It's a perennial question at this time of year, as predictable as the daffodils that begin to pop up through a late March snowfall. Will the Phillies finally make it to the post-season after thirteen consecutive years of failure?
Despite the presence of stars Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard and potential star Cole Hamels, the answer once again is likely to be No! The Phils simply have too many holes. The shame of it is they knew they had them before the end of last season but management failed to fill them.
Apart from the aforementioned players, the starting rotation is generally thought to be one of the league's finest. I remain skeptical. The staff consists of a putative ace who has never produced as expected, an ancient veteran who has yet to make a complete tour of his new league, a young phenom who has all the tools but not the experience, a mid-career horse whose bread-and-butter pitch deserted him at the end of last season, another mid-career hurler who has spent more time on the sidelines than the mound the last few years, and another aging veteran who is generally thought to be on his way out of town if someone useful can be had in exchange. Pardon me if I don't find that sextet awe-inspiring.
The problems on offense are certainly mitigated by the trio of infielders who can hit for average and power and score runs. The addition of Wes Helms at third base should represent an improvement on offense at that spot. Defensively, the infielders are not among the league's best with the exception of Rollins. Howard may be good but has much to prove with his glove. Utley gets to almost everything and is sure-handed, but has some problems still with the pivot and does not have the greatest arm. Helms is not a good fielder.
The outfield also fails to inspire much confidence with Pat Burrell hoping for yet another resurrection, Aaron Rowand hoping to stay healthy enough to contribute and Shane Victorino hoping to continue his development. There isn't a front-line player among them.
Catching is in the hands of a good veteran receiver of little offensive merit and a youngster who needs to prove he can hit big league pitching consistently and inspire confidence in the guys throwing to him.
The bench offers the usual assortment of guys looking to revive their careers or simply sustain them.
The spring training numbers have been awful but no one really takes those too seriously. The negative correlation between great grapefruit stats and the regular season is well documented. The trouble with the Phillies is that they never addressed their deficiencies between October and February. More than a few blog commenters have wondered if Pat Gillick has another move up his sleeve -- a March surprise if you will. Maybe Gillick is a better poker player than previously thought, but I doubt it. He began setting the stage to improve his club at the trade deadline last year when he rid himself of some salary obligations and he furthered filled the coffers with savings from players he chose not to re-sign. But he didn't spend a lot of the proceeds and savings on the help he still needs, especially in the bullpen, and now he appears to have little choice but to play the hand that was dealt him.