Vegas odds makers set the Phils over-under at 66.5 wins this year – the fewest for any Major League team. What’s your number? Here’s a handy guide. For each question you answer “yes,” add two wins to that total. For each “no,” subtract two.
1. Somehow, Ryan Howard and Darin Ruff combined for 35 homers and 116 RBI last season in 735 at bats. Can the slow-footed L-R platoon equal or improve those stats in 2016?
2. Pete Mackanin lost the “interim” manager tag this season. The anti-Sandberg is praised for steadying young players. At age 64, does the first-time, full-time skipper have the right stuff to direct a Major League team?
3. Aaron Nola. He’s for real, right?
4. The Phils top four outfielders combined for just 34 homers and 151 RBIs last season – by far the worst production in baseball. Can Odubel Herrera, Cody Asche (when he's healthy) and two guys you never heard of – Peter Bourjos and Tyler Goeddel – provide more pop?
5. Despite Mikael Franco’s nine Spring Training bombs, Vegas puts his over-under at just 23.5 homers. I’m pushing in all my chips on the over. You too?
6. Jeremy Hellickson and Charlie Morton are retread starters looking to reestablish once-bright careers. They replace Aaron Harang and Jerome Williams, who racked up a 10-27 record and 5.25 ERA. Anything is an improvement over those bums, right?
7. Does the beloved Chooch have anything left? If not, is Cameron Rupp a competent starter?
8. Bailey, Hernandez, Frieri and Hinojosa is not the name of a law firm specializing in immigration issues. It’s a list of candidates for the closer’s job. Will any of them prove capable of avoiding ninth-inning walks and Citizens Bank Park cheapie homers?
9. New GM Matt Klentak looks like a fresh-scrubbed high schooler prepping for the prom, but no one’s more important in building the future than this 35-year rookie. Trust him yet?
10. Jerad Eickoff, 23, pitched to a 2.65 ERA last season after coming from Texas for Cole Hamels. Vince Velasquez, also 23, had a 2.25 Grapefruit League ERA after coming from Houston for Ken Giles. Are these young arms worth believing in?
11. Gone from the Phils are Dom Brown, Ben Revere, David Buchanan and Jeff Francoeur – but also Hamels, Giles and, yep, Jonathan Papelbon. Does that work out to a net plus?
12. Will the reinforcements arrive on time to impact this season? If all goes as planned the lineup could add SS J.P Crawford and OF Nick Williams by early summer, with others to follow. Will the kids survive being thrown into the deep end?
So what’s your tally? I go “yes” on 2, 3, 5, 6, 9, 10 and 12. That adds a net four wins, which puts it at 70.5. I’ll round down and say the Phils go 70-92.
It isn’t much, but would be a seven-game improvement over last year. And if the answer to Question 12 is a “yes,” everything else falls into place moving forward.