Expectations for the Phillies are low this season. I get it. I expect them to finish last and lose 101 games myself, but I’m still excited for the season.
Opening day is my favorite day of the year, any and every year, and no other day is really a close second. So I’m ready for some Phillies baseball – and some Major League Baseball, in general – even though I know it’ll get painful at times.
Anyone who follows them can tell you why the Phillies are going to be bad this year, and it’s not a short list either. But here are some things I’m feeling positive about.
- The Bullpen – This truly could be a team strength and one of the better ‘pens in the game. Look around the NL East and if Jonathan Papelbon’s improved velocity this spring is for real, he’s probably the best closer in the division with Craig Kimbrel having been traded to San Diego. I wish Ken Giles, Jake Diekman and Justin DeFratus had had better springs but they still represent a promising future for the bullpen beyond Papelbon, who I expect to move on before Memorial Day. And the depth is nice too. Luis Garcia may finally have figured things out and harnessed his considerable talent. Jeanmar Gomez is a useful workhorse. And as for Cesar Jiminez, I’ve said this about him often – all he does is get people out. The Phillies finally may have noticed and accepted that it’s for real.
- Cody Asche – Look, advanced metrics adherents – and there’s no sneer in my voice when I say that, they point out and illuminate a lot that is useful and instructive – will tell you Cody is not much more than a replacement player. Perhaps so. But he’s one of my favorite Phillies to watch and not just because when he’s at the plate he kind of looks like the second coming of Chase Utley. But speaking of Utley, when he was a young player, did you hear people around the game calling him the next great 2nd baseman or a future star? I sure didn’t. He flew under the radar – it happens, especially outside New York and Los Angeles. I look for Asche to blossom into a 20-homer, 75-rbi player and I still think his defense is better than his critics say.
- David Buchanan – I thought he looked like a pitcher last year, a guy who knew what he was doing and wasn’t afraid to be out there despite an ordinary repertoire. He followed up a solid rookie season with an excellent spring. I think Buchanan is going to prove to be a solid cost-controlled major league pitcher. That’s a good thing.
- Darin Ruf – I am going to hope against hope that the Phillies find 400 or so at-bats for a guy who has 20 homers and an .805 OPS in 447 major league at-bats. Looking at their offense, why wouldn’t they?
- Odubel Herrera – I’m not the least bit surprised he’ll be starting, and I won’t be surprised if he’s still starting at the end of the season. Problem is, with his superior on-base skills and better throwing arm, he makes Ben Revere, one of the most likable guys on the team, redundant. I hope the Phillies can make a decent trade for Revere and he can go somewhere where the things he does well could make a positive difference. And I look for Herrera to be a solid rally-starter at the top of the batting order.
- The starting rotation at Reading – All Phillies fans should make a point to see double-A Reading play at some point this season. They have a five-man rotation made up entirely of legitimate major league prospects and that’s a very rare thing. Aaron Nola, Ben Lively, Jesse Biddle, Zack Eflin and Tom Windle. They, along with Joely Rodriquez and Severino Gonzalez at triple-A Lehigh Valley, promise some better days ahead. And it’s refreshing to have so few of the starting-rotation slots at the upper levels of the minors NOT filled by retreads like Sean O’Sullivan and David Bush.
- Mikael Franco – I’m going to cross my fingers and hope that sometime in May, Franco is ready for a full-time call-up to Philadelphia, ready to hit major league pitching as well as he plays third base. While I’m at it, I’ll hope just as hard that some American League team decides to take Ryan Howard off our hands so at some point this season we can have Franco, Asche and Ruf all in the everyday lineup. That’s not because I’m sure they’re going to be stars but because the best possible use of a season like this is to see what they each can do over an extended stretch of playing time.
- Cole Hamels – Remember in the late ‘90s when the Phillies were a different team, a truly competitive major league team, any time Curt Schilling took the mound? That’ll still be the case any time Hamels starts a game too, for however much longer he’s here. And when he leaves, let’s be classy and thank the 2008 World Series MVP for all he did while he was here. Great player and person.
And now, my predicted standings for Major League Baseball, 2015:
- Toronto Blue Jays
- Baltimore Orioles *
- Boston Red Sox
- New York Yankees
- Tampa Bay Rays
- Chicago White Sox
- Kansas City Royals
- Detroit Tigers
- Cleveland Indians
- Minnesota Twins
- Los Angeles Angels
- Seattle Mariners *
- Oakland A’s
- Houston Astros
- Texas Rangers
- Washington Nationals
- Miami Marlins*
- New York Mets
- Atlanta Braves
- Philadelphia Phillies (61-101)
- Louis Cardinals
- Pittsburgh Pirates
- Chicago Cubs
- Cincinnati Reds
- Milwaukee Brewers
- Los Angeles Dodgers
- San Diego Padres*
- San Francisco Giants
- Colorado Rockies
- Arizona Diamondbacks
An * denotes a wildcard winner.
Wildcard round: Seattle over Baltimore, Miami over San Diego
Division Series: Toronto over Seattle in 5, Chicago over Los Angeles Angels in 5; Washington over Miami in 3, Los Angeles Dodgers over St. Louis in 4
League Championship Series: Toronto over Chicago in 7, Washington over Los Angeles in 5
World Series: Washington over Toronto in 6