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2013 Preview: Philadelphia Phillies


Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2013 season. Today: the Philadelphia Phillies.

The Big Question: Will the Phillies defy age and injury concerns?

The Phillies had the oldest offense and the fourth-oldest pitching staff last year, according to Baseball Reference. Bringing most of the cast back for another season, and with the addition of the 36-year-old Michael Young, the team isn’t getting any younger. Furthermore, the entire roster seems to be a ticking time bomb in terms of injuries.

Roy Halladay (shoulder), Utley (knees), Howard (Achilles), Carlos Ruiz (plantar fasciitis), Mike Adams (thoracic outlet syndrome), Delmon Young (ankle), Freddy Galvis (back), Michael Stutes (shoulder), Justin De Fratus (elbow). Those are most of the key players, but even players like Young, who has had a clean bill of health throughout most of his career, can go down with a moment’s notice. Jimmy Rollins, too, even though he is going on three years removed from multiple leg injuries.

Concerns over age and injuries don’t simply encompass the time a player is off the roster, however. They can still play a big factor in limiting a player’s abilities and subsequent production and you need look no further than Ryan Howard after returning from an Achillies injury in July last season. It was painful watching him run the bases and he clearly couldn’t put weight on his left foot. As a result, everything about his game was worse: strikeouts way up (+7.2% from 2011), walks way down (-3%), isolated power way down (-.031), overall value way down (-2.7 FanGraphs WAR). So the Phillies not only have to worry about a player missing time, but being unproductive when he is in the lineup.

Halladay is probably the biggest question mark. He had an uncharacteristically awful season due to a right shoulder injury. He declined in every conceivable way: fastball velocity was down 2 MPH, strikeouts were down (-3%), walks were up (+2%), ground balls were down (-6%), home runs per fly ball were up (+7%). He hasn’t looked any better thus far in spring training as scouts  say his velocity still hangs in the mid-80’s and reaches the upper 80’s at best.

With a barren farm system – Keith Law ranked the Phillies 27th of 30 in his organizational rankings – the Phillies don’t have any contingency plans, either. If anything goes wrong, it all goes wrong.

What else is going on? 

  • All-Star Carlos Ruiz will miss the first 25 games of the season after testing positive for amphetamines (Adderall) in November. Among all catchers with at least 400 PA last season, Ruiz ranked third in FanGraphs WAR at 5.5, trailing only Buster Posey (8.0) and Yadier Molina (6.5). He will be replaced by Erik Kratz who, while he had an incredibly good showing in limited playing time last season, is not nearly as good. Steven LeRud will likely be the back-up. Ruiz is arguably the best player on the team. Losing him, and having to play replacement-level players in his stead, limits the Phillies’ already-limited room for mistakes.
  • Cole Hamels should be really good again. The lefty posted a 3.05 ERA last season, finishing eighth in NL Cy Young voting. Competing in the same league as Stephen Strasburg and Clayton Kershaw, it will be tough for him to go home with some hardware at the end of the season, but it is possible. Cliff Lee, despite a lousy won-lost record that made a lot of Phillies fans bonkers last year, is still elite and should be considered a Cy Young contender as well.
  • Thanks to a strong spring showing, Domonic Brown should get one of the two vacant corner outfield jobs. Brown is finally fully recovered from a broken hamate bone that sapped him of his power. Further, he has impressed defensively after looking completely and utterly lost in August and September last year. At the end of the season, Brown could very well wind up being the Phillies’ most valuable weapon.
  • The Phillies’ offense isn’t expected to blow anyone’s doors off, so expect them to play a lot of low-scoring nail-biters. With a back end that includes closer Jonathan Papelbon, as well as Mike Adams and Antonio Bastardo, expect the Phillies to nail down a lot of close games.

Though the Phillies are hoping to enjoy full seasons from players finally recovered from injuries (Utley, Howard, Halladay), there are just way too many question marks. When you look 135 miles south to Washington, D.C., the Nationals are looking better and have fewer nagging problems. The new and improved Braves appear as if they will be a thorn in the Phillies’ side as well. 

PREDICTION: Third place, National League East.

Yadier Molina scratched from Cardinals’ lineup

molina getty
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Yadier Molina was in the Cardinals’ initial, posted lineup for Game 4 of the NLDS this afternoon, but the injured catcher has been scratched and replaced by backup Tony Cruz.

Molina has been playing through a significant thumb injury and exited Game 3 early in obvious discomfort. He no doubt talked his way into the lineup, but manager Mike Matheny told reporters that Molina was removed due to “considerable weakness in his hand.”

Not only will the Cardinals try to stave off elimination without Molina behind the plate, if they are able to advance past the Cubs in the NLDS they could be without the seven-time All-Star catcher in the NLCS.

Robinson Cano underwent sports hernia surgery

Robinson Cano

The Mariners announced today that second baseman Robinson Cano underwent surgery on his “core muscles” today, to repair that which we more commonly refer to as a sports hernia.

Cano played through the injury during the second half of what was a below par season. Hit hit .387/.334/.486 on the year though, surprisingly, did much better in the second half, posting a line of .331/.387/.540. The hernia may have been bothersome, but it didn’t really hamper him, it would seem.

He’ll need six weeks of recovery time, but should be good to go by spring training, looking for a bounce back year.

NLDS, Game 4: Cardinals vs. Cubs lineups

John Lackey

Here are the Cardinals and Cubs lineups for Game 4 of the NLDS in Chicago:

3B Matt Carpenter
1B Stephen Piscotty
LF Matt Holliday
RF Jason Heyward
SS Jhonny Peralta
CF Randal Grichuk
2B Kolten Wong
C Yadier Molina Tony Cruz
SP John Lackey

Yadier Molina is in the lineup despite leaving Game 3 early with obvious discomfort in his injured thumb. Randal Grichuk starts in center field after Tommy Pham played there in Game 3, which is interesting because in Game 1 the Cardinals used Grichuk in right field and Jason Heyward in center field. John Lackey is starting on short rest after winning Game 1, as manager Mike Matheny bypassed Lance Lynn with the season on the line.

UPDATE: Molina has been scratched from the lineup and replaced by Tony Cruz.

CF Dexter Fowler
RF Jorge Soler
3B Kris Bryant
1B Anthony Rizzo
2B Starlin Castro
LF Kyle Schwarber
C Miguel Montero
SP Jason Hammel
SS Javier Baez

Addison Russell is out of the lineup after injuring his hamstring in Game 3, so Javier Baez is taking his place at shortstop and batting ninth behind the pitcher. Jorge Soler’s hot streak gets him another start in the No. 2 spot, with Kyle Schwarber batting sixth again. Jason Hammel makes his first start in 12 days.