Many analysts are writing off the Phillies chances this season. The team is mired in last place and has lost 8 of their last 9 games. The offense has been among the weakest in MLB. On the rare occasions when they do score, it is usually confined to one good inning of hitting, followed by an offense that goes to sleep for the rest of the game. Veteran players continue to make rookie mistakes, swinging wildly at bad pitches, not working the count, running the bases as if they were in strange unfamiliar surroundings, and booting the ball (literally) on defense. Other than Closer Jonathon Papelbon, the bullpen has been the scene of inconsistency and injuries. Current members of the bullpen are Antonio Bastardo, Chad Qualls, and four rookies just called up from the minors: Diekman, Schwimer, Savery, and Rosenberg (sounds like a Law firm, right?).
Staff Ace Roy Halladay is on the Disabled List, and Vance Worley is pitching with some elbow pain (he plans to have surgery after the season). Even so, the starters are still the strong point of this team. Even though he is winless, Cliff Lee is still a good pitcher, and Cole Hamels has done well. Kyle Kendrick has shown that he can win when he keeps his pitches down in the zone. Joe Blanton is the weakest starter, and I look for him to be dealt to another team or sent to the bullpen after Halladay returns to action.
In their prime years, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard were a great offensive tandem in the lineup. If they do return this season, I don't expect either of them will perform as well as they did in the past. If they surprise me and start knocking down fences, then just maybe the Phillies will have a glimmer of hope this year. Utley's condition worries me the most; it seems to be a chronic problem and I don't think medical science can restore the knees he had 5 years ago.
What should Charley Manuel do while he waits for Howard and Utley to return? Well for starters, don't have Jimmy Rollins in the lead-off spot. His on-base percentage is atrocious. Juan Pierre gets on base more frequently and has some speed. Fontenot, who has a high on-base percentage, should play second base and hit second against right-handed pitchers (I might try Michael Martinez at second base against left-handers, but he would bat eighth). I think Polanco will be able to return to third base very soon, and send Wiggington to the bench. I'd try Hector Luna at first base along with Mayberry. As for the bullpen, the 4 rookies seem to have good stuff, but it remains to be seen if they will be consistent. I would use Papelbon for more than one inning at times, especially if the game is to be followed by an off-day (Charley failed to do this yesterday).
The starting pitchers have some talent, and will not need an offensive juggernaut to be successful. But they do need at least some run support, and they need better defensive play than we've been seeing lately.
The most worrysome problem I see is the age of the Phillies' players. Of the 13 non-pitchers on the current roster, only 2 were born after 1982 - Mayberry (age 28) and Pence (age 29). They have 3 starting pitchers under 30: Worley, Kendrick, and Hamels. In the bullpen they have Bastardo and the young law firm. Who is going to replace the oldest players in the years ahead? The current roster may regain some injured players (or not) but eventually time will catch up with the team. After 2013, I wonder where the Phillies will be and who will be on their roster.