Last night the Phillies took down the Los Angeles Dodgers once again under some good pitching from A.J. Burnett and a few scrappy runs. The win put the Phillies back at the .500 mark at 10 wins, 10 losses. But, would you call this team a "contender?"
Phillies General Manager told WIP radio that he believes that the Phillies are indeed contenders:
“Everybody is kind of hovering around .500 and no one really knows what they have yet,” Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. told Angelo Cataldi and the WIP Morning Show on Tuesday morning. “I think that we have a good, solid ball club. We obviously have to pitch better in the back half of the bullpen, but as our starting pitching comes around as we think it can with Cole [Hamels] added to it, we’re contenders and we’ll see how it goes.”
Amaro is correct that Hamels will make a difference. Will he make enough difference?
Three days out of five, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, and A.J. Burnett will give the Phillies a real chance to win. Kyle Kendrick will be his typical up and down; Roberto Hernandez probably more of the same. If the Phillies win have of the Kendrick/Hernandez games and can put together a winning record on the Lee/Hamels/Burnett days, they have a chance of winning more than they lose.
That would be why I picked the Phillies to win 84 games. Does that make the Phillies a "contender?" Probably. To win 84, they'll be within 4-5 games of the second wild card, though they probably won't win. The Phillies could indeed get hot along the way and run of a winning streak that could make the difference. However, they could easily go the other direction with a losing streak. Maybe they'll have some of each.
Early on the following things are concerns:
- Third base
- Right field
The bullpen will not continue to be this rough. Mike Adams is back and has helped create some veteran stability. It is pretty clear that B.J. Rosenberg, not Justin De Fratus should have been sent to AAA. They probably will swap those two when they have a chance. Jake Diekman and Mario Hollands look good, but they need to shake off their rookie dust.
Third base is a concern. Cody Asche is not hitting, nor is Maikel Franco at AAA Lehigh Valley. With Sandberg uncomfortable with Asche playing against left-handed pitching, there could be some change soon. Cesar Hernandez hit a very respectable .289 in 2013. Hernandez is learning third base at AA (while raking minor league pitching) and could be the starter soon, at least against left-handed pitching.
Right field has been rough to this point, but it's going to get better. Marlon Byrd had a stellar Spring Training, but the energy that came with him rejoining the Phillies seems to have waned. Byrd was not just a one-year "flash in the pan" as some suggest he was in 2013, but has a decent track record, dating back to his time with the Texas Rangers and Chicago Cubs. Expect Byrd to improve.
Could the Phillies "contend?" Yes, probably. But that is far from calling them favorites in the National League East. As the Braves continue to punch holes in their Tommy John frequent-surgery cards, they look weaker and weaker. The Washington Nationals lost Ryan Zimmerman to a shoulder condition. The Phillies probably will indeed hang around.