Thursday, January 01, 2004

Pitch and Moan

Happy New Year to all! Allow me to open 2004 with some housecleaning from 2003.

Defending a recent column in which he called Oakland's Rich Harden, and not the Phils' Brett Myers, the best No. 5 starter in baseball, Rob Neyer last week called the Phillies' rotation "pretty impressive . . . [but] not that impressive" and certainly not "the best the majors":

The Phillies' rotation last season -- and next season, most likely -- is distinguished not by its high quality, but rather by its general quality. I expect improvement in 2004, because [Kevin] Millwood should pitch a bit better and the young pitchers (Myers and [Vicente] Padilla) still have some room for improvement. But the strength of this team is not pitching.

Indeed, Neyer goes on to write that the Phils' offense, despite an abundance of whiffs (and, he should have added, maddening inconsistency), had a pretty good 2003 and will be what makes the difference for the team this season:

In 2004, the Phillies will remain in the middle of the pack in runs allowed. Oh, they might move down a tick, or up a couple of ticks. But it's the lineup that's likely going to make them the best team in the division (no, I'm not officially picking them yet; it's too early to predict second place for the Braves). Pat Burrell is going to bounce back with a decent (at least) season, and whoever's playing third base -- David Bell or Placido Polanco -- will do better than Bell did in 2003.

Before last season, I predicted the Phillies would explode, and lead the league in runs scored. Instead the Braves exploded, and the Phillies didn't come close. However, the Phils
did score plenty of runs, and in terms of runs scored and allowed they played significantly better than their record.

Conventional wisdom says the Phillies are headed for great things. And as much as it pains me to go along with conventional wisdom, I have to agree. There are just too many reasons to think the Phillies will get better, and almost none to think they'll get worse.

(Thanks to Shallow Center's South Jersey correspondent for passing along the link; I've been online much less than usual over the last week.)


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