Phillies

Numbers don't lie at all for 2013 Phillies

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Numbers don't lie at all for 2013 Phillies

Numbers don't lie and the Phillies' numbers for 2013 were the worst we have seen with this club since it started calling Citizens Bank Park home.

The Phillies finished with the worst run differential in the National League, allowing 139 more runs than they scored. That's worse than the 100-loss Miami Marlins.

It's certainly hard to win games that way. With the exception of the top two starters in the Phillies' rotation, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, the team needs a major overhaul of a staff that allowed the second-most runs in the National League (749). Only the Colorado Rockies' pitching staff allowed more runs.

We all know the core of this team is aging fast. On Nov. 19, Ryan Howard will turn 34 years old. Not old by most people's standards, but for a Major League Baseball player with some wear and tear on his body, Howard's best years are probably behind him. Each of the last two seasons, Howard has missed significant time because of injury. His absence in the Phillies' lineup this season was a huge void, but there are still plenty of question marks of whether he can turn around his slumping numbers and produce for Ryne Sandberg.

It was encouraging to hear that Howard appeared in very good shape when he rejoined the team in Atlanta last week. If the Phillies are to make a dramatic turnaround in 2014, Howard will need to be healthy and productive. The Phillies proved this season that without his big bat, they have limited power in the lineup and over time that is a hard way to win ballgames.

Changes are coming to the club, but the nucleus of Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley will remain intact when spring training opens in Clearwater. It is unlikely that general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. will be able to add enough pieces this offseason to make this team competitive next year.

Like many of you, I am hoping for the best because there is nothing like winning baseball in Philly.

Gabe Kapler going with a 'stud' as Phillies' opening day starter

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USA Today Images

Gabe Kapler going with a 'stud' as Phillies' opening day starter

BOX SCORE

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Gabe Kapler got one of the rites of spring out of the way Sunday. He named his opening day starting pitcher. Not surprisingly, it is the Phillies’ best starter. Aaron Nola will take the mound March 29 in Atlanta.

“I’ll tell you, it’s Aaron Nola,” Kapler said after the right-hander’s spring debut in an 8-3 loss to the Yankees. “It’s going to be Aaron Nola, barring anything crazy happening. He’s our guy. He's the man. He's our opening day starter. He’s earned it. He’s unequivocally the right choice. He’s an absolute gamer, a grinder and a stud and we’re proud to have him.”

Nola, 24, will be the Phillies’ youngest opening day starter since Dennis Bennett in 1964. Nola departed before Kapler’s announcement. Earlier in the day, he said getting the opening day nod “would mean a lot.” He added, “But there’s a lot of games and I plan on pitching a lot of them.”

After making the announcement, Kapler was asked if he would stay with that plan if the Phillies landed a big-name starting pitcher. It’s no secret that the club would like to sign former NL Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta — if he’d be willing to take a short-term deal. There’s a feeling around baseball that the longer Arrieta remains unsigned, the better chance his road would lead to Philadelphia.

“Yes,” Kapler said in response to the question. “As of this moment, Aaron Nola is our opening day starter.”

Nola returned from an elbow injury in 2017 and struck out 9.88 batters per nine innings in 27 starts last season. His 3.54 ERA ranked 20th in the majors. He had 12 ultra-quality starts — seven innings or more, two or fewer earned runs. Only Clayton Kershaw (16) and Max Scherzer (14) had more.

“His performance lines up nicely with the Scherzers of the world, not far off (Zack) Grienke,” Kapler said. “He is a real stud, someone we can depend on.”

Nola worked two innings Sunday. He gave up four hits, but one was a ball that Maikel Franco lost in the sun. Had Franco made the play, Nola eventually would have gotten out of the first inning. Instead, he was charged with three runs. He did not walk a batter and struck out three.

“It was really impressive to see that horizontal curveball and the life on his fastball,” Kapler said. “His curveball has the most east-west break in baseball. You can see it make a sharp left turn out of his hand.

“The results are not representative of his work today. His work was outstanding.”

Nola said his goal this season was to make every start and pitch 200 innings. He believes the Phillies can contend.

“Everybody still thinks we’re in the rebuilding stage, but I don’t think anyone in here doesn't think we’re going to compete,” he said. “We’re definitely going to be better than last year.”

And if the Phillies can add someone like Arrieta?

“That’s not our decision,” Nola said. “That’s the big guys’ decision. It would definitely be good to get another veteran. It’s always good to have veterans because for us younger guys it’s good to learn from them. They’ve been in our shoes before.”

At career crossroads, 'fearless' Middlebrooks vows comeback from injury

At career crossroads, 'fearless' Middlebrooks vows comeback from injury

CLEARWATER, Fla. – Will Middlebrooks wears a bracelet on his left wrist that says fearless. That is the way he likes to play and it is the way he was playing when he suffered a broken leg – and maybe more – Saturday afternoon.
 
“As soon as you don’t take chances you don’t know how good you can be,” Middlebrooks said upon returning to the Phillies' clubhouse on crutches and with a cast on his leg Sunday.
 
Middlebrooks, 29, broke his left fibula in a collision with outfielder Andrew Pullin in Saturday’s game against the Orioles. Middlebrooks was playing third base when he sprinted back after a soft fly ball to left. He slid trying to make a catch and his leg bent awkwardly under the hard-charging Pullin. Middlebrooks was to see a specialist on Sunday. More tests are planned to determine whether he sustained damage to the ligaments in his ankle, as well.
 
“It was just a freak play,” Middlebrooks said. “I had a good talk with Pully about it. He was distraught. I was at the hospital yesterday, got his number and texted him. I told him everything was fine, you didn’t do anything wrong. It was just one of those plays.”
 
Middlebrooks, who has played in the majors with Boston, San Diego, Milwaukee and Texas, is in camp with the Phillies on a minor-league contract. He appeared to be a long shot to make the big-league team as a reserve corner infielder and likely would have provided depth at Triple A Lehigh Valley. He will likely need surgery to repair the injury. No timetable was given for his recovery, but he will be out for a significant amount of time.
 
In one breath, Middlebrooks conceded that the injury could threaten his career.
 
“Yeah, the game is getting younger every day,” he said. “I’ll be 30 this year. Unfortunately, that’s not prime anymore. You look in this clubhouse and everyone is 23, 24 years old. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t cross my mind.”
 
In the next, he promised to be back on the field this year.
 
“In the small window of time I’ve spent here with the staff and the training staff, I think I’ll be fine,” he said. “If it takes two months, if it takes four or five months, I don’t know how long it will take. I’m not counting myself out. I plan on playing this year.”
 
The Phillies are looking for versatility in filling out their bench. Middlebrooks is one of four veteran infielders with big-league experience in camp on a minor-league deal. Pedro Florimon, Ryan Flaherty and Adam Rosales are the others. Jesmuel Valentin and Scott Kingery, both members of the 40-man roster, are also in camp. Kingery is expected to open the season at Triple A.