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Philadelphia Phillies 2005 Preview

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Philadelphia Phillies 2005 Preview

Postby WebHamster » Thu Mar 24, 2005 8:00 pm

By Matt Canamucio, MLB Analyst (Sports Network)

2004 FINISH (86-76) - Second Place (NL East)

KEY OFFSEASON ADDITIONS: RP - Terry Adams, SP - Jon Lieber, OF - Kenny Lofton, INF - Jose Offerman

KEY OFFSEASON SUBTRACTIONS: OF - Doug Glanville, RP - Roberto Hernandez, RP - Todd Jones, SP - Kevin Millwood, SP - Eric Milton, RP - Felix Rodriguez

PROJECTED LINEUP: Jimmy Rollins (SS), Kenny Lofton (CF), Bobby Abreu (RF), Jim Thome (1B), Pat Burrell (LF), Chase Utley (2B), Mike Lieberthal (C), David Bell (3B)

PROJECTED ROTATION: Jon Lieber (RHP), Randy Wolf (LHP), Vicente Padilla (RHP), Cory Lidle (RHP), Brett Myers (RHP)

PROJECTED CLOSER: Billy Wagner (LHP)

MANAGER: Charlie Manuel

OVERVIEW

After making big offseason splashes for consecutive years, the Philadelphia Phillies opted for less notable acquisitions from a player standpoint this winter. However the managerial switch from the high octane Larry Bowa to the more relaxed Charlie Manuel is what general manager Ed Wade is banking on to change the team's fortunes.

Two years ago, Jim Thome and Kevin Millwood were the prime additions, and last year closer Billy Wagner and lefty Eric Milton joined the fold as the Phils headed into sparkling new Citizens Bank Park. But both seasons saw the team fall short of the postseason, ultimately leading to the dismissal of Bowa, whose fiery antics and managerial manner were often criticized from the time he took the job in 2001.

In stepped Manuel, who has served as a special assistant to the general manager for the last two years. The hope is that the former Indians skipper will bring a looser vibe to what was a tightly wound Phillies clubhouse. In addition, Manuel has a very close relationship with Thome, as they go back to the slugger's early days in the Cleveland minor league system. That could prove for smoother communications between the players and the manager's office, something that was an issue under Bowa.

As for the on-field movement this winter, the team said goodbye to both Millwood and Milton, and signed free agent righthander Jon Lieber, who is coming off a very solid season with the New York Yankees. Wade also re- acquired set-up man Terry Adams to bolster the bullpen.

Also addressed was the team's hole in centerfield, as the well-traveled Kenny Lofton made his way to South Philly at the age of 37.

Philadelphia's passive approach this offseason drew criticism in the City of Brotherly Love, as the team's NL East counterparts were busy bolstering their rosters. The Braves, who improved their rotation with the addition of Tim Hudson, are once again a given to be in contention for the division crown. But the Mets, who brought Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran into the mix, and Marlins, who added Carlos Delgado, have hopped over the Phils in the eyes of many.

The Phillies played in front of a packed park for most of their home games last year because of the allure of a new yard. However, the folks in Philly aren't likely to show up in droves this season unless the team puts a top- notch product on the field.

INFIELD

Thome battled through various injuries last season, but still batted .274 with 42 homers and 105 RBI despite being limited to 143 games. But after carrying the Phils down the stretch in '03, the 34-year-old hit only three homers in the month of September last year. The hope in is that Thome's nagging injuries were only an aberration and not a sign of things to come. Because if he's healthy, there's no reason why Thome, whose home games were being played at the new version of the "Launching Pad," won't finish in the NL's top five in homers. Of course, having a cornerstone like Thome in place at first base for the near future does create a dilemma in this case. Ryan Howard hit a combined 46 homers between Double-A and Triple-A last season, and conventional wisdom says he should be playing in the majors this season. The Phils could decide to trade the prospect down the line rather than waste him in the minors.

