Tag Archives: Jim Thome

Philography: Placido Polanco

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Polanco was the Phillies starting 2B and 3B at various points

 

An important cog in the Philadelphia Phillies lineup for 7 of the 11 seasons between 2002-2012, Placido Polanco can nonetheless be considered the hard-luck player in the Phillies decade of winning excellence to open the 21st century.

His two stints as a starter with the ball club, first in the early part of the decade when he was mostly used as the starting 2nd baseman, and then at the end as the starting 3rd baseman, sandwiched the 2008 World Series victory, of which he was not a part.

But Polanco’s excellent play for the team in that long stretch cannot be overlooked. He brought steady professionalism, along with both winning play and a positive attitude. In the beginning, he helped the team realize it could compete with anyone. In the end,
he was a big part of a record-setting Phils season.

Placido Polanco‘s career began in the Saint Louis Cardinals organization at the tail end of the 20th century. Born and raised in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, he was selected by the Cards in the 19th round of the 1994 amateur draft out of Miami-Dade College.

He began his pro career that summer playing shortstop with the Cardinals rookie league affiliate at age 18, and remained at short when assigned to A-level Peoria in 1995. Then in 1996, Polanco was moved over to 2nd base. He would play mostly that position in both ’96 at High-A and then again for the Cardinals AA-level affiliate at Arkansas in 1997.

Though he did swipe 19 bags in ’97, Polanco was a light-hitter known for his ability to make contact. He was also proving highly skilled with the glove, and he graded outstanding in overall baseball smarts. Many in the organization, as well as outside evaluators, were pegging him as a future utility infielder who would definitely reach the Major Leagues as the 90’s were drawing to a close.

He finally achieved the Big League dream with a call-up to the Cardinals in July of 1998. In his 2nd game, his first start, Polanco was installed as the leadoff hitter playing 2nd base in a game vs the Reds at Cinergy Field in Cincinnati. In the bottom of the first inning, Polanco lined a clean base hit to short rightfield off Reds’ lefty Brett Tomko for the first hit of his career.

Later in that 1998 season, in a game at Busch Stadium in Saint Louis vs the Florida Marlins, Polanco was given a start at shortstop by manager Tony LaRussa. With one-out in the bottom of the 2nd inning, Polanco drove a ball deep down the leftfield line against Rafael Medina for his first career homerun.

It was just a first taste of life in the Big Leagues for Polanco, who would split time from 1998-2000 between the Majors and AAA. Each year his time with the Cardinals increased, and finally by the end of August 2000 he was the regular starting 2nd baseman in Saint Louis as the Cards won the N.L. Central crown. He saw regular action that year during the team’s first post-season appearance in 13 years, a tough NLDS loss to Atlanta.

Over the course of that first full 2000 season, Polanco had been bounced around the infield from 2nd to short to 3rd. His versatility fully established, he was finally given a chance in 2001 to settle at a spot. He saw 103 games, 92 starts, at 2nd base that season, while also seeing a career-high 42 games at shortstop.

Saint Louis again reached the postseason, this time as a Wildcard, and again took the NLDS to a decisive game. But again, Polanco and the Cards fell short, losing in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks to the Arizona Diamondbacks. A pattern of postseason frustration was being established that would see a World Series crown always just beyond Polanco’s grasp.

In 2002, Polanco was moved over to 3rd base by the Cardinals as the regular starter, seeing 131 games at the position. But then just before the non-waiver trade deadline, on July 29th, a stunner. Polanco was included in a trade to the Philadelphia Phillies. The Phils were looking to move disgruntled 3rd baseman Scott Rolen, and found a match in Saint Louis.

Now beginning a new chapter of his career in Philadelphia, Polanco finished out the 2002 season with a Phils club that had come in 2nd place in the NL East, just 2 games back, during the 2001 season. The ’02 team struggled through a losing September to finish a disappointing 80-81. It would prove to be the team’s last losing season for a decade.

