Phillies LHP Cole Hamels has been victimized by a lack of run support for the past couple of seasons. Will Hamels and the rest of the Phillies staff hold up under the pressure of an underperforming offense? Photo Courtesy of Renee Cendrowski.
Things are starting to become clearer for the Philadelphia Phillies as they are now under 2 weeks from the trip up North. Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. talked a couple of days ago about the health of Chase Utley, hours after the team released a statement saying that Utley had left camp to see a specialist about his knees. With Opening Day on the horizon, it is a virtual certainty that the team will start the season without two of its biggest stars – Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. Without the two biggest run producers on the team, it is pretty clear that the Phillies will have to rely more than ever on their pitching.
It’s no secret that the makeup of this team has shifted over the past few years from an offensive monster to a pitching first type of team. But will pitching alone be enough to carry this team? The Phillies offense struggled last year at times, and yet the Phillies were able to rack up a club record 102 wins.
While that may be true, the Phillies also had a healthy Ryan Howard in the lineup and even then, failed to score more than 3 runs in almost half of the games they played. That’s Not exactly offensive proficiency, folks.
The Phillies have an amazing pitching staff, there can be no question about that. However, with Roy Halladay quickly approaching 35 years old, Cliff Lee right behind him, and Cole Hamels entering negotiations for a long-term contract extension, you have to wonder if the threesome will be able to shoulder the burden of being the team’s only bright spots.
Heading to the mound and knowing that if you give up 2 or 3 runs, your team will likely not be able to overcome, is a lot of pressure for a pitcher, even if those pitchers are three of the best in baseball. Any pitcher will tell you that getting a couple of runs early in a game as a cushion goes a long way toward allowing them to settle into their game and be aggressive. If you’re constantly walking a tightrope, it can be pretty nerve racking. Especially when you’re expected to do it for a couple of years in a row.
This is not to say that the 3 aces won’t be able to overcome, but when all of the expectations are on your shoulders for prolonged periods of time, the game isn’t as much fun. You tighten up. When you tighten up, you’re more prone to making mistakes. Just look at this extended period of Phillies success for the example. In 2008 and 2009, how many times did you see Rollins, Howard and company laughing and smiling in the dugout? It was all the time. They had fun and they played loose and won. A lot.
The Phillies will need offense. Big years from Hunter Pence, Shane Victorino (who is in the last year of his contract) and Jimmy Rollins would be a big boost to this team. If John Mayberry can prove once and for all that he’s an everyday player at this level, things can be ok. I do believe, though, that the Phillies have counted on career years from their offense before after down years. It didn’t work out then, and to expect it from a team that’s a year older may not be the wisest thing to do.
If the Phillies don’t get Howard and Utley back for a significant chunk of the season, I don’t see this team winning more than 88 or 89 games. Yes, pitching wins, but you need to score as well.
That may be the biggest burden that the pitching staff will have to bear in 2012.