Plenty of Questions as 2014 Phillies Open the Season
It's opening day.
The time for optimism is now, in a season where not many expect this Phillies team to compete for an NL East title, the start of a new baseball season gives every fan a chance at hope. Twenty-five mean have been assembled and nine will take the field Monday in Texas. It all started back in Clearwater in February, pitchers and catchers, meaningless games - but now it's time for the real thing to begin.
In his first spring training as Phillies manager, Ryne Sandberg was greeted in Clearwater with a ton of question marks and very few absolutes. For every question Phillies fans have compiled since watching this core group for years had, he had even more for he was seeing this for the first time. Different eyes, different ideas, and plenty to see.
We saw Cliff Lee go about his business of getting ready for the season, the perennial calm within the Phillies storm, he ended the spring 1-2 despite a 2.55 ERA and a 26/4 K/BB ratio in 24 2/3 innings. We saw Cole Hamels stand behind Lee, watching, waiting for his shoulder to allow him to join him. He would have been throwing alongside him had his shoulder not been "tired". All he could do this spring was watch and then tell Lee that he looked solid this spring. The left-hander should be ready to rejoin the Phillies' rotation around the beginning of May.
We saw Cuban defector Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez get shut down after a disastrous and disappointing Grapefruit League season, posting a 16.87 ERA and 4.50 WHIP in 2 2/3 innings prompting the Phillies shut him down and place him on the 60-day disabled list.
We saw Marlon Byrd bring some hope that he could provide some right-handed pop to the Phillies line-up posting a .298 average - tops among regulars this spring with two home runs and eight RBI in 57 at-bats.
We saw third baseman Cody Asche go out and claim his position. Asche played just 50 games in the bigs last season, hardly making him a veteran big leaguer with a secure position, but Asche would not give in to top prospect Maikel Franco. Franco impressed, but struggled as Asche won the battle showing some power with three spring homers.
We saw Freddy Galvis and Cesar Hernandez claim spots on the opening day roster. We saw Ben Revere impress and Dom Brown struggle. We didn't see much of Darin Ruf in the outfield due to a strained left oblique.
We saw Justin DeFratus make seven appearances without giving up just one run, walking none and striking out eight. We saw Antonio Bastardo almost match his performance surrendering, just two runs in 10 appearances with no walks and 12 strikeouts. Both will start the season in the Phillies bullpen.
We saw Tony Gwynn Jr. do everything he could to make this club - after Gwynn hit .273 (12-for-44) with one home run, four doubles, and seven walks in 22 games this spring he had his contract purchased and will function as a reserve outfielder for Philadelphia.
We have question marks – big question marks. The back-end of the rotation is still a question mark. They have five decent starters but there is plenty of concern with when Hamels will be ready to help, the consistency of both Kyle Kendrick and Roberto Hernandez and who will take Hamels place if he isn't ready to role by May 1. The core-three (Rollins, Utley and Howard) none were able to break the .230 mark. The one bright spot in a lost 2013 (Brown) hit .185 with no home runs and never got it going. Is there a switch that can be flipped Monday?
We saw surprises, and good surprises as well. Jeff Manship, a non-roster invitee, put up a 1.80 ERA and 16/2 K/BB ratio over 20 frames this spring - helping him make the big league roster. Mario Hollands, 25, compiled a 3.09 ERA and 10/5 K/BB ratio over 11 2/3 innings of work this spring - he made the team as well.
We saw a solid spring from Ben Revere who was having a fine season in 2013 before under-going surgery in mid-July to repair a fracture in his right foot. The 25-year-old center fielder hit .305 with 22 stolen bases in 88 games last season, when he went down - so did the Phillies season. Over his last 51 games last season, Revere was batting .345 with 15 steals and 24 runs scored. Spring numbers are spring numbers but he did hit .294 with six steals in 21 games in Florida.
So what do we have with this group? It it far too soon to say with any certainty. We know one thing they are on paper - old. We know what they did this spring - not much. If this were a younger club we could accept some growing pains. Performances would be more unpredictable, but with older players, players coming off injury and a new manager and coaching staff, it is best to sit back and watch for a while.
What we do have for the first time this spring is 25 players. Those 25 players (plus Hamels and Ruf, who are on the DL) boarded the plane in and came together for the first time. There were no more roster battles, young players, players wearing jersey numbers over 58, just 25 guys who will be sitting in the visiting clubhouse in Texas. .
Can Jimmy Rollins and Ryne Sandberg put their differences behind them? Will Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Rollins each give Phillies fans one more deep run? Will Cole Hamels return as a top-of-the-rotation force? How will AJ Burnett fare after almost retiring this off-season? Can Dom Brown follow up a solid 2013 season with a better 2014 campaign? Is this the year the Phillies finally have a dependable bullpen? If there are save situations, will Jonathan Papelpon be able to close them out?
So many questions, it all plays out starting today.