Phillies confident as usual, but questions abound
After down season in 2012, age, health and Halladay's status loom large
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The Phillies entered Spring Training last month with countless questions at numerous positions. Those questions cannot be truly answered until they open their 2013 season Monday against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field.
But following several weeks of workouts and Grapefruit League games in Florida, the Phillies believe they have a better feel for things. They believe they have a healthier team, and subsequently an improved team capable of returning to the postseason following a .500 finish in 2012.
Skeptics, naturally, think otherwise. They think the Phillies are simply too old and too far past their prime.
W: Avilan L: Hamels SV: Kimbrel
"Well, half of it is true," Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins said during camp. "We're definitely an older team, especially when you look around our division. Are the better days behind us? It's going to be sunny in Philly when we get there. It looks like some pretty good days ahead of us, for me."
Rollins is perennially optimistic about his team's chances. He said following the final game of last season the Phillies would have won their sixth consecutive National League East championship had they been healthy. It was a bold statement considering the Phillies finished a pedestrian 81-81, while the first-place Nationals finished 98-64, the best record in baseball.
Nationals outfielder Jayson Werth correctly pointed out they had injuries, too. He said they might have won 120 games if they were healthy.
But it will help the Phillies to have Chase Utley and Ryan Howard in the lineup Opening Day. Utley has missed the beginning of each of the previous two seasons because of chronically injured knees. Howard missed the first three months last season following left Achilles surgery. Both players have been healthy this spring with neither restricted in their workloads.
That is good news.
"If those guys are healthy you know they're going to perform," Rollins said. "Their track record shows it. Unfortunately, when they're not healthy, the track record shows for that, too. But they look good. Chase, I know feels good. Ryan, I got to work out with him in the offseason before we started all of this, he was looking and feeling good, his weight is at a place where his legs can handle it. And everybody is in the right mind frame.
"We're a complete team. We're not going out there with role players. We're going out there with everyday players, every game. And that's the plan right now, until that changes."
Roy Halladay has been the other big health question, but he remains a serious concern, despite insistences inside the organization he is fine. Halladay looked OK in his first two Grapefruit League starts, but his velocity dipped in his third as he mentioned "dead arm." He suffered in his fourth start March 12, getting shellacked in 2 2/3 innings and complaining of lethargy. He lasted just one inning March 17 in his fourth start because of a stomach virus. Then, in a Minor League game Saturday at Carpenter Complex, he allowed 11 of 18 batters to reach base. He had his final tuneup Thursday against the Blue Jays and surrendered two runs in 4 1/3 innings, allowing runners to reach base in every inning but the first.
"I feel good physically," Halladay has repeated.
But Halladay acknowledged he must win differently than he has in the past, because his velocity has dropped. If he can win throwing 88-89 mph, the Phillies will be thrilled. If Halladay struggles like he has struggled in camp, it will be difficult.
It also will be a blow to the team's chances. The Phillies need a good Doc in 2013. Even with Utley and Howard back, the team has spent a lot of money to win with pitching.
But the bullpen should be strong with Jonathan Papelbon and Mike Adams pitching the final two innings. Elsewhere, Michael Young has looked better than expected at third base and Ben Revere has impressed manager Charlie Manuel, making one wonder if he will hit high in the lineup Opening Day.
And Domonic Brown? He has looked like the player the Phillies refused to trade a few years ago. If he can hit in the regular season anything like he has hit in Spring Training, the Phillies will have one less thing to worry about.
But there is no question this is a team that needs things to break its way more than it needed that in the past. Manuel pretty much rolled out the lineup and pitching staff in previous seasons, and the Phillies won a ton of games.
It isn't that easy anymore.
"That's 30 teams," Rollins said. "Thirty teams need things to go right."
If things don't go right, one wonders about the future. Utley, Halladay, Young and Carlos Ruiz will be free agents after the season. There could be some big changes there. But Rollins said this isn't a do-or-die, final shot for the Phillies.
"Nope, nope," Rollins said. "Not at all. I'd love to do it with these guys. It would give the team more incentive to bring them back, but I don't think it's one last shot. If you know you're going to lose somebody at some point -- be it retirement, or traded, free agency, injured -- you just have to find somebody to replace them, or do the job well enough to give the team a chance to win."
The Phillies think they will win this year. Everybody gets to find out the truth beginning Monday in Atlanta.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.