Still Only January
Parochial vision is rarely 20-20, so it isn’t surprising Phillies fans are fretting about the holes and weaknesses, perceived and real, on the current roster without regard to the other guys’ problems. The reality is every team, especially in their division, has problems, too. The Mets’ starting pitching is questionable; the Marlins’ bullpen is suspect and much of their roster will be entering its sophomore year together; the Braves are a shadow of their former selves though they will score some runs; and the Nationals are, charitably, a huge mess.
Relativism being what it is, however, there is little consolation in considering the other guys’ plight. There is even less to be had trusting to luck, especially late in a game, where the Phillies bullpen is thin and one right shoulder from being much thinner. The Phils may yet make a move before April, with Jon Lieber or another starter rumored to be the bait, but the 40-man roster appears to be set with the 25-man squad still to be sorted out.
Offensively, the Phils will score runs even if the core of their lineup cannot match last year’s numbers. Chase Utley is now a proven hitter. So is Jimmy Rollins. It’s hard to believe, but Ryan Howard is still learning and, more important, adjusting. No matter how many home runs he hits this season, the youngster’s ability to hit for power and average is his most astonishing asset. If he cuts down even 10-15% on his strikeouts, he will raise his batting average. People tend to forget he led the Phillies in average last season.
If anything, George S.’s infamous “black hole” should see more light this coming season provided the Phils get some offense out of the catching position, which means Carlos Ruiz must see considerable playing time. Management acknowledges he is a better hitter than Rod Barajas; it’s his defense they worry about, specifically his throwing. Right now it looks like Wes Helms, Aaron Rowand and the catcher will man the 6, 7, and 8 spots. If Ruiz is in the lineup, Rowand’s bat remains the most suspect of the trio, his in-and-out looping swing guaranteed to hit the ball softly to the right side more often than not.
Defensively, the Phils are as good if not better than last season even with Wes Helms at third. Rowand is a good, not great centerfielder, and Victorino will be stellar in right, an improvement over Bobby Abreu in every respect. With Pat Burrell is left, the Phils’ corner outfielders have two of the best arms in the league. Erik Grissom, author of the estimable Philliesflow, believes Ryan Howard’s defense is something of a liability, but both he and Howard will come around this season. Chase Utley gets to everything, has a fair arm, still struggles a bit with the pivot, but overall is a solid second baseman. J-Roll is one of the best.
The starting rotation has a decidedly new look with Freddy Garcia and Adam Eaton joining the staff and Jamie Moyer beginning his first full season as elder statesman. The other day I noticed Peter Gammons wrote a piece regarding predicting the future in which he cautioned against the pitfalls of such prognostications, especially during the Hot Stove League, observing that, “Any of us can sit here with the winds howling off Buzzards Bay during the 12 days of Christmas and predict that, say, the Phillies will play the Indians in the World Series with an opening matchup of Cole Hamels and Jeremy Sowers.”
Notice he said Hamels, not Myers or Garcia. Ah, yes, but let us also note it is still only January and right on cue, the winds are indeed howling in