Chase Utley enters his first season as the full-time second baseman after impressing in stints with the team the past two seasons. Utley's fielding has improved in the last two years, and his bat is developing as expected. In 94 games last season he hit .266 with 13 home runs and 57 RBI. Utley has been sought after in trade talks with other teams, but Wade has held firm because of his tremendous upside.

Jimmy Rollins remains one of the NL's top defensive shortstops, but what he looks to build upon is a solid offensive season in 2004. Rollins had been criticized for his undisciplined style at the plate, but set career highs in hits (190), batting average (.289), on-base percentage (.348) and slugging percentage (.455), and tied his personal best for homers (14). He also struck out 40 times fewer than in 2003, and stole at 30 bases. As the lead-off man, look for the 26-year-old to improve on that last number, as Manuel has said he will give him a steady green light this season.

David Bell, who was signed by the Phillies the same offseason Thome joined the fold, bounced back from an injury-plagued 2003 season with a relatively solid follow-up. He hit .291 with 18 homers and 77 RBI, and played a very steady third base. But entering this season Bell has already had his chronic back problems return, and it's a big question as to whether or not he can contribute for a full season. If Bell does go on the shelf, the team has Placido Polanco as an insurance policy. Polanco, who signed a one-year contract, reluctantly returned despite being forced into a reserve role. Last year he his .298 with a career-high 17 homers while playing both second and third base.

Mike Lieberthal will extend his club record with a ninth opening day start for the Phils, but enters this season needing to bounce back in a serious way. The 33-year-old batted a horrid .142 with runners in scoring position, and hit .271 overall with 17 homers and 61 RBI. Last year was another tough one for Lieberthal behind the plate, as he had 74 runners steal on him and threw out only 20.

OUTFIELD

When leftfielder Pat Burrell struggled at the plate during the 2003 season there was cause for concern. When the same thing happened in '04 many wondered if his 37-homer, 116 RBI effort in 2002 is as good as it gets. Burrell didn't hit a horrid .209 like he did in '03, but last year's .257 average, 24 homers and 84 RBI aren't what the Phillies are paying all that money for. Burrell's production remains integral because his spot in the lineup will either be between Thome and All-Star Bobby Abreu, or protecting Thome in the fifth spot.

Marlon Byrd was supposed to be the Phillies' centerfielder of the future, but struggles last season earned him a demotion to Triple-A and a spot on the bench heading into this season. So Wade went out and acquired Lofton, who joins his sixth team in four years. While he is no longer the speedster he was when he stole 70 bases for the Indians in the early 90s, Lofton will provide some stability in the No. 2 spot and he still has decent range in center. And while he only stole seven bases in 83 games last year, he did managed 30 swipes in full-time work split between the Cubs and Pirates two seasons ago.

Abreu, who earned his first All-Star appearance in 2004, arrived at camp slim and trim, but the Phils hope he can repeat his latest showing. Abreu posted his second career 30-30 season with 30 homers and a career-high 40 stolen bases, and he hit over .300 (.301) for the sixth time in the last seven years. Abreu has sometimes been criticized for a relaxed attitude in the outfield, but finished among the league leaders with 13 assists from right.

STARTING ROTATION

The Phillies remained a team without an ace in 2004, as no member of the staff stepped up as the stopper the team so desperately needed at times. And despite some tinkering in the winter, that ace remains a big question mark.

Lieber will enter the season as the team's top starter after a very solid campaign with the Yankees last season. After missing all of '03 following Tommy John surgery on his right elbow and sitting out the first 23 games with a thigh injury, Lieber went 14-8 with a 4.33 ERA in 27 starts for the AL East champs. Lieber especially shined down the stretch, going 5-0 with a 3.12 ERA in his last six starts. The Phils hope to see glimpses of Lieber's last healthy season in the National League, 2001, when he went 20-6 for the Chicago Cubs.

