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Hope and Hype in the NL East, Part 3

Mike SteffanosFriday, February 23, 2007
By Mike Steffanos

We continue our quick looks at the NL east with the self-appointed division favorites from down the turnpike.

Philadelphia Phillies
Last year the Phillies played to their predictable pattern of the last few years -- after playing bad enough to fall out of the race they played well enough to get back in, but managed in the end to come up short of the playoffs yet again. Once again this year the weight of expectations is on Philadelphia, and it will be interesting to watch if for once they can live up to that.

Rotation: A weakness of the Phillies during their six-year run of mediocrity, the team has assembled a solid collection of starters for 2007. At 27, Brett Myers is inconsistent and hot-headed, but has established himself as a better than average starter. Lefty Cole Hamels has battled injury throughout his minor league career and last season in his first taste of the majors. When he pitches, he lives up to all of the hype he's received. Only injuries could sidetrack him from being a legitimate number one starter. Freddy Garcia, who will turn 31 in June, has been losing velocity for the past few years. He also gives up a lot of homeruns, and that's not likely to change in the bandbox that is Citizens Bank Park. Still, he's been over 200 innings for six straight years, and is 32 games over .500 in that period. The oft-injured Adam Eaton, on the other hand, hasn't made it over 200 innings in 7 major league seasons, throwing more than 150 innings only twice in that span. Jamie Moyer is 44 years old, but has 6 straight seasons over 200 innings and relies on outthinking hitters rather than overpowering them.

Bullpen: This is where it gets ugly for the Phillies. Those of us who remember the 2005 Mets porous 'pen could enjoy a strong sense of déjà vu watching the Phillies in 2007. Closer Tom Gordon is 39, and had a poor second half last season that included time on the DL with shoulder woes. Ryan Madson is a valuable reliever who can be used both long and short, and Geoff Geary is a competent setup man. After that, it gets really dicey for the Phillies, and if Gordon goes down again it could go really bad.

Jimmy Rollins aside, many legitimate prognosticators will probably pick Philadelphia to win the NL east this season. They'll base it on the advantage in starting pitching the Phils have over the Mets. It's a legitimate case, and I won't kill anybody for buying into it. Make no mistake; however, the Phillies need things to really go their way to win this division. Their substandard bullpen will absolutely require that they get the maximum out of their starters, and even then, it's imperative that Gordon stays healthy for a full season. If a couple of their starters go down and Gordon continues to decline, this team is going to have to win a lot of 9-7 games.

They aren't without questions on the offensive side, either. Teams are going to give Ryan Howard the Barry Bonds/Albert Pujols treatment. Pat Burrell will need to stay healthy and productive to give Howard some protection in the lineup, because there really aren't that many hitters that inspire any sort of fear beyond Howard, Utley, Rollins and Burrell. It's a very different Phillies offense that features more grinders than bangers.

The Phillies biggest challenge will be to step up and live up to the weight of expectations, something they have been unable to do for over two decades. The local Philly writers are almost breathless in their desire to drum up some sort of silly trash-talking rivalry, but the Mets aren't biting, nor should they. You have to earn that sense of rivalry on the field, and that will be Philadelphia's task in 2007.

I see the Phillies basically finishing somewhere around the 86 wins they've managed 3 of the last 6 years. If things go really bad for the Mets with their starters, that could well be enough to take this division. On the other hand, if the Phillies lose a couple of their starters and struggle to surpass the .500 mark, the natives will turn on that team fairly quickly and it could be another season of discontent in the city of brotherly love.

Tomorrow we'll look at the Nationals.

About Mike: I was the original writer on this web site, actually its only writer for the first 15 months of existence. Although I am grateful for the excellent contributions of my fellow writers here, I have no plans of stepping back into strictly an editorial role. I started this thing in the first place because I love to write and I love the Mets, and blogging here keeps me somewhat sane. If you haven't had enough already, more bio info can be found here.

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Comments (5)

After watching these guys a lot for six straight years (in the DE market, you get them and the Orioles--while less than an hour's drive north, Comcast gives you SNY. Grrr.) you are consistently impressed with their ability to find ways to lose. Schilling, Thome, Abreu and the incomparable Larry Bowa are long gone, but no matter; changing names and faces never seems to do a darn bit of good.

They get decent pitching performances here and there, tremendous offense here and there, make righteous plays here and there (especially Rollins) but never seem to put it all together in the way the Braves, and now Mets are capable of. They are the quintessential "fits and starts" team.

Since I firmly believe the wild card is most likely to come out of the NL Central (Cards will not go easy on the Cubs, and vice versa) this year, the Phils either have to make good on their current creeping media buzz and beat the hell out of the Mets, or... well, you can amusingly finish the sentence yourself.

I had about the same thought as Geezer.

To wit: wow, they've collected some talent over there. Bet you they screw it up somehow.

Philly's going to have to show me something before I'll start being impressed.

PS: is Hope and Hype anything like Faith and Fear?

geezer - That's pretty much how I feel about them, too.
dd - "Hope and Hype" comes from something I wrote in an otherwise excruciatingly bad piece the first year of this blog when I was really sick with Lyme disease. It occurred to me then that it's an apt description of what happens in spring training each year, so I borrowed it for the title of these previews. If anyone wants to take it as a tribute to our good friend Greg's web site, that's fine, too.

I'm with everyone else. The Phillies have to prove something they haven't been able to do since the days of Dykstra and Wild Thing. And the recent comments by Rollins and Myers serve as a comical reminder of the inferiority complex the entire city of Philadelphia has with New York.

That being said, they are clearly a team that has the ingredients to be competitive. I expect the Mets to win the East again with about 7 or 8 games to spare, but the best way to ensure a repeat of 2006 is to handle and demoralize the Phillies the way the Mets did during their June surge. For all intents and purposes, the NL East was a done deal after that series. A repeat performance would probably have the same effect this year.

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