillies from making the step to the next level in recent years, and decent bullpen performances would be one way to improve on that. Beyond that, the biggest key to success will be how well the Phillies make use of their starting pitching depth. Do they use the odd man out to boost the bullpen and provide insurance, or do they deal someone like Lieber for an outfield bat and/or relief help? The team looks fairly set going in to the season, but is a good candidate for significant midseason adjustments.
Prediction: Though not as strong as the Mets, the Phillies will close the gap substantially, ending up in the 90 win range and about 5 games back. There will be a much bigger fight for the NL East division this year, with the Phillies coming out in second place again this year. They will be right in the thick of the wildcard race, however, and are my pick for winner of that race.