Time is running out on the Philadelphia Phillies in more ways than one as they enter the 2013 season. The Phils can do something about one of the clocks ticking away, but another timepiece can't be reset unless Dr. Emmett Brown arrives on the scene with his magical DeLorean.
Philadelphia's run of five NL East titles came to a screeching halt last season when the club had to close strong just to finish level at 81-81. Injuries definitely played a part in the falloff, especially on the right side of the infield where Ryan Howard and Chase Utley missed most of the first three months of the campaign.
Even with those two sidelined to start 2012, the Phils were the MLB odds favorites to win the National League at +170 when the season opened. They stood 28-25 on June 1 without the pair, and it looked as if the club had managed just fine minus the two offensive stars. But the bottom fell out at that point as Philadelphia won just nine of its next 34 games to drop out of contention.
Having the two healthy to begin the 2013 schedule should help avoid a bad start out of the gate, but the core of this team isn't getting any younger, and nothing can change that.
Time is also playing the role of enemy with regards to a few contracts. Utley is in the final year of his deal, and given his health concerns, it's doubtful that GM Ruben Amaro is going to be talking with agent Arn Tellem about an extension. Starting pitcher Roy Halladay is also entering the last guaranteed year of his contract. The big righty is coming off a season in which he was limited to 25 starts due to shoulder problems, and will have to reach the 215 IP mark to kick in his 2014 option.
The Phillies are currently 16/1 at Bovada to return to the playoffs and win the 2013 World Series. We projected Philadelphia around 9/1 last week to win the NL flag, and with a roster that is still potent despite age and a poor showing last year, there is still plenty of value in Charlie Manuel's club as we near the start of spring training.
Rotation Remains One Of Best, But Must Stay Healthy
At least 20 teams would swap their starting rotation for Philly's, even with Halladay's health concerns. Manuel will have two of the game's top southpaws, Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee, in the mix plus picked up lefty John Lannan on the cheap during the winter. The order rounds out with Kyle Kendrick.
Halladay bouncing back and remaining healthy is certainly a key. As good as the top 5 are, there isn't much proven talent behind them to step in if needed. The extra punch expected from having Utley and Howard in the lineup from the get-go will definitely be welcome news for Lee who recorded a strong 3.16 ERA in 2012 only to see the team go 12-18 in his 30 starts.
Jonathan Papelbon returns as the closer with Antonio Bastardo part of the middle-setup relief. Amaro added Mike Adams to the bullpen mix, giving Manuel an extra bridge from his rotation to Papelbon.
Pressure On Howard & Utley To Boost Offense
Counting on Utley, who has battled chronic knee trouble the past few years, for more than 120 games is probably too optimistic. But not getting at least 140 games, 30 homers and 100 RBI out of Howard will relegate the Phils to another middle-of-the-pack finish in the NL East. The big first baseman is reportedly in good shape after a rigorous offseason conditioning program, and Philadelphia is going to need his bat to make some noise in 2013.
The Phillies are also looking for a comeback type season out of Michael Young, acquired from the Rangers to take over the hot corner. The veteran will team with shortstop Jimmy Rollins on the left side of the infield.
Two-thirds of last year's Opening Day outfield is gone after Philadelphia traded away both Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence. The club went out and got speedy Ben Revere from the Twins to take over in center, and he'll be flanked by Domonic Brown and John Mayberry Jr. Brown will have to live up to his potential early, or he'll give way to Darin Ruf who banged 38 homers in the minors last year before getting his first taste of the majors in September.
Carlos Ruiz will spend the first 25 games on the suspended list due to a failed drug test, and his return behind the plate will be a welcome sight for Philadelphia. Erik Kratz and Humberto Quintero will handle catching chores until then.
Unseating Washington as division champs will be a tall order, but Philadelphia definitely has a roster capable of grabbing one of the two NL wild card spots. It all boils down to keeping a few veteran stars healthy, but isn't that the case for most teams at this time?
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