By Dan Lagnado
The Philadelphia Phillies’ time atop the National League East seems to have come to a screeching halt. After 5 consecutive division titles from 2007-2011, the Phillies have struggled to regain the luster that they had achieved during those 5 seasons, which included a World Series title in 2008 and a National League Pennant in 2009. Instead, they have struggled along just attempting to remain relevant. A disappointing 2013 season found them in fourth place in the division, only above the lowly Marlins. Certainly not the result anybody among the team was looking for.
It appears that the old Phillies stalwarts are no longer able of carrying them to victory. The one time stacked lineup of Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Carlos Ruiz, does not provoke the power and fear that it once did. Instead, it may be time for a changing of the guard. This season saw the breakout of Domonic Brown, who in his first full season exploded into national attention with 27 homeruns and 83 RBI. That’s not to say that Rollins or Utley did not produce. Utley hit .284 with 18 homeruns and Rollins provided a .252 average and 22 stolen bases. What is true however is that somewhat diminishing production and increasing age and potential health problems do not spell the best of times for this team. Howard played in only 80 games and Ruiz in only 92. Another bright spot that emerged in the latter stages of the season was Darin Ruf. He slugged 14 homeruns in only 73 games and provided a late season spark and something to look forward to in the future a she seems to be capable of reaching the 30 HR plateau. Cody Asche also impressed for Philadelphia, contributing 5 homeruns in 50 games (for all you math studs out there that is one homerun every 10 games) showing the capability of hitting 15-20 in a full season. This offense has a chance to regain its greatness. The first step is resigning Ruiz. Even at age 35, and surrounded by PED scandals, when he plays, Ruiz is a very solid offensive catcher as well as being able to aid young pitchers. It is also important for the key cogs to stay healthy (looking at you Ryan Howard). With a little fine-tuning this could offense has an opportunity to once again become what it once was during its dynasty years.
The same bug that bit the offense plagues the Phillies pitching staff: aging stars. Cliff Lee will turn 36 next season. Roy Halladay, should the Phillies choose to resign him, will turn 37 and has a history of arm issues. Should the Phillies choose to let Halladay leave, their rotation will be left with the likes of Jonathan Pettibone (5-4, 4.04 ERA), Tyler Cloyd (2-7, 6.56 ERA) and Kyle Kendrick (10-13, 4.70 ERA) behind Lee and Cole Hamels. In addition, the pitching stars that the Phils do have have been able to play consistently at the same time. Last season, it was Hamels who pitched himself into the ace position, but this year he floundered with an 8-14 record while Lee led the team in wins (14), ERA (2.87), and strikeouts (222). The back end of the bullpen is very impressive with Closer Jonathan Papelbon (29 saves) as well as Antonio Bastardo (2.32 ERA, 14 Holds) and Jacob Diekman (2.58 ERA, 11 Holds). The acquisition of some veteran middle relievers as well as a back end starter would do wonders for the outlook of this team moving into next season.
Coming off of one down year is no reason to despair for Phillies fans. A few small free agent signings could set the table for another potential postseason run. However in order for that to happen, the big time players must be able to stay healthy and guide the young prospects. It is always dangerous to count out a team with postseason experience and the weapons of this team. I think it is possible for these Phillies to have another playoff run in them.
Dan Lagnado is studying communications, law economics and government at American University. He’s a fan of both the Mets and Jets and has been writing about sports for four years. You can follow him on twitter at @dlag1995