Philadelphia Phillies fans celebrate after the Phillies' 5-4 victory over the Colorado Rockies in Game 4 of the National League baseball division series Monday, Oct. 12, 2009, in Denver. The Phillies advanced to the National League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

TBOH's Extremely Rational 2012 Phillies Round Table, Part 3

Traditionally, the third part of trilogies is the stupidest.  Already, we’ve gone ahead and used a word that isn’t a word (SEE: “stupidest”) and told you that this is going to be stupid.  So we’re off to a great start here.

But before you expose yourself to part three of our 2012 Phillies round table, don’t forget to get in on parts one and two, which feature even more numbers and words for us to pretend you actually read and thought about.  Hey, thanks.

So, here comes part three!  Will there be nudity?  You don’t know; you haven’t read it yet!

There will not be.

Will age catch up with the team this year?

Justin Klugh:  I have bad news for you.  Age caught up to this team years ago.  You see, you can’t really run from a thing like age.  It’s not wolves or Evan Longoria making a sweeping tag during the World Series; you can’t outrun it.

So when the crackling youth movement of several years ago starts missing large chunks of baseball due to nagging injuries, you can bet your red pinstriped buttocks that there are some age-related issues hurting this team.  When Thome starts at first, the average age of our infield is almost 36.  That’s pretty old for a sport that isn’t golf or bowling.

John Ricco:  I suppose it already has, at least offensively. I think it will be interesting to see how age affects Doc and Lee, being that both of them are now in their mid-30s. But since it’s been scientifically proven that Roy Halladay is a robot and that I have a weird mancrush on Cliff Lee, I’m not too concerned.

Ethan Seidel:   I’m resisting the urge to push the panic button, but my hand is starting to hover over it. Knowing that the team survived numerous injuries to the infield last season eases the stress, but there are sure to be even more nail-biters. Thankfully, the team is built to win close games with their staff, and new fan-favorite Jonathan Papelbon closing games.

John Stolnis:  People are making too big a deal about the age of the team. The Wheeze Kids started a 30-year-old catcher, a 42-year-old first baseman, a 39-year-old second baseman, a 30-year-old shortstop, a 33-year-old third baseman, a 32-year-old left fielder, and a 33-year-old center fielder.

The key for this group is not their ages, it is their health. Yes, I know, age and health are closely related, but Howard’s Achilles injury wasn’t due to his age. Utley’s been dealing with hip and knee problems since his late 20′s. Victorino is still playing optimal baseball, and Halladay and Lee are both pitching like crazy. Over the next two years, this team DOES need to get younger, but not at the expense of putting less talent on the field. Age is not the most important thing. Talent is.

And this roster is the one that gives the Phils the most talent. Of course, if Halladay and/or Lee blow their arms out this year, I reserve the right to change this answer.

What will John Mayberry give the Phillies this year?

Stolnis:  A productive John Mayberry is going to make all the difference for the Phillies in 2012. If he is the player he was from July through the end of the season last year, the Phils offense will be more than OK. He can play for Howard at 1B if need be, or play LF, giving the Phillies a bunch of different options.

The problem is, Mayberry’s career arc does not show a history of that kind of performance. No one should expect a .607 slugging percentage (July through September 2011 numbers), but I think a line of .270/.345/.490 with 25 HRs is possible if indeed he’s flipped some kind of switch. Of course, that still may be optimistic, we’ll see.

Justin:  Half of a dynamic outfield duo with a resurging Dom Brown.  Together, with their deadly accurate sniper arms, they rack up outfield assists and inspire a t-shirt with both of their silhouettes on it and the words “I GOT HOSE.”

Ricco:  Passable defense at first while Howard is out, and a passable bat in the outfield. Every major projection system sees him regressing from the stellar .369 wOBA he posted last year, and probably for good reason. I’d love to see a guy who spent nearly all of his 20s in the minors turn into a solid major leaguer, but I just don’t see it happening.

Ethan:  Whatever John Mayberry gives the Phillies this season could be the difference between the Phillies coasting to another division crown and having to win on the last day just to make the playoffs. The news on Chase Utley’s knees continues to get murkier as spring goes on. If Utley can’t start the season the team will be without its 3 and 4 hitters in the lineup. Hunter Pence will help shoulder some of the load, but John Mayberry Jr will have to take his game to the next level.

A large part of his success last year can be attributed to the manager. Charlie did a great job putting him in positions where he could succeed. We all know that he has struggled against right handed hitters, but his OPS + was nearly 40 points higher in the second half of the season. Given the chance to play every day Mayberry’s numbers should look more like the ones he put up in latter half of 2011.

Projected Line: .272/.340/.580 25 HR, 83 RBI

Which young reliever do you expect to have a breakout season just as Michael Stutes and Antonio Bastardo did in 2011?

Stolnis:  I know the popular answer is Phillippe Aumont right now, because his stuff is simply electric. But with Dontrelle Willis shaky so far and the Phils in need of a good LOOGY, I think Jake Diekman will be the guy this year.

He probably won’t start the season in Philadelphia, but I think he could be with the Phils by May or June, and with his side-winding delivery, could be a nightmare for left-handed hitters. He’s looked terrific so far this spring, and who doesn’t love a side-arming lefty? Plus, Rich Dubee has a man crush on him, which definitely plays in his favor.

Ethan:  Finally, a topic to be optimistic about! This question is difficult to answer, only because of the depth the Phillies have been able to compile (and hold on to) in the bullpen. Sure, it’s the dental school of pitching, but everyone needs clean teeth.

