In a recent column, Bill Conlin wonders whether the Phillies could possibly do better in 2oo8 than they did in 2007.He says probably not:

So everybody in Charlie Manuel’s core lineup had either a career year or made contributions that ranged between substantial (Burrell) and outstanding (Howard). Third base was and will be a black hole, the least productive offensively in the majors. And whenever Abe Nuñez was on the bench – too often – third was a defensive liability, as well.

And, as I pointed out in a previous post, Conlin isn’t too wild about the Phils’ pitching:

The rotation? Cole Hamels (knock wood) and Brett Myers (make a novena) are set at the top. Then there is Kyle Kendrick and Jamie Moyer and Adam Eaton and Chad Durbin and Travis Blackley and . . .

I’m not so sure I agree with Conlin. I think the Phils have improved their roster this offseason, and their record will be better in 2008. Here’s why.

First, the team’s rotation will be better in 2008 than it was in 2007, by virtue of having Brett Myers on board, and by not having Freddy “Mr. 1.60 WHIP” Garcia (who was 1-5 last season in 11 starts). It’s easy to minimize the impact moving Myers to the rotation will have, since he’s not new to the roster. But he’s a power pitcher with nasty stuff — 18 wins is not unrealistic.

Second, the team’s bullpen could be improved if Brad Lidge proves an adequate replacement for Myers. Also, a full season of J.C. Romero in a set-up role won’t hurt.

Third…is third. Yes, third base is a weakness for the Phils. But for how long? Among the MLB third basemen who will be free agents in 2009 are Joe Crede, Nomar Garciaparra, Hank Blalock and Troy Glaus. You have to believe that a few of those guys will be available via trade. Maybe all of them.

Of course, the Phils lost Aaron Rowand to free agency and it remains to be seen if Shane Victorino can be a capable CF or if the Geoff Jenkins/Jayson Werth platoon will be productive. But there’s no reason to think that either of these experiments won’t work.

What’s important to remember is that, when we talk about “improving”, we’re not talking about turning around a losing team. We’re talking about the Phillies winning 95 games instead of 89. That would be one fewer than the 2007 Red Sox won and one more than last season’s Yankees team.

Can the addition of a stud starting pitcher, an improved bullpen and a late-season 3B addition add up to six more wins? Time will tell. But I say yes.

4 Responses to “There’s always room for improvement.”

  1. I tend to agree with you, and it surprises me how little credit is given to the Lidge trade. Sure, Lidge could wilt under the heat of Philly sports fans after a bad outing, but I don\’t think so. Plus, when you consider what the rest of the NL East has done this year to improve themselves — nada — I think the Phils are lookin\’ good.

  2. Coley, do you know how hard it is to turn an 89-win team into a 95-win team? Six more wins may not sound like much, but when the win totals are that high, it’s really, really hard to do it.

    And I’m not going to argue with the fact that the Phillies have a really good shot again this year, but consider this – had we replayed the last three weeks of the 2007 season over again 100 times, the Mets probably would have held the Phils off 97 times out of 100. What happened in actuality was way against the odds. The computers had the Mets winning the division with 97% certainty. The Mets didn’t get much better (if at all) so far in the off-season, but they didn’t get any worse either.

    And you of all people should know it’s pointless to guarantee any win total to any pitcher (talking about Myers here). It’s a meaningless exercise and it can’t really be predicted.

  3. Paul, you’re right of course. Winning an extra six games will be a challenge. And the Mets will be good again. And don’t forget about the Braves. I think that team is going to be scary, especially if Teixeira picks up where he left off last year. If Chipper stays healthy and Smoltz remains dominant (big ifs, I know)…watch out.

    But the Phillies added a top of the line starter in Myers, and compensated for that move by acquiring a top of the line closer in Brad Lidge. At least, we all hope he’s going to be a top of the line closer.

    Maybe 95 games is optimistic. But 91 or 92 is reasonable, I think, considering the upgrades this team made, and considering how little the other NL East powers have done.

    Of course, this conversation never happened if the Mets trade for Johan Santana tomorrow.

  4. Honestly, even if the Mets somehow get Santana, that still may add only two or three wins, tops. Every team in the NL East has some pretty big flaws. Don’t get me wrong, I like Hamels and Myers. Maybe not as much as you do, but they’re solid. And I definitely am not as high on Kendrick as you are. The problem with him is that his Fielding Independent ERA was 4.90. For a guy who strikes out as few batters as he does (3.6K/9), he gets hit way too hard (21.1% Line Drive Pct). When the LD% is that high, and the strikeouts are that low, you’re walking a tightrope. His top comparables in those two areas are Tom Glavine and Braden Looper (they have slightly higher K #s and more walks), which doesn’t bode well. Which is essentially why people aren’t too high on the guy.

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