I'm glad that I've decided to determine which teams I preview by dice throw this season. If I'd picked on my own, I surely would have avoided some of these more difficult cases. Take the Phillies. I don't know what to make of these guys. For seemingly every year from 2000 to 2005 I picked them to end the Braves' division title run. It never happened. Then last year I didn't pick them (as revenge, I think), and they showed some real life for the first time in ages. This was of course after they shipped Bobby Abreu to the Yankees in what was supposed to be a white flag trade. Ryan Howard was like, yeah man. They replaced Billy Wagner with Tom Gordon and barely thought twice about it. Cole Hamels successfully negotiated the transition between Starter of the Future and Starter of the Present, and if Ryan Madson was unable to do the same at least the Phillies know for sure he's a reliever now. Mike Lieberthal's contract finally expired. Chase Utley was pretty like, yeah man himself. And if Aaron Rowand didn't hit much, he did such a good job of being the all-hustle anti-Abreu that now the White Sox are all hot to get him back.
Still, I don't want to pick the Phillies to win the East in 2007. It just seems like for as much positive change as has taken place in Philadelphia, too many things still seem the same. The names have changed, but...you know how the song goes. They've still got an underrated outfielder who just can't win with Philly fans, with Pat Burrell sliding into Abreu's old role. They've still got a pitching staff that looks better on paper than it will on the field, with red flags all over. Randy Wolf and Vicente Padilla are gone, but you can probably think of a boatload of good reasons why the Phillies won't get the production they expect from Hamels, Jamie Moyer, Adam Eaton, Brett Myers, and featured offseason acquisition Freddy Garcia. Match them up: age, too little age, flyball pitcher in a groundball ballpark, questionable defense, unsettling domestic abuse incidents, too fragile, so historically un-fragile that they're just due for a letdown...I realize that's more question marks than the Phillies have starters, but most of them carry more than one. I believe Pat Gillick and Philadelphia management are highly overestimating the trickle-down effect Garcia will have on the rest of the staff. This is compounded by a bullpen that nobody is overrating. They're going to be bad. Rockies bad.
I often think it's foolish to write off a team with a good offense and a competitive rotation because their bullpen has some holes, but this Phillies situation could become ridiculous. Tom Gordon is a weapon but sadly he's a single-shot musket that takes two or three days to reload. Geoff Geary is good. After that there's Madson, and...Eude Brito? Clay Condrey? Brian Sanches? Matt J. Smith? Stop me if you've heard of any of these guys. (Not you, Phillies fans.) It's not like the Phillies or Gillick to not overreach on a few veteran mediocrities, but there's still a lot of March left. I know the Rockies would give them Byung-Hyun Kim pretty much just for the sake of dumping his contract. The sad part is the Phillies could really use Kim, which tells you all you need to know about the state of their relief pitching.
Would Abreu ever have been traded if the Phillies suspected 2006 would end the way it did and they'd be entering 2007 as at least division co-favorites? Don't believe it for a second if you hear that the Abreu trade is the reason they started playing better. Now the Phils are looking at Rowand and Shane Victorino as two of their three starting outfielders. And Burrell and his 30 homers guaranteed is the guy for whom Phillies fans save all their wrath? Philadelphia also has a bit of a problem at third base, where neither Wes Helms nor Abraham Nuñez is a complete player. Rod Barajas is the catcher. You may remember him from that magical year two seasons ago when he hit like Mike Piazza away from the Ballpark in Arlington and like Danny Ardoin at his normally offense-incubating home stadium. He'll get to play all of his games away from Arlington in 2007, so pencil him in for fifty homers.
I feel certain Gillick will make some moves to shore up the bullpen, and I also feel quite confident that these moves won't help the Phillies at all for '07 while weakening them for future pennant runs. Another fearless prediction: With his ERA over 7.00 in mid-May, Bud Selig will reject Jamie Moyer's petition to have all his home starts moved to Safeco Field. I predict that Pat Burrell will hit for the cycle in a game at Citizens' Bank Park and will be booed lustily after striking out for his fifth at-bat. I predict that Aaron Rowand will hurt himself running into something, but I'm not sure whether it will be on the field or off. I predict that Brett Myers is a piece of you-know-what. Oh wait, that's not a prediction.
This is: 83 wins, out of the money in the NL once again, and a new personal best in blank 1000-yard stares from Charlie Manuel. Vegas says: 18-1 to win the Series, over/under of 88 wins.