In 2003 the Phillies were closing Veteran’s Stadium, and wanted to open the new Citizens Bank Park on an upswing. The club brought in free agents Jim Thome, David Bell, and Dan Plesac to upgrade the overall roster. The team responded by battling into late September in a dogfight with Florida and Houston for the NL Wildcard spot. However, 6 straight losses in a season-closing 1-7 stretch dropped them out of playoff contention. They finished 10 games over .500, but finished 5 games behind the Florida Marlins.

Polanco was the regular 2nd baseman in both that final 2003 season at The Vet, and in the inaugural 2004 season at Citizens Bank Park. In ’04, the team again finished 10 games over .500, but they finished 10 behind the Atlanta Braves for the NL East crown and 6 games behind Houston for the Wildcard. They were obviously close, but not quite a championship contender.

That fall of 2004, Polanco became a free agent for the first time. In the end, liking his place with the team and the direction in which they seemed headed, he chose to sign a 5-year deal with the Phillies. His future was secure financially, and it appeared that he had a pivotal role on a team that looked to be a consistent contender into the future on the field as well.

His on-field production was also improving as he moved into his prime years and gained more consistent playing time. In 2003 he hit .289 with 14 homers and 14 steals, had 30 doubles, and scored 87 runs. In 2004, at age 28, he upped his average to .298 and his homers to 17.

2005 would be a near-miss for the Phillies playoff fortunes. The club won a couple more games, finishing 14 over the .500 mark, but still fell 2 games short of the Braves in the division. Perhaps more excruciating, they missed the Wildcard by just a single game. Polanco, however, was not around for the near-miss. That contract he signed did not have full no-trade protection.

On June 8th of 2005, the Phillies dealt Polanco away in an effort to bolster their pitching staff for the 2nd half. He was sent off to the Detroit Tigers in exchange for Ramon Martinez and Ugueth Urbina. The Phillies felt Polanco was expandable now that Chase Utley was ready to fully take over at 2nd base.

In the American League for the first time in his career, Polanco was also given a steady position for the first time. He would be the Tigers starting 2nd baseman for the next 4+ seasons. In the best portion of the prime of his career, from ages 29-33, Polanco hit a combined .311, and in 2006 he helped lead the Tigers to a Wildcard playoff berth.

In the 2006 playoffs, the Tigers would roll through the Yankees and A’s, winning 7 of 8 games to take the American League Pennant for the first time in 22 seasons. Polanco was integral. The Detroit 2nd baseman hit .413 in the ALDS vs the Yanks, and then .529 in the 4-game sweep of Oakland in the ALCS for which he was named the Most Valuable Player.

Moving on to the World Series for what would be the only time in his career, the Tigers were taking on his former team, the Saint Louis Cardinals. Polanco would also be squaring off with Rolen, the player for whom he was traded to Philly four years earlier. The two teams split the first two games in Detroit, and headed to St. Louis for the next 3 games.

The Tigers knew they needed to win just once in order to ensure at least a return trip to Detroit. It would never come. In Saint Louis, the Cardinals swept all three games to win the World Series. For his part, Polanco was almost non-existent. In his only Fall Classic he didn’t register a single hit, going 0-17 with a walk and a hit-by-pitch. Rolen was strong, hitting .421 with a homer and 5 runs scored in winning his lone career championship.

In 2007, Polanco would show that his previous postseason failures were not indicative of any erosion in his talent. At age 31, Polanco hit .341 with a .388 on-base percentage, he produced a career-high 67 rbi, scored 105 runs, reached 200 hits for the only time in his career, including a career-best 36 doubles. The result was his first-ever All-Star Game, as well as receiving the Silver Slugger and Gold Glove Awards.

In both 2007 and in 2009, the Tigers would finish 2nd in the A.L. Central Division but were unable to secure a playoff spot. Polanco continued to be solid, hitting .307 for a losing Detroit team in 2008, and then winning his 2nd Gold Glove while driving in a knew career-high 72 runs in 2009.  Also in 2008, Polanco had become a naturalized U.S. citizen, taking his oath before a game right on the field at Comerica Park.

