Running down the rosters: Philadelphia Phillies

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The Phillies still look like the class of the NL, but while their win totals have increased five years running, it hasn’t resulted in playoff success the last couple of years.

Rotation
Roy Halladay – R
Cliff Lee – L
Cole Hamels – L
Vance Worley – R
Joe Blanton – R

Bullpen
Jonathan Papelbon – R
Antonio Bastardo – L
Jose Contreras – R
Kyle Kendrick – R
Chad Qualls – R
Michael Stutes – R
Dontrelle Willis – L

SP next in line: Joel Pineiro (R), Kendrick (R), Dave Bush (R) Pat Misch (L)
RP next in line: David Herndon (R), Brian Sanches (R), Michael Schwimer (R), David Purcey (L), Phillippe Aumont (R), Justin De Fratus (R)

The rotation doesn’t look quite so impressive on paper with Worley plugged into Roy Oswalt’s old spot, but then, Worley was quite a bit better than Oswalt last season. The Phillies also have some nice insurance in case Blanton’s arm lets him down again. Pineiro would have been a decent bet as a $3 million-$4 million fourth starter somewhere, so he was a phenomenal pickup on a minor league deal. Kendrick had a 3.14 ERA in his 15 starts last season.

In the bullpen, the Phillies overpaid for Papelbon, but he should be terrific at the end of games. If Contreras is healthy, then there will be just one spot for Willis or Herndon. Herndon had a 3.32 ERA in 57 innings last year, but the Phillies are looking to Willis to give them a second lefty in the pen.

Lineup
SS Jimmy Rollins – S
3B Placido Polanco – R
2B Chase Utley – L
RF Hunter Pence – R
CF Shane Victorino – S
LF John Mayberry Jr. – R
1B Ty Wigginton – R
C Carlos Ruiz – R

Bench
C Brian Schneider – L
1B Jim Thome – L
INF-OF Michael Martinez – S
OF Laynce Nix – L
OF Juan Pierre – L

Disabled list: 1B Ryan Howard (L)
Next in line: C Erik Kratz (R), SS Freddy Galviz (S), INF Kevin Frandsen (R), INF Hector Luna (R), INF Pete Orr (L), OF Domonic Brown (L), OF Scott Podsednik (L), OF Lou Montanez (R)

So much for that typically lefty-heavy Phillies lineup: with Raul Ibanez gone and Howard set to miss the first month or two rehabbing a torn Achilles’ tendon, Utley will be the only lefty playing regularly initially.

The bench, on the other hand, will be dominated by lefties. Nix figures to start against some righties in left field and perhaps at first base. It’s unclear whether it will be Mayberry or Nix who slides between left field and first. Mayberry is the better outfielder of the two, so it’d be best if he’s out there pretty regularly. However, he’s also quite a bit more familiar with first base than Nix is.

Even with Howard out of the mix initially, this year’s offense should be a bit better than last year’s. A full season of Pence will help. Utley and Polanco could be healthier and more productive, though at their ages, it’s far from assured. Mayberry will top Ibanez’s numbers.

The pitching can’t be quite so good again. While none of the trio seems due for a deep decline, Halladay, Lee and Hamels won’t all rate among the NL’s top five starters. No, the Phillies will probably have to settle for just two or the top five or maybe even one. Papelbon may prove to be the NL’s best closer, but he’s replacing a guy in Ryan Madson who had a 2.37 ERA in 60 2/3 innings last year.

It seems safe to pencil the Phillies back into the postseason. Unfortunately, though, that simply isn’t enough. The Phillies are turning into the NL’s version of the Yankees, at least so far as in each year can be summed up as World Series or bust. And I can’t help but get the feeling that one more “bust” might cost Charlie Manuel his job.

MLB to crack down on sign stealing

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We’ve had a couple of notable incidents of sign stealing in Major League Baseball over the past couple of years. Most famously, the Red Sox were found to be using Apple Watches of all things to relay signs spied via video feed. Sports Illustrated reported yesterday that there have been other less-publicized and unpublicized incidents as well, mostly with in-house TV cameras — as opposed to network TV cameras — stationed in the outfield and trained on catchers, for the specific purpose of stealing signs.

As such, SI reports, Major League Baseball is cracking down beginning this year. Within the next couple weeks an already-drafted and circulated rule will take effect which will (a) ban in-house outfield cameras from foul pole to foul pole; (b) will limit live broadcasts available to teams to the team’s replay official only, and the replay official will be watched by a league official to keep them from relaying signs to the team; and (c) other TV monitors that are available to the clubs will be on an eight-second delay to prevent real-time sign stealing. There will likewise be limits on TV monitors showing the game feed in certain places like tunnels and clubhouses.

Penalties for violation of the rules will include the forfeiting of draft picks and/or international spending money. General managers will have to sign a document in which they swear they know of know sign-stealing schemes.

As was the case when the Apple Watch incident came up, there will not be any new rules regarding old fashioned sign stealing by runners on second base or what have you, as that is viewed as part of the game. Only the technology-aided sign stealing that has become more prominent in recent years — but which has, of course, existed in other forms for a very, very long time — is subject to the crackdown.

While gamesmanship of one form or another has always been part of baseball, the current wave of sign-stealing is seen as a pace-of-play issue just as much as a fairness issue. Because of the actual sign-stealing — and because of paranoia that any opponent could be stealing signs — clubs have gone to far more elaborate and constantly changing sign protocols. This requires mound meetings and pitchers coming off the rubber in order to re-start the increasingly complex series of signs from dugout to catcher and from catcher to pitcher.

Now, presumably, with these new rules coming online, teams will figure out a new way to cheat. It’s baseball, after all. It’s in their DNA.