Season Preview: The Bullpen

When you think of the great baseball players, rarely does anyone ever mention a relief pitcher.  Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Cy Young, Nolan Ryan, the list of all-time greats goes on and on.  But if you asked almost anyone, it would take a long, long time before a reliever is mentioned as one of the best players ever.  However, there may not be a more important, or underrated part of a team than the guys that come out of the bullpen.  Without them, everything that the starting pitchers and position players do is meaningless and as Phillies fans know, a good reliever can make all the difference in the world for a team, but a bad do some serious damage (see Lidge, Brad 2008 and 2009).  The Phillies seem to have realized this and, despite a strong performance from their relievers last year, went out and got some new players to assure that if a game is lost late this year, chances are it won’t be because of the bullpen. Continue reading

Season Preview: Starting Pitching

In 2007 the Phillies had one of the most dominant offenses in baseball, coming in second place in the MLB, as a team, in total runs, home runs, slugging percentage and on-base-plus-slugging (OPS).  In addition, the Phillies had the 2007 MVP in Jimmy Rollins, as well as Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, both of whom finished in the top ten in MVP voting.  However, the Phillies pitching was far different from their hitting, finishing 23rd in ERA, and batting average against, as well as 20th in quality starts, 18th in strikeouts, and a pitiful 27th in shutouts.  All of this was even with Cole Hamels, who was an All-Star and finished sixth in Cy Young voting with 15 wins, a 3.39 ERA and 1.12 WHIP that was sixth best in the MLB.  It did not take long for the Phillies pitching to catch up to them, as they were bounced from the playoffs in just four games by the eventual World Series runner-up Colorado Rockies.

The next year, the Phillies made major improvements to their pitching staff, adding key pieces like 2008 hero Brad Lidge and Jamie Moyer to help fill the team’s major holes.  The additions certainly helped, turning the Phillies into a top ten team in most pitching categories and leading the Phillies to their first World Series victory in 28 years.  Since then, pitching has come first in Philadelphia and this year’s group of starting pitchers is no exception. Continue reading

It’s the End of the NL Central as We Know It

After this season, the National League and baseball as a whole will never be

Watch out for the Reds this season

the same. After this season, the NL Central will revert to a five-team division and the Houston Astros will move to the AL West, giving each division five teams and making the traditional one month of Interleague Play a thing of the past. But first, the 2012 season must play out. Here’s how things will go down in the National League Central: Continue reading

Season Preview: The Outfield

The Phillies’ line-up is flawed.  The Phillies’ line-up is injured.  The Phillies’ line-up is old.  But if there is anything that is young, healthy and nearly perfect about the Phillies’ line-up, it is the outfield.  Featuring three men who are in the prime of their careers, few would be surprised if all three of the Phillies projected starters, Shane Victorino, Hunter Pence and John Mayberry Jr., were selected to represent the National League in this summer’s All-Star game.  But with great power comes great responsibility and considering the challenges that the Phillies’ offense is likely to face, the outfielders are going to have to do most of the heavy lifting for this line-up. Continue reading

Redemption 101: The Atlanta Braves’ 2012 Season

A lot can be said about the Braves’ historic collapse at the end of last year.

After coming so close last year, the Braves are hungry for October baseball in 2012.

The blame could be placed on anyone and everyone, from the team that narrowly snatched the National League Wild Card from them, the St. Louis Cardinals — who eventually went on to win the World Series — to the Braves’ closer, NL Rookie-of-the-Year Craig Kimbrel. No matter what you say or who you choose to blame, one question stands out for Atlanta this season: How do you come back from the largest collapse in the history of baseball?

On August 25 last season, the Braves led the Cardinals by 10 1/2 games in the NL Wild Card Race — although at that point, it was more like a speed walk for Atlanta, who had all but wrapped up a postseason berth. Then, almost as if the entire team forgot to wear their slump-busting undies at the same time, they lost 18 of their 27 games in September and missed the playoffs, with their absolute breakdown culminating in a three-game sweep at the hands of your Philadelphia Phillies that knocked the Braves out of contention on the last day of the season.

Now, the redemption project begins. Continue reading