Following the 2009 season, the 5-year deal that he had originally signed with Philadelphia was now up, and he was again a free agent. The Tigers were ready to move on from their 2nd baseman, who would be turning 34-years old in 2010.

Meanwhile, back in Philly, the team had won the 2008 World Series and returned there in 2009. Their 3rd baseman, Pedro Feliz, was turning 35 years old in 2010 and had his contract expiring. Despite his not having played 3rd base since leaving Philly in 2005, the Phils approached Polanco about the possibility of moving back to the hot corner. Polanco jumped at a reunion.

Signing a 3-year deal to become the Phillies new 3rd baseman, the man who had become known as “Polly” set out to show that he could still produce at a high level. In his first season back in 2010, he played a strong 3rd base, and the Phillies reached the NLCS before losing in six games to San Francisco.

The following year of 2011, both the team and Polanco upped their games. The Phillies set a franchise record with 102 victories in rolling to their 5th consecutive National League East Division crown. Polanco made his 2nd All-Star team, his first in the National League, and would win the Gold Glove. In doing so, Placido Polanco became the first player to win a Gold Glove at two different positions.

With all of the 2011 success, the ending would prove disastrous for the team, and would signal the beginning of the end of Polanco’s time in Philly and his career as a whole. The Phils were edged out by his old Cardinals team in the NLDS thanks to a 1-0 loss in the decisive game. As in the 2006 World Series, Polanco again did not produce against them, going 2-19.

In 2012, Polanco and the Phillies suffered from injuries and began to fall apart. The team struggled to a .500 finish, missing the postseason for the first time since 2006. Polanco’s season would be ended by injury just as September began. But before it happened he had one more moment of glory. On May 14th he cracked a homerun off Houston Astros reliever David Carpenter for the 2,000th hit of this Major League career.

Granted free agency once again following that 2012 season, approaching age 37 and wanting to spend more time with his wife and two small children, Polanco considered retirement. He would only play if it could be near them, limiting him to the southeastern clubs. He signed eventually with the Miami Marlins, playing one final season as their 3rd baseman before finally retiring.

In a career that spanned parts of 16 seasons, Placido Polanco fashioned a .297 batting average in nearly 8,000 plate appearances spread across a little over 1,900 games. He appeared at 2nd base in more than 1,000 games and at 3rd in 751, as well as 122 at shortstop. He won the Gold Glove in both the AL and the NL, was an All-Star in both leagues, and had done both while with the Phillies.

Polly also proved to be very reliable. He finished with well over 500 plate appearances in every season for which he was given the opportunity during his prime years, 10 of the 11 seasons between ages 25-34. The lone exception was 2004 in Detroit when he barely missed at 495 thanks to a mid-August to mid-September injury.

A career near-.300 hitter who was a great defender. An All-Star caliber player who proved to be both versatile and dependable. A consummate professional who was well-liked and well-respected by both his peers and by fans. That is how Placido Polanco will be remembered by baseball fans in general, and Phillies fans in particular.

