2014 NL East Preview And Predictions

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Feb 28, 2014; Clearwater, FL, USA; Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard (6) at bat during the spring training exhibition game against the Detroit Tigers at Bright House Field. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

3) Philadelphia Phillies: 78-88

The Phillies, like the Nationals, dealt with injuries in 2013. This team was old in 2013 and didn’t get any younger with the offseason additions of A.J. Burnett (37), Marlon Byrd (36) and Roberto Hernandez (33).

Experience and veteran leadership is fine. But this team has a lot of holes, maybes and what if’s to compete against the Braves and Nationals. They barely have enough to hold off the resurgence potential of the Mets and Marlins.

I expect that by July 20, if the Phils look to be out of the wild-card hunt, they will look to trade any or all of the following: Cliff Lee, Domonic Brown, Cole Hamels.

1 – Why will this team exceed expectations?

Spencer Bingol from That Ball’s Outta Here: If this team does exceed expectations, it will be because of the finally (mythical?) healthy roster. The much-maligned Ryan Howard will have to be a piece of that. What a lot of people don’t realize, through the last two years, he’s played hurt through every one of 151 games (ostensibly one full season). Injured, he still hit 25 HR, with a .752 OPS. Call me delusional, but I have to wonder what a healthy Ryan Howard will still be able to contribute.

Additionally, people seem to forget that the Phillies now boast THREE of 2013’s top 20 starters in terms of FIP, SIERA, and WAR (Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, and AJ Burnett). Also, last season right field was worth an astounding cumulative -2.5 WAR for the team as a position. Even if Marlon Byrd’s half as good as last year (so ~2 WAR), that’s an immediate strong swing right there.

Again, it’s not likely, but if it were to happen, it’s all about health.

2 – Why will this team fall short of expectations?

I think falling short of expectations IS the expectation for the 2014 Phillies. We’ve already seen some minor injuries to players like Cole Hamels, Ethan Martin, and recent signee Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez has had diminished velocity. I also read an interesting stat today which said that the Phillies have the lowest batting average in Spring Training thus far, at .196.

Additionally, with 34+ year old players at: #1 Starter, #3 Starter, Set-Up Man, Catcher, 1st base, 2nd base, Short Stop, and Right field, you know…some might go so far as to call the general team an injury risk.

That’s also not counting the 33-year olds at #5 starter and closer.

3 – Look for the team to make (this trade)

Trade: all.

Seriously, if the team isn’t competitive by July, even normally-confident GM Ruben Amaro has acknowledged this could be the year to break up the team. Outside of Cole Hamels, Chase Utley, and the Phanatic, the team would probably be happy to shed any big names for whatever prospects they could get. And as a fan, this would be a pretty exciting course of action.

It’s a weird thing to say, but the team is BUILT for the trade deadline. Need a low-cost, left-handed corner OF? Domonic Brown is here. Need an ace? Cliff Lee. Need a cheaper ace? A.J. Burnett. Need a… something? Kyle Kendrick. Need a right-handed power bat? Marlon Byrd. Need a closer? Jonathan Papelbon. Hole at catcher? Carlos Ruiz. Need a shortstop? Jimmy Rollins (although he has a no-trade clause). They’d be positioned well on July 31.

4 – Watch out for the emergence of (prospect)

Cody Asche is the guy who is starting the year at third, and I expect he’ll prove to be a solid, fun to watch regular. In terms of a true minor league prospect, though, listen for Kelly Dugan. He’s a corner outfielder drafted in the 2nd round in 2009.

In 2013, he went .291/.352/.506 with 20 HR in 112 games between High-A and Double-A. He suffered from high strikeout rates to end the year, but if he
regains some patience at the plate he could gain a lot of buzz in the higher minor league levels.

Some other quick names would be 100 mph-throwing Ken Giles, 18-year old CF Carlos Tocci, and a re-emergence for injured catcher Tommy Joseph.

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