Injuries loom large in first losing season in 11 years
Howard, Halladay contribute little; Manuel replaced by Sandberg
PHILADELPHIA -- Jimmy Rollins has been a pretty solid prognosticator over his career.
He hit big when he called the Phillies the team to beat in the National League East in 2007, and they overcame a seven-game deficit with 17 games to play to win the division on the final day of the season. He said the Phillies would win 100 games in 2008. They won 103, including 11 in the postseason, on the way to the second World Series championship in franchise history.
But Rollins also spoke optimistically early this spring when told critics think the Phillies are too old and past their prime.
"Well, half of it is true," he said. "We're definitely an older team, especially when you look around our division. Are the better days behind us? It's going to be sunny in Philly when we get there. It looks like some pretty good days ahead of us for me."
Rollins' forecast had a puncher's chance when the Phillies improved to 49-48 the first game following the All-Star break to pull within 6 1/2 games of the first-place Braves in the NL East and within 5 1/2 games of the second NL Wild Card spot. But then the freefall came. The Phillies lost 19 of 23 and Charlie Manuel, the winningest manager in franchise history, lost his job. Ryne Sandberg took his place, shedding the interim label on Sept. 22.
But the Phillies finished the season with their first losing record since 2002.
They had placed much of their hope on Ryan Howard, Roy Halladay and Chase Utley. All three missed significant time in 2012 due to injuries, and the Phillies hoped each of them would be healthy and productive this year.
Only Utley was.
Howard injured his left knee and had surgery in July. Halladay had right shoulder surgery in May and battled an illness along the way, too.
The Phillies had high hopes for offseason acquisitions Michael Young, Mike Adams, Delmon Young, Ben Revere, Chad Durbin and John Lannan. The Phillies released Durbin early, Lannan battled a knee injury that ultimately required surgery, Adams suffered a shoulder injury that required surgery, Revere started to play well when he broke his right ankle in July and Michael Young and Delmon Young never really provided the offensive punch the front office expected.
It meant the Phillies would spend the final months of the season giving ample playing time to their most inexperienced players in a nod to the future.
Maybe that youth can improve the team's 2014 forecast.
Defining moment: The Phillies fired Manuel on Aug. 16 and replaced him with Sandberg. This figured to be Manuel's final season at the helm anyway, but the front office hoped a healthier team meant the Phillies had one more run in them. They were not completely healthy, but the healthy players also did not perform. And as things went south, it became more and more apparent the clubhouse needed a shakeup. It cost Manuel his job.
What went right: Other than a strained oblique, Utley stayed healthy and produced. That is encouraging going forward. Domonic Brown finally had his breakout season, making the National League All-Star team. Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels pitched well, although they would have benefited from some run support. And young players like Cody Asche, Darin Ruf, Justin De Fratus and Jake Diekman showed enough promise to make people feel good about their abilities to succeed next season.
What went wrong: Plenty of things. Howard and Halladay were not healthy. The new acquisitions failed to meet expectations. Carlos Ruiz started the season serving a 25-game suspension for using a banned stimulant. Rollins posted the worst offensive season of his career. The pitching staff as a whole, a strength for several seasons, was a weakness. The offense also sat at the bottom of the National League throughout the year.
Biggest surprise: The fact Utley not only stayed healthy, but produced as much as he did. He ranked among the top second basemen in baseball offensively, which is a good sign because the Phillies are desperate for offense.
Hitter of the Year: Brown made his first All-Star team and led the Phillies in nearly every offensive category. They certainly need more from him next season, when expectations will be much greater.
Pitcher of the Year: Hamels actually pitched well following a rough start, but the nod goes to Lee. He was consistent from the beginning of the season to the end, earning a spot on the All-Star team.
Rookie of the Year: Asche probably earned the Opening Day job at third base based on his performance this season. The Phillies like his bat, glove and makeup in the clubhouse. They hope he complements Howard, Utley and Rollins moving forward.