MLB In Full Bloom - Phillies Preview - 3/19/2014

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12– Number of days until Opening Day

86,231– Number of signatures at www.budweiser.com/openingday to make Opening Day a National Holiday

Philadelphia Phillies Preview

The question facing the Philadelphia Phillies this year is can all the key pieces stay healthy? The Phillies 2013 season was a combination of injuries, aging, and false hopes that resulted in the team's worst record since 2000. They were 48-48 in the first half record and somehow masked a 45 run differential  that convince general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. not to sell off assets at the trade deadline. This offseason has been considered a success by many Phillies fans, if only because Amaro did not give anyone an ill-advised long-term contract. This relative lack of activity, combined with Amaro's view that the roster as constructed has one more good run left in it, has the Phillies in a bad spot for 2014 and beyond.

Key Additions: A.J. Burnett, Marlon Byrd, Roberto Hernandez

Key Departures: Roy Halladay

OFFENSE: Not much changed from the veteran Phillies lineup that has been in place for the better part of the past seven years. Marlon Byrd, who had a fine 2013 with the Mets and Pirates, returns to the club that he broke into the majors with after signing a two-year deal in free agency. Ryan Howard is the big X-factor for the Phillies. He tore his Achilles at the end of the 2011 NLDS and kept him out of action until the second half of the 2012 season. He was gimpy and unproductive. He seemed to rebound somewhat in the first half of the 2013 season, but his season ended when he tore his meniscus. The thought has been that if Howard can have a completely healthy season, he can go back to being one of baseball’s feared sluggers. Chase Utley is an above average defender and should be one of the more productive players on this team. Domonic Brown broke out for the Phillies in 2013, his first season as a starter. He finished with 27 home runs and earned a spot on the NL All-Star roster with a 12-homer May. Brown, however, struggled defensively and pitchers seemed to have a better game plan against him as the season went on. Baseball is a game of adjustments and if Brown can adjust properly, he should emerge into a reliable regular.

STARTING ROTATION: Despite all of the doom and gloom, the Phillies still boast one of the best 1-2 punches in baseball in aces Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee. Hamels regressed a bit in 2013, allowing a 3.60 ERA. Unfortunately for the Phillies, Hamels likely will not be ready for the start of the season due to a biceps injury. Lee went 14-8 with a 2.87 ERA and led the majors with a gaudy 6.94 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 222 2/3 innings in 2013. The Phillies solidified the middle of their rotation by signing A.J. Burnett. Burnett revitalized his career with the Pirates over the past two seasons and should fit nicely into the Phillies rotation. By adding Burnett, it allows right-hander Kyle Kendrick to slide into the fourth spot, provided he's able to fully return from the shoulder problem that ended his 2013 season a few weeks early.

BULLPEN: The Phillies bullpen was inconsistent last year and has a lot of questions coming into this year. Jonathan Papelbon is the closer mainly because the Phillies found no one to take his big contract off their hands. Mike Adams is coming back off a shoulder injury. Antonio Bastardo is trying to return after a 50-game suspension. The rest of the bullpen will be made up of guys trying to solidify roles in the bullpen.

2014 Prediction: Last year, the Phillies were predicted to contend for a Wild Card spot if they stayed healthy. They were never healthy, but somehow over performed their way to a 73-win season. Now a year older and a year slower, their best is that the Phillies will miss the playoffs. Ruben Amaro Jr. made this bed four years ago when he signed Ryan Howard to an ill-advised extension, and it may be up to his eventual successor to get the Phillies out. As fun as it is to hope the Phillies will have everything break right and get back into the playoffs is unlikely. Older players do break down, and the Phillies more than everyone know that for a fact. The Phillies may be better than people expect since they’ll be running Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, and A.J. Burnett out to the mound three out of every five days.

Final Record: 75-87 (Third Place - NL East)