The Little Girl Who Stole My Ball

I have a theory that if you attend enough professional baseball games over a long enough period of time, eventually you are going to see and experience almost everything that the great game has to offer.
I just completed my 44th season of attending Philadelphia Phillies games. I’ve seen a lot of things in person: a World Series game in 1980. Numerous playoff games, including Doc’s 2010 no-hitter.
But over the course of hundreds of games during that span, there is one thing that I’ve never experienced: catching a foul ball at a game. I did get close once. Should have had one. And then a little girl stole my ball. Sort of.
I’ll always remember the night of my should-have-been foul ball, because after 30 years it would be my final night at Veteran’s Stadium. For three decades, since the stadium opened in my South Philly neighborhood at age 9, I had been attending games here, and this would be the last.
The date was Thursday, September 4th, 2003. The Phillies were in a battle for the NL Wildcard playoff berth, tied with the upstart Florida Marlins for that position. And they were sending my favorite pitcher, lefty Randy Wolf, to the mound against the New York Mets.
Manager Larry Bowa wrote out his lineup card for the game: Marlon Byrd in center field, Jimmy Rollins at shortstop, Bobby Abreu in right field, Mike Lieberthal at catcher, Jim Thome at 1st base, Pat Burrell in left field, Tomas Perez at 3rd base, and Nick Punto at 2nd base, with Wolf in the pitcher slot hitting 9th.
The Mets countered with Hall of Fame lefty Tom Glavine on the mound, and his battery mate was future Hall of Fame catcher Mike Piazza. But aside from those two, the Mets didn’t have much. They were a shell of the team that just 3 years earlier had reached the World Series, and now floundered in last place in the NL East.
New York scored a run in the first off Wolf, and then another in the top of the 5th, both knocked in by shortstop Jorge Velandia. But then the Phils erupted for a 4-spot in the bottom of the 5th. Wolf helped himself with a rbi double, and then a 3-run homer by a then 24-year old JRoll put the Phils on top.
Not the smile I was referring to, but it does the trick.
The Mets scored again off Wolf in the top of the 7th, cutting the Phils lead to a single run. But in the Phillies half, Bowa sent up Jason Michaels to pinch-hit for his pitcher. Michaels drove a homerun to left field, putting the Phils back up by a pair.
I had missed the top of the 7th, because I decided that, with this being my likely final trip to a Phillies game here at The Vet, I wanted one final hotdog. So I had gone down to a stand just under our seats, which were pretty good, right behind the first base bag.
I was scarfing down my dog when Michaels homered, and it seemed that this was going to be a fitting way to end my three decades relationship with the old concrete giant at Broad and Pattison. Enjoying a hotdog during a clinching homerun of my final Phillies game while they were in serious playoff contention.
And then Byrd stepped up to the plate.
Aug 27, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies right fielder Marlon Byrd (3) hits a single during the fourth inning of a game against the Washington Nationals at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
At some point in his at-bat, he got around late on a pitch, and shot a foul ball my way. This was no popup or looper. A screaming line drive was honing in on me like a Patriot missile on a Scud in Desert Storm.
As soon as the ball was off the bat and headed in our direction, myself and those around us stood up. I was on the end seat in our aisle, with my wife directly to my right. I had just a couple of seconds to react, tops. With no glove to defend me, I used the only padded object available to me. I turned my butt.
The screaming missile found it’s target, nailing me directly on my turned left butt cheek. My thought in the next split second was “Oh my God, at my last Phillies game here at The Vet, I’m FINALLY going to get a foul ball!” Though the first small pangs of pain were creeping into my consciousness from that left cheek, I was happy. For a second.