After landing his first-ever All-Star berth in 2003, lefty Randy Wolf suffered through a miserable campaign last year. He seemed as if he was getting off on the right foot early on with a solid first 10 starts, but the rest of the season was forgettable. Wolf's ERA was a bloated 5.52 after returning from elbow tendinitis in June, and his season was shut down in late August due to the same ailment. Overall he finished 5-8 with a 4.28 ERA. And looking back at it, Wolf struggled after his All-Star appearance in July '03, so it has been some 21 months since he pitched his best baseball.

Like Wolf, Vicente Padilla struggled with injury problems last year, also battling elbow tendinitis. The 27-year-old righthander went 7-7 with a 4.53 ERA in 20 starts, and continued to show the inconsistency that has been there for much of his career. Already bothered by triceps tendinitis that will likely delay the start of his season, the Phils need him to regain the form that allowed him to post back-to-back 14-win/200 inning seasons in 2002 and 2003.

Brett Myers remains the enigma of the staff, and the team awaits the type of steady performance expected of a high first-round pick. After a solid 14-9, 4.43 ERA first full season in the "Bigs" in '03, an up-and-down 11-11 campaign followed. Myers' ERA was a hefty 5.52, which ranked second-to-worst among NL starters. The 24-year-old has a top-level fastball and curve, but has yet to bring everything together. Myers was known to knock heads with former pitching coach Joe Kerrigan over the past two years, so it should be interesting so see how the youngster fares under the guidance of new pitching coach Rich Dubee.

Cory Lidle was acquired from Cincinnati last August in a post-deadline trade, and was the Phils' best starter in the latter parts of the season. Lidle went 5-2 with a 3.90 ERA in 10 starts following the deal, and comes into this season with high expectations.

An X-factor this season could be prospect Gavin Floyd, who got a taste of the majors last season. Floyd, who has been often sought by other clubs in trade negotiations, went 2-0 with a 3.49 ERA in six games -- four starts -- following his call-up. If there is an injury or something of that sort in the rotation, like Padilla's, Floyd could get his chance for a longer period of time.

BULLPEN

Wagner's first season in Philadelphia was a forgettable one. After amazing those in the stands with his 100 mph. fastballs early on, two stints on the disabled list with shoulder problems summed up 2004. Wagner appeared in just 45 games last year, going 4-0 with a 21 saves. A healthy Wagner gives the Phillies one of baseball's premier closers, and allows Tim Worrell to revert back to the set-up role he is better suited for.

Worrell saved 19 games with Wagner on the shelf, but blew eight opportunities in the process. It marked the second straight season Worrell was forced into the closer's job, as he filled in for an injured Robb Nen with San Francisco in '03. Worrell finished 5-6 with a 3.68 ERA last season, but should be more effective as the right-handed side of the team's set-up duo. Rheal Cormier makes up the lefty side after shunning retirement for at least one more year.

Twenty-four-year-old righty Ryan Madson was the surprise of the club's pen last year, appearing in 52 games primarily in middle relief. The lanky youngster posted a 9-3 record and 2.34 ERA in '04 and will enter 2005 looking to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump and give the Phils stability in the middle innings.

BENCH

In addition to Polanco, the Phillies have the versatile Tomas Perez coming off the bench. Perez, a switch-hitter who hit only .216 last year, is more valuable for his glove as he can play all four infield positions if need be. The team also brought in veteran Jose Offerman, who was the AL's best pinch hitter and batted .256 for Minnesota last season, to provide infield depth. Jason Michaels will be the primary backup in the outfield, and Byrd still could make the team after a solid spring. Todd Pratt, who excels at handling the pitching staff when called upon, will be there to give Lieberthal a rest as needed.

OUTLOOK

Conventional wisdom says that the Phillies' window to win the NL East was only two years long and has now closed with the improvements made by the other clubs in the division. On the other side, if injuries can subside and the team can benefit from the fresh attitude created by a new manager, 2005 could be the year the Phillies put all the potential of the last two years together.
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