Baseball is upon us.
Next week is the start of the 2010 Major League Baseball season and the Phillies enter the year looking to become the first back-to-back-to-back National League Champions since before the parents of most people reading this blog were conceived. (The Cardinals did it in 1942-1944, in case you were wondering)
We will be bringing you a comprehensive look at the team as it enters the season, starting with the least relevant and smallest elements of the team, working our way up to the big picture so you’re ready for what to expect as you watch the 2010 Phillies.
First up: the Bench.
Last year, one thing that was sometimes overlooked was the fact that for much of the year, the Phillies really struggled with bench production. It was not until the late-season acquisition of Ben Francisco that the Phillies had anyone they could really rely on to come in off the bench–a stark contrast from 2008’s World Championship team that had the league’s leading pinch hitter in Greg Dobbs, 4 somewhat productive outfielders in Pat Burrell, Shane Victorino, Jayson Werth, and Geoff Jenkins, a solid bat in Chris Coste, and a defensive specialist in So Taguchi. Oh and then there was some beer-drinking, lumber-swinging, goatee-wearing redneck that loved nothing more than getting his ass hammered who came in at the end of the year and made a Philadelphia legend of himself with one mammoth swing.
To be fair, that redneck–Matt Stairs–was pretty good in the first half of 2009 as well, but his second half all but negated that when he hit so miserably that he dragged his average below the Mendoza line.
The team managed without much of a bench at all for most of the season, but multiple players and writers have discussed this offseason the importance of getting more rest for the starters as the year goes on this year. Unassisted triple play notwithstanding, Eric Bruntlett (who was supposed to spell Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley) might as well have been Desi Relaford last year. And that is not meant as a compliment. I’m talking Phillies-era Desi Relaford who booted balls and was a double-play machine not Mariners/Royals-era Desi Relaford who started on like four fantasy teams.
And Greg Dobbs, who was thrown in at multiple positions including 1B, 2B, 3B, and OF, couldn’t touch the ball at the plate if he was Ben Roethlisberger and the ball was an intoxicated underage girl.
This year’s bench, however, shows some promise. The Phillies have been wise enough not to bring 3 catchers out of Spring Training on the bench (I mean Bako was the backup and Coste used to hit .300 but did they really need Lou Marson there?) and by all accounts they will give these guys a chance to contribute to this year’s team.
So here they are, your 2010 Phillies projected Bench Players:
Greg Dobbs (IF/OF): We’ll give Dobbs the benefit of the doubt and say that his struggles last year were an anomaly, but Charlie needs to be ready to stop using him. Last year, they spent most of the year trying to shove him into places where he didn’t belong based on past success, like NBC with Jerry Seinfeld on “The Marriage Ref.” Seriously NBC, if I wanted unfunny people to crack jokes about moderately weird situations in people’s personal lives with no real structure or entertainment value, I’d go to a family party and bring up the fact that my brother pierced both of his ears when he went to college.
Ben Francisco (OF): Benny Fresh was a bright spot for the Phillies last year off the bench after coming over in the Cliff Lee deal from Cleveland, providing them with a pretty good bat with some pop, some extra speed on the basepaths (remember 3 catchers and Greg Dobbs were on the bench last year) and a solid glove to replace Raul Ibañez’s knees in LF. He didn’t light the world on fire, but after coming over, he hit a solid .278 with 14 of his 27 hits going for extra bases. Also, he made a ludicrous shoe-string catch in the playoffs to save a big inning in Game 4 in the Colorado Division Series. Plus, Francisco adds to the smoothness factor of the team by a ton. You don’t get a name like Benny Fresh by looking like Paul Bako or talking like Cole Hamels. Just sayin’.
Brian Schneider (C): In a city that has been known to love it’s backup catchers, starting to some extent with Todd Pratt and elevating when Sal Fasano and Chris Coste came to town, Schneider will probably receive more of a Bako treatment. No one really latched on to that guy, mostly because he was just a boring old average journeyman catcher. Schneider is sort of similar in that he is just a solid guy without the quirkiness of Pratt (started the bleach-blonde bench club back in the day), Fasano (if you don’t know about his handlebar mustache you can just stop reading now), or Coste (the 33-year old rookie who smacked balls around like they were Tiger Woods on Thanksgiving). Schneider does bring some upside though, having spent his whole career in the NL East and bringing his knowledge of divisional hitters and pitchers to the club and having been a historical Phillie killer. His insights on the division should be useful and it will be nice not to have to worry about thinking “Jesus, did Brian Schneider really just start a rally?”
Ross Gload (IF/OF): Ross Goad is some dude who played for the Marlins last year. He’s played for the Cubs, Rockies, White Sox, Royals, and Marlins in 9 Big League seasons, and appears to be a pretty good bench player. His averages have hovered around the .280-.300 range and he doesn’t strike out a lot. He’s a good doubles hitter, which result in pretty good RBI and SLG% numbers, but probably most important is his position in the field. He plays 1B and has a .993 career fielding percentage (which is partially skewed by sample size and some not-so-great appearances in the OF). He seems to be a pretty vanilla signing that could pay dividends, but let’s just remember the last time the Phillies signed a good pinch-hitting infielder from the Marlins they ended up with Wes Helms. Ew.
Juan Castro (IF): Castro is a Hispanic utility infielder who is pretty average at everything. No speed (only 5 stolen bases in a 15-year MLB career), no power (36 career home runs are as many as Jayson Werth hit last year), and slightly below-average fielding ability (.977 career fielding percentage at every position except P and C). I don’t mean to be too down on him but, he reeks of Miguel Cairo, who the Phillies signed last year and only batted 45 times. If he’s not Tomas Perez-ing people with shaving cream pies after big wins, I’m really just not sure why you would even bother to keep him on the roster. At least he’s not Eric Bruntlett, I guess.
That concludes the Phillies bench, a group who will look to help the Phillies bring home another playoff appearance/division title/NL Championship/World Fucking Championship in 2010. Luckily, they are backing up one of the best lineups in the sport of baseball and a team who just acquired the most sure-fire Hall of Fame pitcher of the decade (most of the great pitchers you’re thinking of are ’90s pitchers more so than 2000s pitchers).
The bench is likely to shift roles and personnel as the season goes on based on injuries and performance, but the mainstays of the team will go a lot farther in determining the team’s success than these 5 guys listed here. And it’s a good thing, since that means the Phillies’ fate is in the hands of guys like the ever-confident Jimmy Rollins, the badass gamer Chase Utley, the Big Piece Ryan Howard, and the goofy cast of Characters around them that range from Jayson Werth (RIP Jayson Werth’s Beard) to Placido Polanco (maybe the most underrated offseason acquisition in baseball) and Carlos “Chooch” Ruiz who handles the pitching staff like a pro and is actually 31 years old despite looking a few armpit hairs away from puberty.
Season Prediction: 96-66 NL East Title, and one hell of a ride in the postseason. Hopefully with a moment or two as awesome as this one: