BLOOD IN THE WATER: TBOH’s Ass-Kicking, Gunslinging, Shark Infested 2010 Phillies Preview

PART TWO

We got one new face and a lot of theories and woes about who will be around in the next few years.  Yeah, this is the core, but it’s a closing window.  Nobody’s stays a champ forever.  These guys are as close as we’re going to get.

THE OUTFIELD

Shane Victorino (.292, 181 H, 102 R, 62 RBI)

Shane got a three-year deal this offseason for a reason:  Because he’s Shane Victorino.  He’s a speed demon, he’s a hitter, and we’ve all seen his eyes do that thing where they bulge out of his head because he’s so jacked on baseball fever he can barely blink without exploding.  Shane just wants to play, and he’s going to.

Now, with a number two hitter in Placido Polanco walking into the mix, Shane’s more than likely spending some time closer to the bottom of the lineup.  There’s speculation that Shane, Raul Ibanez, and Jayson Werth will all be shuffled around between the 6-7-8 spots in the order depending on the individual matchups, and that this will in effect cause some sort of competition in the clubhouse.

I… are you kidding me?  No, I’m not a professional athlete; hell, I’m not even a professional journalist.  But I feel like any one of those guys would agree with me when I say who the hell cares?  If this team is so good that the bottom of the lineup is comprised of three 2009 All-Stars, I sincerely doubt that one of these guys, none of whom have history as divas, are going to step up and start bitching because suddenly the lineup isn’t the lineup, it’s a popularity contest.  Shane’s a baseball player that wants to win, just like everybody else on this team.  He knows there’s no ranking system, it’s all done to get the W, and in the end, that’s what everybody wants.

Jayson Werth (.268, 153 H, 98 R, 99 RBI)

Ironically, 2010 has become more about 2011 for Jayson Werth.  So he’s probably slack-jawed over the sweet deals nestled into by the likes of Matt Holliday and Jason Bay, two outfielders of equal caliber.  So he might ask for a well-deserved raise, not get it, and dive into free agency.  That’s next year.  When Jayson and his beard showed up to camp this year, they came ready to play; or in the beard’s case, to terrify people on the streets of Clearwater after sundown.

Jayson will rip it up this year, ask for the money such a ripping deserves in the offseason, the Phils won’t be able to give it to him, and you know what that means:  Domonic Brown’s big break.

If Werth goes, his absence will be felt.  Hard. So, we should be focusing on the 2010 season, like Jayson is, because as of right now, he’s a Phillie.  And he’s an important one.  So what if he showed up to camp looking like he spent the winter squatting in a shed and mutilating lost hikers in the mountains with a hatchet?  The guy had the highest slugging percentage of his career (.506) in 2009.

In the end, there’s no way Werth leaves Philly on a sour note.  Unless he really is a hatchet murderer.

Raul Ibanez (.272, 136 H, 93 R, 93 RBI)

Raul had a sexy 2009.  Raul also had a flaccid 2009.  Put those two together and you get “painfully average.”  Blame his age, blame his swing, blame the “unbearable” pain he was in.  Oh, wait.  I guess you could feasibly blame that last one.  The truth is, Raul doesn’t blame the pain; he blames himself, and believes that 2010 is his chance to “correct” his paltry second half last season.  “That wasn’t me,” he claims, making it sound like there’s some sinister Raul Ibanez doppelganger running around out there, striking out and batting .232.

It makes sense that a 38-year-old left fielder is going to deny that an injury was holding him back, and obviously Raul’s got plenty of life left in his bat (his defense is… never going to be admired), and with some more much needed rest days this year courtesy of Ben Francisco, Bizarro Raul and his “groin injury” could be less of a worry.

THE INFIELD

Ryan Howard (.279, 105 R, 172 H, 141 RBI)

“Unfinished business,” Ryan calls it.  At 245 lbs. and a wooden stick in his hands, he’s the last guy I’d want making that claim in my direction.  We’ve watched Ryan come out offseasons past with obvious attention paid to flaws of the previous year:  strikeouts, errors, defense… they’ve all improved as he learns the game.

So this year, Ryan’s obviously made some adjustments as well.  Since December 3, he’s been fielding grounders, working on his throws, and swinging like a champ.  What he wants is that .300 BA again.  So what’s the plan?

“Find grass. Hit the ball where they’re not.”

Chase Utley (.282, 112 R, 161 H, 93 RBI)

Chase is another one of these guys I don’t even feel like I need to write about.  I mean, what do you think’s gonna happen?  It’ll be a quiet Sunday afternoon game, the TV crowd might be dozing off, and then out of nowhere, Chase will do something awesome, and everyone will lose their shit, and somebody will reference HK and call him “the man,” and the guy will just signal the number of outs, kick the dirt, and be ready for the next play.

Despite being perfect in steal attempts last year, Chase used the offseason to take two tenths of a second off his 30-yard dash.  He showed up early with the pitchers and catchers.  However much you think you missed baseball season, he missed it more.  This is a religious experience for Chase.

So don’t waste any time with Chase-doubts.

Jimmy Rollins (.250, 100 R, 168 H, 77 RBI)

The earthquake-dodging, catch phrase- spouting Phillies shortstop showed up to Spring Training without so much as magic eight ball.  Jimmy, I’m not asking you to cartwheel into the Carpenter Complex with sparklers in between your toes, but the last game we saw you guys in ended with a loss.  Of the World Series.  To the Yankees.

Give us something to work with.

But maybe this is a sign that Jimmy’s growing well past that phase of his career that had John Vukuvich cursing him out early in his career.  If anything, Jimmy’s 2009 campaign was just mere proof of the “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction” in relation to his 2007 NL MVP year.  Those numbers up there next to his name are hardly J-Roll numbers.

Placido Polanco (.285, 82 R, 176 H, 72 RBI)

Well, hello there, offensively-capable third baseman!  Haven’t seen you in a few years!  Charlie Hayes, David Bell, Abraham Nunez, Pedro Feliz… has there been a guy in the hot corner with a big bat since Dave Hollins?

We’ve got a new number two hitter in the newly signed Polanco to fill the offensive hole left by Pedro Feliz’s release (and also… presence), which in my mind means that our lineup, barring misfortune, has a dominant hitter in each spot.  The question remains, however, whether he can bring it defensively at third, after making the switch from second (where he did have two Gold Gloves).  I think he can.  Of course, the season hasn’t started yet, so I think everyone can do everything.

No, Placido’s not gonna be there for a couple of grounders that Pedro would have snared.  But he does have two Gold Gloves, and yes, they’re for second base; it’s not like he’s going to forget how to play defense on his way across the infield.

Carlos Ruiz (.255, 32 R, 82 H, 43 RBI)

Chooch is one of the ironclad guys in the lineup right now.  His odds of batting eighth are pretty high.  Do you realize that he hasn’t hit below .300 in the postseason except for the 2008 NLDS against the Brewers?  That’s unbelievable.

Of course, Phillies media looks at Carlos Ruiz right now and just sees “the guy who catches Roy Halladay,” so Carlos’ contributions may not be front and center on everyone’s wish list.  Last year, Pedro Feliz and Ruiz were the seven and eight hitters, respectfully.  It’s no secret that Feliz’s offense was never catching up with his defense, and in the same vein, it wasn’t until the post season that Carlos lit the hell up and went on a tear through some of the best pitching the NL could throw at him.

So clearly, he’s able to back that bat out of the garage for a special occasion.  If he could get this kind of production out more during the regular season, we could see a lot more batting around, now that Polanco will hit second and Raul Ibanez, Jayson Werth, and Shane Victorino fill out the 6-7-8 holes.

Terrifying.

But, that said, guys love throwing baseballs at Carlos Ruiz.  He calls a hell of a game, he’s a human backstop, and he love, loves, the quickdraw to first to catch somebody leaning.  So any complaints can be met by his ability to become a human wall.  But Carlos has had a rough trip this spring, with illness and getting hit by baseballs keeping him from getting a normal amount of ABs.  Nobody’s worried, though.  Except for me, of course.  But I’m crazy.

Topics: Carlos Ruiz, Chase Utley, Jayson Werth, Jimmy Rollins, Philadelphia Phillies, Placido Polanco, Raul Ibanez, Ryan Howard, Shane Victorino

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