It’s funny how much your mind can take in with just a couple of seconds to react. I knew that I had been hit by the foul ball, square on that butt cheek. I knew also that there was no one really close to me except my wife. There were just over 19,000 in attendance that night, and the crowd directly around us was spread out.
In the split-second after the ball met the cheek, I had heard a sound. Later, the best way that I was able to describe this sound would be, if you ever have played a game of Skee-Ball on an amusement pier or at a carnival, the sound that the wooden balls make when they plop into the hole? That was the sound that I heard in the second after getting hit with it.
I turned to try to find the baseball, knowing that after it hit me, it must have dropped right down at my feet. I didn’t see it, and turned around to observe that when I had stood up, my plastic seat had flipped back to the upright position. The ball must have hit my butt cheeck, and dropped down into the space between my seat and the seat-back. That was the Skee-Ball sound I had heard.
I looked down, but didn’t see the ball. And then I did, it was rolling out into the aisle. I got to see the ball. I got to watch it slowly, excrutiatingly slow, roll out into the aisle. I had just enough time to think about how I was going to just reach out and scoop up my prize.
And then SHE appeared. Out of nowhere. A little girl, couldn’t have been more than 5-6 years old. She wasn’t running for the foul ball. She just happened to be walking up the steps in the aisle as MY ball rolled out into it. The ball rolled directly into her path, and in one motion she reached down and picked it up.
My foul ball was gone: that fast, and that simple.
I am not proud of the thought that passed through my then 41-year old head in that moment. It involved swearing and cussing and all manner of outrage. But none of that came out of me. You had to see this little girl. She was like a little, innocent angel who had simply stumbled into something at age 5, maybe at her first Phils game, that I had waited a lifetime to have happen.
I smiled at her as she looked up at me, holding my foul ball in her little hands. Then I looked up and saw what must have been her Dad right behind her, and I smiled at him. If he was a human being at all, he had to see the hurt in my eyes behind my half-hearted, purely polite smile.
He scooped up his little girl, and I watched the smiles on their faces as they looked at each other and the ball, and he offered her some sort of congratulations. And I was happy for her. Genuinely happy. She would have a story to tell for the rest of her life. And a ball. My ball. Her ball.
But she wouldn’t be the only one with a story to tell, so would I. My wife and I sat down, and with my butt still throbbing a bit, we talked about what had just happened, wondering how it was possible that things could have turned out the way that they did.
Back in the ballgame, the Mets tied things up in the top of the 9th. In the bottom, tied at 5-5, Lieberthal singled to score Byrd, and the Phillies walked off with a 6-5 win that kept them tied with the Marlins for the Wildcard berth for another day.
We walked out of the old stadium generally happy, but also melancholy. The Phils had won and were contending still. My butt was feeling better, but my psyche was still a bit bruised from the loss of the ball. I asked my wife to wait for a moment as we walked down the ramps to leave, and one last time, I walked out to look on the field.
The lights had been turned down, giving the old Vet a shadowy feeling. For a few seconds, I thought back on all I had seen here over 30 years: astroturf and dancing fountains, Bull Blasts, Schmidty going Outta Here, Lefty gems, Bowa’s glove, Charlie Hustle, Tugger slapping his thigh, the Phanatic, Dutch, the Dude, Krukker, the Wild Thing, now a new generation with JRoll and Pat the Bat and The Wolf Pack.

