Expectations for the Phillies have never been so low during the Citizens Bank Park era. But there will be plenty to watch for during a season in which the Phillies play with house money.
1. How will the Phillies score runs?
As bad as the Phillies offense was in 2014, it figures to be even worse this season. Two of their most productive bats, Jimmy Rollins and Marlon Byrd, have been dealt. The Phillies have little to almost no power. Ryne Sandberg desperately needs Ryan Howard to have a resurgence as a power hitter or for someone else has to step up. The Phillies hurlers are going to need to shut down most lineups in order to have a chance to win.
2. How will Cole Hamels deal and will the Phillies ace be dealt by the trade deadline?
There are a number of questions surrounding Hamels. How frustrated will King Cole be on a team that is expected to offer little to no support? Will Hamels continue to pitch as well as he did in 2014? Will Hamels put a gun to Ruben Amaro’s head and demand a trade? Will Amaro lessen his demands for Hamels or hold out for a massive package for his one big trade chip?
3. Will Ryan Howard bounce back?
Howard is starting at first base after suffering through a very difficult 2014, professionally and personally. The good news is that Howard played through his first healthy season since his devastating Achillies injury and he is slimmer and more mobile than he’s been in years. The bad news is that he looked like the same old player in spring, who doesn’t put the ball in play often.
4. Is Odubel Herrera for real?
One of the few real bright spots in spring training was the play of Herrera. The Rule 5 acquisition not only figures to stay on the roster all season, Herrera will be the starting centerfielder when the Phillies open against the Red Sox. The converted second baseman impressed all spring. Herrera hit a plethora of line drive singles and led the Grapefruit league in stolen bases. Just prior to the start of spring training games, a NL scout told Metro that Herrera would be the Phillies starting leftfielder and leadoff hitter. That was a heck of a prediction since Herrera came out of nowhere.
5. Can Freddy Galvis continue to hit?
Galvis was a pleasant offensive surprise (.278/.307/.375) during spring training. Can Galvis, who has struggled mightily with the bat during his major league career, hit .250? If so, that would be huge for the Phillies since Galvis has gap power and has a great glove.
6. Can David Buchanan take it to another level?
Buchanan quietly impressed last season by allowing three earned runs or less in 16 straight starts. He was even better during spring training as he finished with 1.29 ERA. Part of the key is that Buchanan pounded the plate. His stuff is hardly overwhelming but Buchanan is smart and has plenty of guts.
7. Will Chase Utley get some breaks in order to be productive?
There is no doubt that Utley can still hit. Prior to being overused last season, Utley was a tough out. Utley put up great numbers during a spring in which he was well rested.. The iconic Phillie hit . 412 and posted a 1.297 OPS in Grapefruit league play. Sandberg has to give Utley some time off in order to keep him fresh. Utley can’t start more than 120 games.
8. Will the bullpen be as good as it was in 2014?
One of the few silver linings for the Phillies last season was its young bullpen. The relievers, save Jonathan Papelbon, were 27 and under and impressive. Will Ken Giles back issues plague the team and will Jake Diekman and Justin DeFratus improve or at least replicate what they did in 2014?
9. Will Cody Asche work hard enough to be a difference maker?
You can’t help but be impressed with Cody Asche’s worth ethic. His drive is Utley-esque. He laid down a decent foundation last year but it appears that most expect Maikel Franco to eventually unseat Asche at third base. “I don’t like Asche,” a NL scout said. “Franco is much, much better. There’s no debating that.” Well, Asche will be fascinating to watch. He’s still young at 24 and he had a quick rise through the system. How far will Asche’s will take him? Will Asche emerge or wilt?
10. How many games will the Phillies be back on May 1?
The Phillies April schedule is daunting. They open with the powerful Red Sox. There are six games with the Nationals, who on paper, are the best team in baseball. The Phillies play four games on the road in St. Louis. Series with the improved Marlins and Mets will be no cakewalk. Will the Phillies be buried before Mother’s Day or will Sandberg’s team surprise?