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Phillies Begin 2012 Quest for Success

       
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Welcome back subscribers to Blogging Baseball as the 2012 Spring Training exhibition games begin, and as the Phillies begin their quest for success — hopes for a sixth straight NL East championship, which would be their third NL pennant in six seasons, and for their second World Championship in six seasons.

Blogging Baseball went into a early 2011 post-season hiatus after the Phils loss of their divisional series in 5 games to the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals.   As 1st baseman Ryan Howard tore his achilles tendon on the final out of the decisive 5th game, this author was in the midst of dealing with personal issues.

Ryan Howard
This season, blog posts will be less frequent, but hopefully more concise and even more informative.

The Phils begin the new season minus a few familiar faces are missing and some new faces have been added:

Who’s Gone:
GM Reuben Amaro Jr. let last season’s standout closer, and a fixture in the Phils’ bullpen for years, Ryan Madson go in free agency, just when it looked like a deal was about to be signed and sealed keeping Madson in Phils’ red pinstripes.  Madson, and his agent found the free agency closer market tough this off-season and Madson ultimately signed with the Cincinnati Reds for far less than he and his agent had hoped for, and far less than Amaro paid to sign Jon Papelbon away from the  Boston Red Sox.
Wilson Valdez
Popular utility infielder, and nineteenth inning pitcher Wilson Valdez was released by team in the off-season and signed by Cincinnati.Leftfielder Raul Ibanez, a fixture in leftfield since 2009, was released by the team after another slumping season in 2011.  He signed with the Yankees and opened the exhibition season going 1 for 3 with and RBI double as the Yankees beat the Phils in their Saturday game by an 8-5 score.

Starting pitcher Roy Oswalt, thought to be the fourth of the four aces rotation and who suffered through an injury-ridden 2011, still shows up on Yahoo sports as connected with the Phillies although his name does not show up on the Phils’ spring training roster.

Outfielder Ben Francisco, whose seventh inning winning pinch-hit 3-run homer made a winner out of starter Cole Hamels and gave the Phils a temporary 2 games to 1 lead over the Cards, was released by the club in the post-season.

Closer Brad Lidge, the hero of the 2008 Championship season and who successfully closed 48 games without a blown save as the Phils won every game where they had a lead in the eighth inning, was released by the club after having sub-par subsequent seasons and suffering with leg and back injury issues.  Lidge was picked up by the Washington Nationals.

Who’s New:
 
With Howard’s projected return to the active roster unknown, the Phils went looking in the off-season for stop-gaps to fill the hole left, as well as to bolster their utility corps and pinch-hitting.  They acquired former 1st baseman and possessor of over 600 career homers — Jim Thome from the Cleveland Indians, as well as Ty Wigginton, who can play both 3rd base and 1st base as well as the outfield corners and hit for some power,  and Laynce Nix who can also play 1st base as well as all 3 outfield positions.

The Phils also went for bolstering their bullpen with acquisitions of closer Papelbon, reliever Chad Qualls, as well as former  Marlins’ phenom Dontrelle Willis, who could give additional lefthanded relief flexibility should lefthanded reliever Antonio Bastardo get shelled as ocurred in the final games of the 2011 regular season.  Papelbon had a perfect fifth inning in the opener with the Yanks.

The 2012 Phils look to rev-up their offense, which at times during the 2011 season went flat putting additional pressure on their rotation of aces and the bullpen.   They need more productivity out of leadoff hitter and shortstop Jimmy Rollins, and returns to form by 2nd baseman Chase Utley and 3rd baseman Placido Polanco — both oft-injured in 2011.  2/3rds of the outfield look solid with the ‘Flyin’ Hawaiian’ Shane Victorino in centerfield and Hunter Pence in right.  The real question in the outfield is:  Will 2012 be the season that Domonic Brown proves ready for major league prime time and lock down the leftfield spot vacated with the release of Ibanez, or will he be platooned with John Mayberry Jr.?  Mayberry Jr. could also see time at 1st base, along with Thome, Wigginton and Nix — on spelling Howard until he returns.   Imagine a lineup of Rollins, Polanco, Wigginton with Utley batting clean-up and Pence batting 5th.

With the first 3 spots in the rotation solid locks with aces in Roy Halladay and lefthanders Cliff Lee and Hamels, there will be a heck of battle for the 4th and 5th starter spots between Joe Blanton, Kyle Kendrick and rookie sensation Vance Worley.   If there is any pitching questions, they focus on the bullpen.  Will David Herndon and Michael Stutes deliver as in 2011.   Will Antonio Bastardo repeat the lights-out performances of 3/4 of the 2011 season or flame-out early.   And will Dontrelle Willis come out of the bullpen to spell Bastardo in the lefty relief spot?  Will young relievers Joe Savery and Michael Schwimer rise to major league levels and give the bullpen a lift?   Will Jose Contreras return to the form his showed in 2011 before going down with his injury. Will Papelbon be a lights-out closer with the Phillies, as he was through his seasons with the Red Sox?   Will his performance in 2012 approach or exceed Madson’s level of 2011?How the offense and relief pitching perform seem key to the Phillies’ fortunes in the 2012 season. By the way, the Phils and Yankees played their exhibition openers on Saturday with the Phils on the short end of the score.  The two teams play again on Sunday, this time in the Yankees’ Florida venue.   

Here’s hoping for an NL pennant and World Championship in 2012.  Let’s go Phillies!!

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