Veteran’s Stadium gave me a thousand great memories over three decades. I soaked it all in one last time, thinking about all of these things. Then I smiled, thinking again about the one thing that I had never got, but so nearly did on that final night, thanks to the little girl who stole my ball.

MLB 2012: Philadelphia Phillies

Will 2012 be the final season that the Hawaiian is flyin’ in a Phillies uniform?



I’ve quoted Simon & Garfunkel before when this type of topic comes up, and it is appearing more and more appropriate these days with my beloved Fightin’ Phils: “The ending always comes to pass: endings always come too fast. They come too fast, but they pass to slow.” The Mayans are not going to be correct in predicting that 2012 is the end of the world, but maybe what they were really talking about was the end of the Philadelphia Phillies dynasty.
As I stated in my previous post on the 2012 National League preview and predictions, for the last four MLB seasons the road to the World Series has gone directly through Philadelphia. Following on the heels of the first division crown for this bunch back in 2007, when Jimmy Rollins backed up his “We’re the team to beat” words with an MVP season, the Phils won the World Series in 2008. They got back and lost in the following season. The teams that won the last two titles in 2010 and 2011, the Giants and Cardinals, both had to beat the Phillies to get there.
Though that post-season record seems to show slippage, the regular season has been just the opposite. In 2006, with Ryan Howard winning the NL MVP, the Phillies won 85 games. For each of the last six seasons, their win total has gone up each season: 89 wins in ’07, 92 in ’08, 93 in ’09, 97 in ’10, and finally to a franchise-record 102 wins last year in 2011. In this century, they have suffered just one losing season, and barely that with an 80-81 finish back in 2002. They have finished 1st or 2nd in the NL East standings in every season since and including 2004, and have won 5 straight division crowns.
I have been a Phillies fan now for over 40 years, stretching back to the very first season of play at Veteran’s Stadium in 1971 when I was just 9 years old. I have been a fan through Jim Bunning, Woody Fryman, Willie Montanez, Frank Lucchesi, Dave Cash, Jay Johnstone, Dick Ruthven, Ron Reed, Lonnie Smith, Bo Diaz, John Felske, Kevin Gross, Chris James, Danny Jackson, Ken Howell, Rico Brogna, Paul Byrd, Jason Michaels and J.A. Happ.
Many of you have been along for that ride. It has included 19 losing seasons. Particularly bad was the long stretch from 1984 through 2000, when the club and we fans suffered 15 of 17 losing seasons. The 1993 season of Kruk, Dykstra, Daulton, Mitch, Fregosi, and their magical run to the World Series where they finally lost to a Hall of Fame and All-Star laden Blue Jays team was a joyful oasis in a searing desert of futility.
But now a generation of Phillies fans has grown up thinking that winning is the Phillies tradition. Pretty much anyone who is in their mid-20’s or younger simply cannot remember the futile Veteran’s Stadium days. It’s all been about winning and contending, most of that for the past 8 seasons in the baseball heaven that is our beautiful Citizens Bank Park. And for most of that time it has included the same core group of players, particularly JRoll, Chase, Cole, Chooch, the Flyin’ Hawaiian and Ryan Howard.
But after all that winning and all that contending, storm clouds are beginning to gather around this team. Some pundits have chose to ignore them altogether, or predict that the Phillies will overcome the injuries and changes of personnel with superior pitching. Others are running around like Chicken Little screaming that “the sky is falling” on this group of players. There is much talk around this core group that their “window of opportunity” is closing fast.
Well, I’ve been a “glass half full” kind of guy my entire life. In those 2012 NL predictions, I said that the Phillies will win their 6th straight NL East Division crown, their 3rd NL Pennant in the last 5 years, and advance to the World Series again before losing there to the Texas Rangers. Since I made those predictions public, I will stand by them. But in order to get there, this particular Phillies team will need to overcome more challenges than any before them in this recent winning era.
Let’s begin with the obvious: Ryan Howard and Chase Utley are gone, and they aren’t coming back any time soon. 
It has to at least be considered that Chase will never, ever return. Not the Chase Utley that we all have grown to know and love. For five years, from the 2005-2009 seasons, Utley was the best 2nd baseman in the game. He received league MVP votes every one of those seasons. He was an NL All-Star from 2006-2010. He won the Silver Slugger as the best offensive 2nd baseman four straight seasons from 2006-2009. But Chase turned 33 years old back in December. He has been playing with a variety of injuries for a couple of years. Now his knees are nearly shot, with virtually no cartilage. He is out indefinitely to begin the 2012 season.
Ryan Howard was the NL Rookie of the Year in 2005. He won the MVP in 2006, and has finished in the top five in that voting 3 other times since, receiving league MVP votes in each of the past six seasons. He is a 3-time NL All-Star who has bashed more than 30 homeruns and driven in more than 100 runs in six straight seasons. All of those numbers and honors are likely to end in 2012. Howard suffered severe tendon damage on the final at-bat of the 2011 playoffs, and his recovery will take another couple of months. Many athletes have taken a year or more to fully return from this type of injury. It is likely that even if he comes back in May or June, that he won’t be the same, at least not this season.
