2005 Team Preview: Philadelphia Phillies

by Keith Glab

2004 Record: 86-76 (2nd Place)
2004 Runs Scored: 840
2004 Runs Allowed: 781
Expected 2004 Record: 86-76

No team in the NL East had an offseason as quiet as the Philadelphia Phillies did. Kenny Lofton, Corey Lidle, and Jon Lieber supplant Marlon Byrd, Eric Milton, and Kevin Milwood—that’s about it. Manager Larry Bowa, not the players, took the fall for years of perceived underachieving.

But is this really a justified blame? Last season with Philadelphia, David Bell, Bobby Abreu, Jimmy Rollins, Placido Polanco, and Ricky Ledee all had career years. Now they are expected to be even better in order for the Phillies to compete with its wheeling and dealing opponents.

On the other hand, injuries have plagued the Philadelphia pitching over the last couple of years; Starters Randy Wolf and Vicente Padilla combined for just 43 starts in 2004, and marquee closer Billy Wagner appeared in just 45 games for the Phils.

Here is a position-by-position account of the Phamiliar Phillies:

Catcher

2004 Starter: Mike Lieberthal

Projected 2005 Starter: Lieberthal

Gone are the days where Lieberthal might threaten to bat .300 or hit 30 home runs, yet he is still a reasonably productive offensive catcher. Defensively, he’s been appalling the past two seasons, allowing 158 stolen bases but throwing out just 39 in that span. The wear and tear of several knee surgeries and loads of games caught has sent Mike’s career downhill prematurely.

First Base

2004 Starter: Jim Thome

Projected 2005 Startes: Thome, Ryan Howard

While Thome continues to be one of the game’s premier power hitters, the Phillies organization has developed a young slugger named Ryan Howard to eventually replace Thome. He’s ready to contribute now as a dangerous man off the bench, and should soon reach Thome’s level of production.

Second Base

2004 Starters: Placido Polanco, Chase Utley

Projected 2005 Starters: Utley, Polanco

The infield has become very deep for the Phillies, with young slugger Utley ready for regular duties, and a versatile career .295 hitter in Polanco. The trick is to get Utley, Polanco, and David Bell each enough at bats to keep them happy and productive.

Third Base

2004 Starter: David Bell

Projected 2005 Starters: Bell, Polanco

A prime case study for the Year of the Third Baseman, Bell should post more pedestrian numbers in ’05. Fortunately, Philadelphia has depth enough to cover him should he revert all the way back to his disastrous 2003 form.

Shortstop

2004 Starter: Jimmy Rollins

Projected 2005 Starter: Rollins

All it took was a .348 OBP for Rollins to score 119 runs with the thumpers that were behind him. His career OBP before the season was just .317. With new leadoff hitter Kenny Lofton ready to exceed Rollins’ on-base abilities, Jimmy is set to build on his 69 extra base hits from last season lower in the lineup in more of an RBI role.

Outfield

2004 Starters: Bobby Abreu, Pat Burrell, Marlon Byrd, Jason Michaels

Projected 2005 Starters: Abreu, Burrell, Kenny Lofton, Michaels

After starting the season 4 for 37, Abreu hit .315 with an OPS of 1.000. No one knows whether Burrell will be potent (2002) pathetic (2003), or palatable (2004). Lofton looks to be the best Phillie leadoff hitter since Doug Glanville’s 1999 season, but Jason Michaels has worked to become an excellent center fielder should the old guy not be able to grind out a full season.

Pitching

2004 Front Three Starters: Kevin Millwood, Eric Milton, Randy Wolf

Projected 2005 Front Three: Jon Lieber, Wolf, Corey Lidle

Now two years removed from Tommy John surgery, Lieber is poised to build on his return to being the best control pitcher in baseball (18 BB in 176.2 IP). He already showed improvement last season, going 7-3 with a 3.94 ERA after the all-star break as well as being one of the Yankees’ two dependable postseason starters. But the Phillies also need a full season from Randy Wolf and for Lidle to continue his Philadelphia success to compete in the improved NL East.

Other 2004 Starters: Vicente Padilla, Brett Myers, Corey Lidle

Other Possible 2005 Starters: Padilla, Myers, Gavin Floyd

Myers is poised for a breakout season, but Padilla seems to still be battling injuries (triceps tendinitis). Prospect Gavin Floyd’s Minor League numbers haven’t matched his hype, but he’s still an acceptable 5th starter should Padilla miss extensive time.

2004 Top Relievers: Billy Wagner, Rheal Cormier, Tim Worrell, Ryan Madsen, Roberto Hernandez

Projected 2005 Top Relievers: Wagner, Cormier, Worrell, Madsen, Terry Adams

Familiar faces, all, for the Phillie bullpen in 2005. But a healthy Billy Wagner and returned Terry Adams might make this the NL’s best bullpen.

Final Word:

Contrary to popular opinion, the Phillies weren’t particularly lucky or unlucky when you consider both the offense and defense of last year. Their offseason was largely a draw, and their players are a mix of the young and improving with the older and fading. We can expect a slight drop-off in their record only because the rest of the division ostensibly improved.

If Philadelphia is serious about making a push this season, they >must< trade Jim Thome for a dominant, Roy Halladay-type pitcher. Ryan Howard can come close to Thome’s production already, in my estimation, and the team lacks a pitcher to match up favorably with the Hudsons, Becketts, and Pedros of the rest of the NL East. It’s a simple premise: trade your surplus to address your shortage. But that kind of a blockbuster trade will be difficult to orchestrate.

My Predictions: 82-80, 3rd in the NL East

Bobby Abreu, NL Runs Leader (120)

Billy Wagner, NL Saves Leader (47)