Nearly every single thing that could have gone wrong for the Phillies in 2012 went wrong, and Charlie Manuel still led his team to a .500 record. Manuel is often criticized for his tactical decisions, but the fact that his Ty Wigginton-Mike Fontenot-Chad Qualls Phillies still made it to 81-81 speaks volumes of his managerial work last season.
He’ll have fewer decisions to make in 2013. Chase Utley and Ryan Howard form a healthy middle-of-the-order, one that could be very productive if Michael Young and Domonic Brown do their jobs behind the lefties. The presence of Mike Adams removes any decisions Manuel would otherwise make in the eighth inning.
There are question marks, sure. Roy Halladay's right arm, Brown’s development, the defense at third base and in the corner outfield. But there is a different sense of positivity surrounding this team. The “reset” button was pushed on a clubhouse that wasn’t conducive to success in 2012, and the Phillies are the only team in Major League Baseball that begins its season with top-tier talent across the board but without a bulls-eye on its chest.
Can they rebound from 81-81 to make the playoffs? Here’s my take:
What will go right
• Utley will play more than 135 games and hit higher than .280 with more than 20 home runs, 80 RBIs, 17 steals and a .370 on-base percentage.
• Howard will go over 30 and 100 for the seventh time since 2006.
• Cliff Lee will win at least 16 games.
• Adams will turn into the steal of the offseason by pitching to a sub-2.00 ERA.
• Brown will perform like Andre Ethier of the Dodgers – .280/.360/.460 with 22 home runs.
What will go wrong
• Halladay will be a start-to-start pitcher, finishing 13-11 with a 3.85 ERA.
• Carlos Ruiz, upon his return, won’t be the same hitter he was in 2012. Rather than hit .325 with a .934 OPS, he’ll hit .285 with a .840 OPS, still great offensive numbers for a catcher.
• Michael Young will give fans new-found appreciation for the defense of Placido Polanco and Pedro Feliz.
• Delmon Young won’t cut it in right field or at the plate, forcing the Phils to either go back to a platoon of John Mayberry and Laynce Nix, or scour the outfield market.
• In his second year in the NL, Jonathan Papelbon will come down a bit from his 2012 numbers, posting an ERA in the 2.80-3.00 range rather than 2.44.
What could go right
• Michael Young will have a bounce-back year at the plate at age 36 the way Derek Jeter did at age 37 in 2011. (The two have surprisingly similar career numbers.)
• John Lannan and Kyle Kendrick combine for 22 wins and a 4.00 ERA.
• The Phillies take advantage of a favorable early schedule – 13 of their first 32 games are against the Marlins and Mets – to get out to a 19-13 start.
• Jimmy Rollins will win his fifth Gold Glove.
• Ruben Amaro and Kenny Williams of the White Sox will hook up at some point this season for a trade. (Alex Rios, anyone?)
What could go wrong
• Phillippe Aumont, Antonio Bastardo and Chad Durbin – all prone to varying bouts of wildness – will put the Phillies in bad spots throughout the year, and one will have an altogether ineffective 2013.
• One of Howard, Michael Young or Halladay will have a bout on the DL.
• Lannan and Kendrick combine for 15 wins and a 4.50 ERA.
• Cliff Lee will go homerless for the second straight year.
• Ben Revere is moved down in the order, where he doesn’t belong.
Other random NL East predictions
• Giancarlo Stanton of the Marlins hits 31 homers because he never sees a pitch to hit.
• The Braves realize how much better the production of Chipper Jones and Martin Prado was than the limitless potential of a strikeout-prone outfield of B.J. Upton, Justin Upton and Jason Heyward.
• The Mets and Marlins finish with two of the four worst records in either league.
• The Phillies make the playoffs as the first wild card.