Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Hard Truth about the Phils' Lineup

It's something that most Phillies fans have considered lately. Many of us don't speak it, for it would seem petty and obnoxious for fans of a $160 million-payroll team to complain about shortcomings. It's bigger than Chase Utley's injury. It's more extensive than the loss of Jayson Werth. Indeed, there is a looming and growing concern among many of us that the Phils could become an average to slightly-below average offensive club in 2011.

Here's how it happens. Chase Utley misses most, if not all, of 2011 with his nagging knee injury. Wilson Valdez and Luis Castillo offer slightly-below league average offensive production in his absence. Ben Francisco performs as expected in right-field, recording about a .750-.775 OPS with 15 HRs and 65 RBIs this year, a level of production considerably below that of Jayson Werth in 2008, 2009, or 2010. Placido Polanco and his aging and chronically sore elbow provide average production from third base, while Jimmy Rollins continues his three-year decline (I know we don't want to believe it, but it's true). Carlos Ruiz remains respectable at the plate, but sees his fluke 2010 OBP of .400 drop considerably. Shane Victorino hits in the .260 range again with too few walks and 10-15 HRs, while Raul Ibanez's diligent work-ethic cannot guide his 39-year-old body to anything beyond 20 HRs, a .340 OBP, and an .800 OPS ... at best. Last but not least, Ryan Howard continues to hit for power, but also fails to adjust to seeing fewer and fewer fastballs, and suffers a numerical decline by virtue of having less protection in the lineup.

All of the above are not only possible, but actually quite believable. The offensive output detailed would quite possibly rank 4th in the NL East and about 10th in the National League in 2011. With park factors, the figures could be technically be higher ... but these would be illusionary.

I hope it doesn't happen, but as I look at the starting lineup, I see large question marks at RF and 2B ... likely production declines at C, 1B, and SS ... and little optimism for improvement in LF, CF, or 3B.

Despite some rough outings this spring, the rotation should be great. More and more, I'm realizing that it better be.

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