There are a number of other dark clouds hovering over this club besides the Utley and Howard major losses. Placido Polanco, the 3rd baseman, is now 37-years old. He has won a Gold Glove award in 2 of the last 3, and in 3 of the last 5 seasons. But he is battling age and his own injuries now. Two other cornerstones, Shane “The Flyin’ Hawaiian” Victorino (pictured above) and Cole Hamels will be free agents after this season if not signed to contract extensions that, at least at the moment, do not appear imminent. The longer their possible free agency lingers, the more it will play up in the press, especially if the club struggles.
So there are many more challenges facing affable manager Charlie Manuel’s club than usual. However, there is a reason that I and other pundits have picked them to overcome these challenges. The fact remains that there is still a bunch of talent here that, though likely not capable given their loss of personnel and the improvement of their divisional rivals, to reach the 100-win mark again, still should make them the favorites in the NL East and a strong contender for another National League Pennant and World Series trip.
Let’s start with what everyone knows, the Phillies will run out a starting pitcher every single game that will be as good as or better than what their opponent puts on the mound. Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels are 3 of the top 10 starting pitchers in baseball. Joe Blanton, Vance Worley, and Kyle Kendrick give the club solid, professional depth on the nights that the “Big Three” aren’t toeing the mound. This depth also give GM Ruben Amaro some potential depth from which to deal, should Blanton or Kendrick need to be moved for position player help.
Out in the field, the left side of the infield is better defensively than any other in all of baseball when Polanco is at 3rd and JRoll at shortstop. Polanco does not provide much offensive production these days, but he is a solid, professional hitter. Jimmy Rollins remains the team catalyst, and the club will need a big year out of their newly signed leader both on and off the field. Until Howard and Utley return, the right side of the infield is where there will be a real challenge, one that could sink this club or elevate it to another big year.
At first base we are likely to see a combination of playing time based on matchups, all depending on which starting pitcher the opposition is throwing in that particular game. Time here will be shared by aging future Hall of Famer Jim Thome, a beloved fan favorite who was brought back to be a big lefty power bat off the bench, but whose roll may be expanded now. It will also be shared by Ty Wigginton, a jack-of-all-trades type journeyman who has pop in his bat, and who can also play 2nd, 3rd and the outfield. He likely will get time all over the diamond for this year’s Phillies. Finally, John Mayberry Jr. will also see time at 1st base, possibly the most time, especially if he can be productive with the bat.
In the outfield, 2 of the 3 spots are manned by All-Star caliber players in centerfielder Victorino and emerging fan favorite Hunter Pence in right. Pence, the “Philadelphia Magazine” coverboy, is in his prime and should break out for his first 30-homer, 100-rbi season, and the Phils will need every bit of that. Victorino is 31-years old, and will be playing for what he hopes will be a big free agent contract, either here or elsewhere, and should be particularly motivated. Leftfield was supposed to be Mayberry’s spot to lose, and he will see time there. But with him also needed at 1st base, the Phils will turn to a pair of newcomers in powerful veteran Layne Nix and speedy veteran Juan Pierre as well.
The loss of Utley and Howard has another residual effect, that of depleting the bench, because players expected to give the club depth will have to actually start more often. One guy who probably wouldn’t even be here will be a starter, at least in the beginning. That player is the presumed shortstop-of-the-future, Freddy Galvis, who will be given the first shot at playing 2nd base regularly as the season opens. The club is hoping that Galvis, an outstanding defensive shortstop, can at least handle the position with the glove. Any offense that he gives them will be a bonus. Finally, there is Carlos Ruiz. Beloved fan favorite “Chooch” runs the pitching staff and is a true field general, as well as a clutch bat.
The bullpen has suffered through it’s own share of injuries in the pre-season, with both Jose Contreras and Michael Stutes likely beginning the year on the DL. Antonio Bastardo has struggled some, and is facing a strong challenge as the primarly lefty out of the pen from young Joe Savery. Jake Diekman had an outstanding spring, but was sent to the minors for some more seasoning. He could be up early in the year to help. Chad Qualls and David Herndon are likely to see a lot of early innings if a righty is needed. 
The one place where there are no questions is the end of the game, where one of the best closers in the business, Jonathan Papelbon, will now finish things off. The longtime Red Sox pitcher was signed by the Phillies as their big free agent acquisition this off-season, and he should prove to be a big fan favorite for the fans who love flame-throwers with a passion for the game. 
In the 2012 season, especially in the first couple of months, there will be many low-scoring Phillies games. The formula will go something like this: Halladay, Lee or Hamels goes 7+ strong innings, a reliever or two holds down the fort for an inning or two, and Papelbon closes it out a Phillies victory. The offense will have been provided by Pence, Victorino and Rollins, with an occasional big homerun or steal from a Thome or a Mayberry or a Pierre.

This will not be at all easy. The Braves have a lot of talent. The Marlins have a new identity, enthusiasm, and also are talented. The Nationals are building something special. Any one of these teams could put it all together and, combined with Phillies struggles due to injuries, dethrone the champs. Put all together, and the competition will bring the Fightin’s closer back to the overall pack in the standings. But in the end, pitching, defense, and experience win out. And if it all goes right, Howard and Utley get healthy enough for one more strong post-season run together.