Here comes episode 1 of the RR previews I've discussed. Actually, this is more of a pilot. I envisioned this series starting next week, but having this guinea pig out there now will allow us to figure out what we do and don't want in the previews. Thanks to those that have volunteered to do team write-ups. I'll post the current schedule in the first comment.
So here it goes.
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The 2006 Phillies. 85-77. Start slow, finish hot, narrowly miss the playoffs - the song remained the same for last year's Phillies. The variation to the 2006 team was the white flag trade at the deadline, with Pat Gillick giving away Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle to the Yankees to clear salary. The surrender was premature. The Phillies got hot down the stretch, winning 18 games in both August and September and finished three games off the wild card. Ryan Howard's MVP award represents a view held by many that his hot bat carried the team, but the resurgence of the starting rotation was even more critical to the playoff run. Cole Hamels recovered from a rough beginning to grow into an elite starter; Brett Myers regained his focus in time to pitch a great September; the trade for Jamie Moyer gave them an above-average starter for the final six weeks; and Jon Lieber woke up. But like 2005, when they finished one game behind Houston, the late charge left them just short of the playoffs.
A poorly played series against the Reds in August didn't help. The Phillies dropped two of the three, managing to lose one game even after Narron spotted them five runs by starting a clearly broken-down Lizard, who had pitched in relief (albeit briefly) the night before.
2007. I like their playoff chances this year, though I've said this four years running now. Most Phans aren't as optimistic, which leads me to believe that "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" might not be a sincerely titled sitcom. The good news starts with a starting rotation that doesn't have any glaring weaknesses. Myers, Hamels, Moyer, Lieber, and newcomers Freddy Garcia and Adam Eaton form six-deep rotation, though Gillick may trade one of them. Myers, Garcia (who should benefit from a league change) and Moyer are all solid, but look out for Hamels. If he pitches a full season like he did post-ASB, he'll contend for the Cy Young. The bullpen, as it is more most teams, is a question. Tom Gordon is effective but old and needs to duplicate a solid 2006. Ryan Madson failed as a starter last year but was a fine set-up man before and will step back into that role. Geoff Geary is decent. The pickings are slim after that.
Offensively, the Phillies have a tremendous IF, an average-at-best OF, and a poor bench. Howard and Utley are stars, and Jimmy Rollins is a very good SS - okay at getting on base, hits for some power and steals well (277/334/478, 36 SB/4 CS last year). Rollins and Utley are underrated defensively, IMO. Wes Helms takes over at 3B, and the good news is that he's not Abraham Nunez (211/303/273 in 322 ABs last year). They'll suffer downgrade at catcher, losing Mike Lieberthal and unlikely to see a repeat performance (328/376/505 in 198 ABs) from last year's 33 year-old rookie Chris Coste. Rod Barajas (240/282/410) is the presumptive starter this year. Nunez and ST standout Greg Dobbs figure to serve as backup IFs.
The quantity and quality in the OF is what could break this team. If Adam Dunn is Exhibit A in the strikeout debate, LF Pat Burrell is Exhibit B (and gets a lot of abuse for it). But he's the least of the problems. CF Aaron Rowand is a great defender and hits just well enough, but he is a perpetual injury risk due to his style of play. After breaking his nose diving into the CF wall in making a tremendous catch, he went to the DL and wasn't the same player afterwards. I like RF Shane Victorino, a portly but swift Hawaiian. He hit 287/346/414 last year in his first as a starter, which they can live with if he doesn't regress. It will be a big problem if Victorino or Rowand goes down. With David Dellucci and Conine gone, the reserve OFs are Jayson Werth and Karim Garcia. Werth is a flier - supposedly athletic but coming off of a wrist injury that kept him out all last year. At least he has upside. Garcia stinks and has spent the last two years in Japan. Seriously, I don't see why they're carrying a 31 year-old who's never been that good here and hit 249/302/412 last year - for the Orix Buffaloes.
Purchased from the O's in August, Jeff Conine hit an empty 280 (327/390 OBP/SLG) in 100 ABs. This is a hitter's park, so even a reserve OF should be better than that. His OPS+ (100 is average, adjusts for park, league and era) last year, including his time in Baltimore, was 87 (his worst in several years). He'll be 41 this year.
We shared some mediocre relievers with the Phillies last year. The Phillies started it by picking up Rick White off of waivers, who somehow pitched decently for the Phils (37.3 IPs, 4.34 ERA). In July, we acquired Rheal Cormier from the Phillies for pitching prospect Justin Germano. Cormier pitched well for the Phillies - 34 IPs, 1.59 ERA - and not so good for us in limited time - 14 IPs, 4.50 ERA. He'll be 40 this April. We also picked up Ryan Franklin from the Phillies in August, if you recall. Franklin gave us 24.3 innings of 4.44 ERA. You know, I had originally written "crappy" instead of "mediocre" in the first sentence, but I guess these guys weren't quite as bad as I remembered.
It's been a couple of years now, but Eric Milton came here from Philadelphia after the 2004 season. He pitched one year with the Phillies, going 14 and 6 in 201 innings. His shiny record masked a 4.75 ERA and 43 home runs allowed - the most in the NL (a title he'd successfully defend in 2005). Thanks, DOB!
Bill Hall All-Stars: Ryan Howard (surprise) - 16 games at 367/456/857, with 6 HRs, 12 runs and 11 RBIs. Wes Helms - 366/440/593 in 168 PAs, with 7 HRs and 29 RBIs.
Tomo Ohka All-Stars: none
Our two series with the Phils are in April (20th - 22nd at home) and June (26th - 28th in Philly). The stadium is a lot fun - great food, Yuengling, and a good atmosphere not unlike Camden Yards. If you can go, go.
Finally, I thought I'd mention two years in which the Reds or a Red played a prominent role in the Phillies' season:
The Collapse of 1964. The Phillies woke up on September 21 with a 6 1/2 game lead over the Reds and two weeks to play. That night they lost to the Reds 1-0 when Chico Ruiz surprisingly stole home - with Frank Robinson at the plate. They dropped the next two games to the Reds as well, and then dropped four straight to the Braves, and then another three to the Cardinals. That was the season. They swept the Reds in a season-finale two-game series, but that only prevented the Reds from taking the pennant. The Cardinals finished one game up and beat the Yankees in the World Series. The writers and old timers still talk about this, and a few fans haunted by history have groaned about 1964 when I've told them I'm a Reds fan.
1980 - the Championship. The Reds did not play a prominent role in the Phillies only championship season (this is why their fans are so damn pessimistic), but it's worth noting how much Pete Rose means to the collective memory of that team. He joined the Phillies in 1979 at age 38, past his prime but still useful. The Phillies were considered a good team that had yet to get over the hump that separates the good from the great clubs. In 1980, everything clicked. Much of that year's success is attributed to the leadership of Rose. Even if you don't buy that, his diving catch of a dropped popup by Bob Boone (unfortunately, Pete was not available to fix Boone's mistakes from 2001 to 2003) during the clinching game six of the World Series is Philadelphia lore.
That championship occurred in the middle of Philadelphia's golden age of professional sports, bookended by the Flyers' Broad Street Bullies of the `70s and the Sixers' championship in 1983. No Philadelphia pro team has won it all since. If you want to read about one of the more interesting curses, go here.