Never Count the Phillies Out
Jimmy Rollins is full of sound and fury telling tales like an idiot and running his mouth faster than he has ever run out a ground ball, but there is wisdom in what he says. His conclusion is flawed that because the Phillies suffered through multiple injuries to position players they will automatically win the division in 2013. They have suffered through those same injuries before. The last time Chase Utley played over 150 games was 2009 which also happens to be the last time the Phillies made it to the World Series. Ryan Howard has been more durable for his career and 2012 was the first time since becoming a full time player that he failed to play more than 140 games.
When talking about the Philadelphia Phillies it is important to realize that their strength in 2010 and 2011 was still their strength in 2012. The Phillies were fifth in MLB in starting pitching fWAR with 16.6 only a win and a half less than the NL leading Washington Nationals at 18.1. The Phillies had a very good rotation and that rotation is returning for the 2013 season. Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, and Vance Worley form the cornerstone of a rotation that is four deep and can go toe to toe with any pitching staff in baseball. No team with a top four like that can be counted out.
The Phillies downfall came from their bullpen. While their starters were still getting the job done the bullpen wasn't. Phillies relievers were the 10th worst in ERA and 15th worst in FIP. The Phillies bullpen couldn't maintain leads that the starters gave them and above that the Phillies struggled to score runs. They finished right at league average with 4.22 runs a game. That isn't good enough for a team with a bad bullpen hoping to contend, and the offense wasn't that much different with Utley and Howard than it was without.
The big difference between the first half for the Phillies and the second half was that their starting pitching wasn't good in the first half with an ERA of 4.04 which they lowers by nearly half a run to 3.57 in the second half. A lot of this has to do with the health issues and struggles of Roy Halladay. Halladay has consistently been one of the best pitchers in baseball and his down year in 2012 means nothing more than a down year in 2012. The Phillies suffered so many down years and injuries to key players in one season it is hard to imagine the same happening for a second year in a row.
Of the Phillies star players only Jimmy Rollins played more than 150 games for the Phillies in 2013. Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino played in 101 games each before being shipped out west, Chase Utley appeared in 83 games, Ryan Howard in 71, and Carlos Ruiz in 114. That is a lot of star power missing a lot of time. All teams have injuries, but none could withstand that kind of blow to the heart of their line-up.
The division winning Washington Nationals were not free of injuries themselves, but five of their main contributors played at least 130 games in Ryan Zimmerman, Bryce Harper, Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa, and Adam LaRoche where Jimmy Rollins was the only Phillies star to even accomplish that modest feat of health.
It is hard to imagine the 2013 Phillies suffering the same number and degree of injuries as the 2012 version, but it is also hard to imagine them getting back to the team they were in 2011. Jimmy Rollins is partly right. The 2013 Phillies should be better than the 2012 Phillies, but that in no way makes them a lock for the division. The Nationals and Braves will be good again and the Mets will still have David Wright and a pitching staff with Dickey, Harvey, and at some point in the season Wheeler. The Mets are an outside shot to win the division, but their improvement will take wins away from the other teams in the division.
Before any significant off-season moves have been made by the Nats, Phillies, or Braves the Nationals have to be the favorite to win the division, but the Braves and Phillies cannot be counted out. Jimmy Rollins sounds like a bitter crazy jealous man, but he is partly right. When a team has as many good players as the Phillies do and didn't have them for much of 2012 they will be better in 2013, and while that may not be good enough to win the division consider that in 2012 when Ryan Howard started the Phillies were 39-27 a 96 win pace over 162 games. If Halladay returns to form, Lee gets run support, and Hamels doesn't change a thing then it may very well take more than 98 wins to win the NL East in 2013. And while the Nationals are the early favorites the Braves and Phillies are in the mix as well.