Would Your Hand Win If You Had Four Aces?

Steve O Speak

A Fanspeak Guest Blog By Corey M. Schwartz

There is a certain glow around the Phillies spring training camp this year, and it’s more than just Jimmy Rollins 10K diamond earrings or Ryan Howard’s White Escalade with 26” Chrome Asantis Rims. In fact, the glow surfaces primarily from four individuals who do everything they can to hide from the limelight, and honestly, show less emotion come game time than a British Royal Guard. However, is that really where we should be focusing our attention regarding the Phillies?

Philadelphia is a city poised for greatness and triumphed battles (see Rocky I-VI, Liberty Bell, Pat’s vs. Geno’s, the film Philadelphia, Invincible, Tasty Cakes, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Transformers, etc.). Embarking on the 2011 baseball season, the Philadelphia Phillies will head to the table with four aces, $161 million payroll, and a potential wild card in Domonic Brown. Does this guarantee to be a winning hand? Honestly, I am not convinced.

What MLB coach wouldn’t want to wake up in the morning and hand the baseball over to their 4th starter, an individual that will either have a Cy Young, NLCS MVP, WS MVP, or comeback player of the year award under their belt? Don’t get me wrong; the Phillies starting rotation will win this year – a lot of games too. In fact, I predict that in 2011 their starting rotation will have at least two, 20 game winners. The last time Philadelphia witnessed that occurring was almost 100 years ago in 1916 when Grover Alexander (32) and Eppa Rixey (22) accomplished the feat.

Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hammels, and Cliff Lee – now referred to as R2C2 by the media world – would make any coach giddy about the upcoming baseball season. In fact, the great prophet Jimmy Rollins just announced his prediction for the 2011 baseball season – 100+ wins and possibly the most wins in baseball history. It’s true, offense attracts the fans, but pitching will always win championships. But the bigger question here is, can these four high-profile pitchers be enough to overcome some glaring holes in the Phillies lineup and an overall aging team (average age = 30+)?

With the departure of the power hitting right-handed bat of Jayson Werth to the Nationals during the off-season, the first major question I must present is “Who’s in right?” At a glance, the obvious solution here would be the Phillies Top 25 MLB prospect Domonic Brown. Brown’s ability to hit for average and power and his often-touted speed and arm make him a potential 5-tool super-star in the making. Unfortunately there are two problems’ with this solution: 1.) Did anyone else watch Brown’s swing disappear like a Harry Houdini act last fall? And 2.) He’s another left-handed bat.

Nevertheless, it seems Domonic will be Philadelphia’s go to guy. The Phillies have stated emphatically over the last two weeks that he’s been working extremely hard this winter to correct some major flaws in his swing that showed face late last season. Essentially, it’s Domonic’s position to lose this spring. Trust me, everyone especially Charlie and Domonic hope that this means the return of his double threat attack of power and hitting for average that he showcased in the minors. The reality of it all, however, is even if his swing returns; can he handle the rigors of a full major league baseball season?

Mechanically, Brown may be back to the feared hitter he was in the Phillies farm system. Unfortunately for him, and the Phillies, is the fact that he is another left-handed bat in an already extremely heavy left-handed lineup. Does being left-handed mean being left-out come opening day? I guess we will just have to wait and see how well downtown Brown performs this spring.

As it sits right now, the projected lineup for the Phillies come April 1st, 2011 will look something like this:

SS Jimmy Rollins S
3B Placido Polanco R
2B Chase Utley L
1B Ryan Howard L
LF Raul Ibanez L
CF Shane Victorino S
RF Domonic Brown L
C Carlos Ruiz R

With not one right-handed power bat, yet alone right-handed bat period in the middle of that lineup, any team with a left-handed pitcher who can break 80 on the radar gun and throw something that resembles a breaking or off-speed pitch can potentially handle the meat of the Phillies lineup with relative ease. This-is-not-good!

How can the Phillies ratify this issue? There options as of right now are slim to none with bringing in either Ben Francisco or John Mayberry off of the bench. At best, Ben (4yr exp., .263, 39, 140) has been very streaky with his productivity in a Phillies uniform but has shown promise when given the opportunity to play regularly. John (2yr exp., .232, 6, 14), although showing promise as a potential power hitting outfielder, has very littler major league experience and has seemed to adopt Ryan Howard’s philosophy on off-speed pitching – swing often, swing hard, swing and a miss.

The haunting question becomes, are the Phillies setting themselves up for yet another epic fail offensively come playoff time (see: 2010 NLCS vs. Giants)?

In my opinion, one of two things needs to happen in 2011 in order for the Phillies to return to the World Series. Either Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez invest their combined $30+ millions dollar salaries this year in an off-speed pitch hitting coach, or the Phillies need to hope and pray that Domonic Brown will be productive against both left and right –handed pitching in his first full year of major league service. Oh yeah, and if the Phillies can find Ponce De León’s “Fountain of Youth” while in Florida this spring, that may not necessarily be a bad thing. Viva la Moyer!

I guess what it will really come down to for the Phillies this year is being able to win with the cards that they are dealt, and not necessarily just having the best hand in the deck. Even if the Phillies really do have four aces in their hand.

(Corey, an avid Phillies fan, will be analyzing the Phillies chances at another ring through a 3-part series looking at their offense, pitching, and the x-factor. Corey is also the Founder and CEO of RemixYourHealth, a grassroots and social media based health promotion initiative. Visit RemixYourHealth.com for more information or check out the RemixYourHealth Group on FanSpeak!)

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