After great deliberation, my choice for breakout bullpen stud is Phillipe Aumont. The big Canadian came over in the fateful Cliff Lee trade in 2010. Thankfully, as bad as he was in 2010, his numbers last year (split AA-AAA) were freakishly good. A 13.1 SO/9 ratio isn’t too shabby for a young pitcher, and it was even higher when he arrived in Lehigh Valley. So far this spring he has shown no ill signs from his disastrous first season with the Phils.

Steadily clocked in the high 90’s, Amount’s got the arm that gives scouts wet dreams. He won’t start the season in Philadelphia so that he can continue to get regular work, and make AAA hitters look silly. Aumont can get a little wild at times, but isn’t a 96 mph fastball more intimidating if you don’t know where its going?

Charlie can be slow to trust young pitchers in pressure situations at first (see Stutes and Bastardo last year), but expect to see Aumont in big games come August.

Justin:  I’d love to see Justin De Fratus take a Ryan Madson roll and set up for a big time closer.  It’d be nice to have somebody homegrown making a difference at the back end of the bullpen to counterweight the big offseason acquisition.  I hope he doesn’t mind wearing Ryan’s number and us calling him “Ryan” and accidentally giving him Madson’s jersey to wear and putting him in our phones as “Mad Dog” and calling him in the middle of the night “just to see if he’s still there,” because if he ever left, we “don’t know what we would do.”

Ricco:  I like to think that Phillippe Aumont will be that guy. He’s got some filthy stuff and by far the coolest name in the farm system.

How do you see the NL East panning out? What is your prediction for the division finish?

Justin:  Phils win, obviously.

The Braves have something to prove, but Chipper drags them down emotionally by sighing heavily and saying “I guess this is the last time I’ll…” about everything they do and everywhere they go.  The Marlins get in their own way and become a sputtering clusterfuck by late July.  The Nationals will spend all season trying to get Philadelphia to notice them, apparently failing to realize that the best way to do so is through, you know, baseball–not gimmicky ticket promos or Twitter hashtags.

Honestly, at this point, it’d be almost refreshing to see the Mets make a little noise.  I mean noises other than panicked yelps and horrible moans.

Ethan:  The Marlins made the biggest amount of noise signing Jose Reyes, Heath Bell, and Mark Buehrle. All of these players will help break in the team’s brand new stadium (retractable roof included). All of their moves coupled with the grand opening of the stadium should give the Marlins a big boost to start the season. It’s hard to look at the Fish and not to think of the 2011 Eagles. Philadelphians learned the lesson the hard way: big spending does not always translate to big results.

The Braves took the opposite approach as the Marlins and stood pat. If spring training is any indicator it looks like they should have made a few more moves. Tim Hudson is already out with an injury, and Chipper Jones came to camp looking like a man who spent more time fishing than hitting the gym. What separates the Braves from the rest of the competition is their pitching depth. Even without Hudson the Braves slew of rookies should pick them up. Besides, isn’t it more fun to have them competitive only to lose on the last day of the season?

The Nats probably have the most potential of anyone, but potential can only take you so far. The team won 80 games last year, and finished the season strong. The acquisition of Gio Gonzalez really helps beef up the rotation, especially when matching up against Utley and Howard. Plus, it’s always fun to watch a former Phillies farm hand succeed with another club. I still think this team is a year away, but if phenom Bryce Harper turns out to be a real life Robert Redford from The Natural they could sneak into a wild card spot.

And then there are the Mets. The forgotten child of the NL East is staring at a bleak season. The team still has David Wright, but was forced to watch Jose Reyes leave due to their financial situation. How bad are the Mets finances? On my way to work I think I saw Mr. Met on the D-Train platform playing a violin for cash.

NL East finish; Phillies (6th Straight), Marlins, Braves, Nationals, The Bad News Bears, The Mets

Ricco:  Ozzie Guillen and LoMo will make twitter crash, Strasburg will thrown 300 innings of no-hit ball, Freddie Freeman’s face will still piss me off, and well, LOLMets. Division Finish: Phils, Braves, Nats, Marlins, Mets.

Stolnis:  I don’t know if this division has ever been tougher to predict. With the Marlins adding Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes and Heath Bell, the Nats trading for Gio Gonzalez and possibly calling up Bryce Harper sooner rather than later, and the Braves still with a lot of good young players and all that pitching, it’s almost impossible to say with any certainty who will this division.

At some point, this run by the Phillies is going to end. It can’t last forever. But right now, the Phillies are still the team to beat. As long as Halladay, Lee and Hamels are still 1-2-3 in that rotation, it’s going to take a lot of bad luck for the Phils not to win 93-95 games. Over a 162-game schedule, arms like those usually rule the day. There are more question marks in the rotations of the Marlins (Johnson return from injury, Sanchez injury worries) the Nats (when do they shut down Strausburg and Zimmerman, can Gio throw enough strikes) and the Braves (health of Hudson, Hanson and Jurrjens) to believe they will outperform the Phils’.

Offensively, the loss of Howard will be a blow. How big remains to be seen. I’m going to go on record as saying I think there’s a real possibility that The Big Piece doesn’t play a single solitary inning for the Phillies in 2012. John Mayberry and Placido Polanco are the keys to that lineup. Frankly, I think the Marlins and Nats are better 1-8 right now than the Phils, if only marginally so. Atlanta still has an issue with the bats, although a full season of Michael Bourn should help.

Picking right now, I say Phils in 1st with 95 wins, followed by Atlanta with 90, Miami with 88, Washington with 85 and the Mets with 75.

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