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Written by Jonathan Leshanski (Contact & Archive) on February 10, 2003
21.5 Games Back
Home: Veterans Stadium
The Phillies are gearing up for a new ballpark in 2004. In preparation, the team from the city of brotherly love has opened the coffers and made some major changes to make their team better. The long term plans may be for next season, but the dividends could start coming early. Certainly, the Phillies have to be considered contenders for the NL East title in 2003.
The biggest offensive deal of the season was that of the Phils signing of All Star first baseman Jim Thome. Thome provides another power bat to go along with those wielded by Pat Burrell, and Bobby Abreu. Thome probably won’t come anywhere near his power numbers of 2001 and 2002, since Jacobs field is a much more hitter friendly park than the Vet. Still, the Phils will be delighted with 35 in his first season in the NL - especially if they win some games.
In addition to the signing of Thome, the Phillies also addressed the hole left at third base by the trade of Scott Rolen last season. They have brought in David Bell, who should contribute 15-20 home runs, and drive in some runs. Between Bell and Thome, the Phillies have much more offensive punch than they’ve had in recent years.
Another major step up for the Phils is the promotion of Marlon Byrd to the starting center fielder position. Considering how poorly Doug Glanville played in his last two seasons here, anything that Byrd does will be a plus.
The Phils are also going to benefit from an addition by subtraction. The loss of Marlon Anderson won’t hurt the Phillies at all, since he can easily be replaced by the slick fielding Placido Polanco. Polanco won’t walk a lot, but he’ll make a good table setter.
The Phillies rotation is probably the best it has been in 50 plus years. Its got some question marks, and plenty of guys could fold under the pressure. If things follow the path of last season, however, it could be the best overall in the National League.
The Phillies were guilty of grand larceny when they last negotiated with Braves GM John Schuerholz. Phillies GM Ed Wade walked away with Kevin Millwood for a backup catcher who was not even on the Phillies’ major league roster. What they got was a 18 game winner who dominated last season, and will now get to try the role of staff ace.
Joining Millwood in the rotation was last year’s stunning, out-of-nowhere pitcher Vincente Padilla, as well as Randy Wolf, and highly touted rookie Brett Myers. Closing the rotation will be Brandon Duckworth who had an atrocious sophomore season.
The biggest question for the season is the ability of the bullpen to hold leads once the starter has managed to get one. The Phils’ pen was not particularly good last season, and it doesn’t look that much better this time around. Some keys for the Phils here are the health of Turk Wendell, their hopes that Josh Hancock turns into a serious pitcher, and the questions concerning whether Jose Mesa can blow fewer saves than last season. Despite the concerns, assuming Turk and Mesa manage their end, the Phils should be in good shape.
What to expect:
It’s a toss up. The Phillies, Braves and even the Mets could win this division. Both the Mets and Phillies sport better rotations than they have in many years. Toss in Atlanta’s new and unpredictable rotation and you have the makings of what could be a great pennant race. Each of the teams has a huge potential, and each is loaded with questions and guys ready to stumble. All considered, I’d give the edge to the Phillies. Less than 92 wins should be considered a disappointment for this team.