Tuesday, February 16, 2010

As Spring Begins, So Will the Questions

Going into spring training, the Phillies have plenty going for them. Back to back World Series appearances, three straight division titles, an outfield full of all stars, a former Cy Young Award winner at the top of the pitching rotation, a former World Series MVP also in the rotation, three different Gold Glove award winners in the field and two different National League MVP award winners. Even with all that, the team still has some questions. Ahead, PhoulBallz will review some topics that phans and team pholks might be concerned with going into the pre-season.

"Who will the Phillies' 5th starter be?" Firstly, even though team General Manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has publicly stated that the last spot in the starting rotation belongs to Jamie Moyer until he loses it, many folks around baseball are still wondering about the rotation. Moyer is recovering from off-season surgeries and runs a risk of not being ready to go by opening day. Kyle Kendrick is the likely option to fill any voids left in the rotation due to injury. In 9 outings with the Phillies last year (2 of which were starts), Kendrick earned 3 wins and had a 3.42 ERA. Antonio Bastardo could be another option to step in and start for the Phils, as Bastardo started 5 games for the team last year, even though he appeared exclusively in relief during time spent playing winter ball in the Dominican league.

Unfortunately, the doubt at the back end of the rotation could have a heavy impact on the top spot in the rotation. The typically annual point that the team won't need their 5th starter until multiple weeks into the season, because of the way early April days off are scheduled, may not apply with Colbert Hamels as the 2nd guy in the team's rotation (figuring that Roy Halladay is #1). The Phillies open the season in Washington on Monday, April 5th with a day off the next day (as the built-in rain date for opening day). Hamels would then start Wednesday the 7th and his second turn, if the Phils were attempting to start the season with 4 starters, would come on Sunday, April 11th at Houston. That would only allow Hamels 3 days rest. Hamels has always been a creature of habit who openly discusses his desire to stick to his own routine. Hamels likes 4 days rest, and because of that, the Phillies will require their 5th starter to be ready on Sunday, April 11th, six days into the season. Can the extra six days allow enough time for Moyer to be ready? Perhaps. And if not, Kendrick or Bastardo are likely alternatives. Or, everything I've just ran through could be forgotten about if Hamels is made the opening day starter. Then, if Halladay and Joe Blanton can pitch on three days rest on their second turn, and if "Jay" Happ can handle three days rest on his third turn, then a 5th starter wouldn't be needed until Saturday, April 24th.

So, I suppose, you've heard it here first...an answer to a question that no one expected to ask. "Who will be the Phillies' opening day starter?" Jamie Moyer's status and/or the team's confidence in whoever the 5th starter might be could result in everyone's expected #1 pitcher Roy Halladay actually starting the second game of the season for the Phillies.


"How will the new relievers perform and how will each reliever's role be defined?" New relief pitcher Danys Baez has a history with Phils manager Charlie Manuel. Baez came up in the Indians' system while Manuel was the manager there. Another new addition, Jose Contreras, was facing the Phillies in the post season last year with Colorado. Those two men look to fill the spots vacated by Scott Eyre and Chan Ho Park, who were both solid contributors in relief last season. Baez, who has 114 career Major League saves, could potentially be an emergency closer, if the Phillies are faced with any Brad Lidge health setbacks or if Lidge's performances as the team's closer do not improve over what his output was in 2009. If that is not the case, Baez will probably be a middle-to-late inning reliever who is able to throw multiple innings when needed, much the way Chad Durbin does at times. Contreras could possibly do the same. With JC Romero doubtful to be ready for the start of the season, some doubt lies in who could be a lefty specialist. Mike Zagurski, Segio Escalona and Scott Mathieson are top candidates to be left handers used out of the Phillies' bullpen this year. It would be nice if everyone knew the role he'd have or the type of duties he would be responsible for, but, as many fans know, the beauty of baseball is that a six-month season never goes exactly as everyone planned anyway and, as such, there's nothing wrong with some mystery at the early stages, Agatha Christie...and don't be afraid to switch things up, RuPaul.


"Will a month of spring training be enough time for Placido Polanco to adjust to the positional switch?" Polanco a 2009 Gold Glove Award winning second baseman for the Tigers, has played plenty of games at third base in his career, but only 1 with Detroit since he left the Phillies in 2005. However, Polanco signed with the Phillies in December to be their everyday third baseman. Don't forget that one of the reasons Polanco left Philadelphia was because he didn't much wish to play third base. So, with the concern over how Polanco will transition, it should certainly not be difficult for him and I can think of 18 million reasons, that the Phillies are committed to pay Polanco, why.


"Can Brad Lidge and Cole Hamels recover from very down seasons in 2009?" Endless speculation has been surrounding these two pitchers. Lidge went from going 2-0 with 41 saves, 0 blown saves and a 1.95 ERA in '08...to going 0-8, with 31 saves, 11 blown saves and a 7.21 ERA in '09. Hamels had a 14-10 win-loss record and a 3.09 ERA in 2008, as well as a 1.80 ERA in 6 post-season outings...then had a 10-11 record with a 4.32 ERA in 2009 with a 7.58 ERA in 4 playoff games.

The experts say Hamels will snap back to the ace level talent that phans saw in the team's World Championship 2008 season, but nobody is convinced which Brad Lidge to expect. Lidge himself assures the media that he knows his body and that he feels as though his off-season medical procedures (there were 3 of them) are just what he needed to get back to what Philadelphia wants from him. Simply put, Lidge and Hamels were two of the major reasons that the Phillies won it all in 2008...and they were two of the major reasons that the Phillies came up shorter than Bud Bundy in 2009. Their '09 shortcomings are enough to know that an answer to a question about these stars will be the most telling of the season for our Phillies.

Stay tuned to spring training and the 2010 Phillies season for answers to all these questions and more. Until next time, this has been PhoulBallz, brought to you by The Shore Sports Network.


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