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Springtime Storylines: Will the real Cole Hamels please stand up?

Mar 31, 2010, 9:00 AM EDT

Between now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of the 30
teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally
breaking down their chances for the 2010 season.  Next up: the defending NL Champs.


The
big question: Will the real Cole Hamels please stand up?

Hamels was otherworldly in the 2008 postseason and damn good in the 2007 and 2008 regular seasons. Last year: slightly less than average in ERA and opposing batters hitting .273 against him, which was a career high. However, there is much to suggest that this was more about bad luck than bad pitching.

Hamels’ strikeout and walk rates stayed at basically the same level in 2009 as they had been previously, he was giving up the same number of grounders and fly balls and batters weren’t swinging on first pitchers or anything like that more than they used to, which would have meant that his pitchers were fatter than they used to be. This all suggests that his struggles were more a function of extra flares, gorks, ground balls with eyes and a few more dying quails than he was used to as opposed to some loss of his mojo.

My guess: we see a nice bounceback season from Hamels, which will go a long way towards getting the Phillies back to the World Series, my impudent and biased predictions notwithstanding.

So what else is
going on?

  • Placido Polanco takes over at third after not playing there regularly since 2002.  He’ll also bat second, it seems, moving Shane Victorino down in the lineup.  Polanco will likely be fine at third base and lineup construction is overrated, but I’m getting one of those “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it vibes” about all of this. Breaking up Rollins-Victorino-Utley-Howard at the top of the order just feels wrong to me.
  • Brad Lidge was terrible last year and he’s back, coming off elbow surgery to boot. Scott Eyre, Clay Condrey and Chan Ho Park were pretty decent, and they’re gone. J.C. Romero is also coming off surgery. I think the bullpen is going to be a problem for this team, and it’s one of the reasons I picked the Braves to win the division.

  • If I had to bet serious money on anything in baseball in 2010, I’d bet it on Roy Halladay being an absolute beast. Predicting awards is folly, but he’s my preseason favorite for the NL Cy Young. As much as it pains me to admit it, the NL just ain’t the league the AL is, Halladay avoids what will be one of if not the best NL offenses in Philly, and he gets a lot of innings against the Mets and Nationals.  Set your DVR for all Roy Halladay starts this season.
  • Raul Ibanez hit .232/.326./448 in the second half last year.  Was it a function of the sports hernia for which he recently had surgery, or was that his true level after playing clearly above his head in the first half?  I think it’s the latter, and I think there will be concerns about his production all year.

So how
are they gonna do?

Don’t get me wrong: I think the Phillies are just about the best team in the NL and I’d be utterly shocked if they weren’t in it all season. My pick of the Braves is more about my optimism for that club than about me being down on Philly.

Still, I think there are enough questions about the pen, the back end of the rotation and a couple of places in the lineup that mindlessly writing them down as the division winners in March is, well, mindless. I think they’ll win a lot of ballgames and if they make the playoffs — which I think they will as a wild card — they’ll be favored to win the pennant based on the one-two punch of Halladay and Hamels and the fact that they’ll have one of the best players in the league in Chase Utley on their side.  I just don’t think they’ll be able to run away from the Braves and that due to fate, karma, juju, the whammy and a handful of other phenomena, they’ll fall just short in what could be the best race in baseball this year.

Prediction:
Second place in the NL East. Sub-prediction: commenters will ignore all my praise for the team, focus on the second place pick and call me a hater or something.

Click
here for other Springtime Storylines

  1. bigcatasroma - Mar 31, 2010 at 9:19 AM

    CC,
    ARE YOU NUTS, YOU HOMER?!?!?! THE BRAVES OVER THE PHILLIES?!?!?! GO BACK TO YOUR DAY JOB AS BEING A LITIGATOR AND LEAVE THE BASELESS PREDICTIONS TO JOHN KRUK, YOU FOOL!!!!
    I actually agree with you in the sense that there is no *way* the Phillies will cruise to a 4th straight NL East and 3d straight pennant; statistical regression and all that stuff tells us they probably can’t. And I am worried about the ‘pen.
    But the ‘pen is the most overrated aspect of any team, by far. This team can mash. Their top 2 of the rotation is the best top 2 in the league — better than Hansen and Jurrjens(?), better than Carpenter and Wainwright, etc. Blanton and Happ are solid at the 3/4. And they will make 30 starts — I don’t worry about them breaking down at any point. The 5th starter — whomever, someone will step up, Bastardo, Kendrick (eek!), and Moyer will probably make

  2. BC - Mar 31, 2010 at 9:34 AM

    Their bullpen is an atrocity. They will need to go snag Heath Bell or someone of that nature during the season.

  3. Old Gator - Mar 31, 2010 at 9:39 AM

    Back a couple of months or so there was a blog here about nutritional programs in baseball making, well, comeback isn’t accurate since there never were any before but at least there was some recognition of their importance to conditioning. Of course, where would the institution of such a program spread its bonhomie more joyously than in the homeland of the horrible horsemeat and velveeta sandwich? Take those gut-clogging nightmares away from these guys and replace them with tofu burger and sprout sandwiches on multigrain rolls with safflower mayonnaise Russian dressing, and fill the coolers with goji berry elixir and you’ll have Halladay routinely going eighteen innings, Howard channeling Barry Bonds without the better-living-through-chemistry angle, Jamie Moyer throwing Sidd Finch fastballs and Chase Utley hitting safely in 58 straight games. Lidge could then take all season long to get his elbow in shape so they can feed him to the Borg in postseason.

  4. OsandRoyals - Mar 31, 2010 at 10:25 AM

    I’d be worried about the bullpen too, especially the closer position but the Philllies have one major advantage: They have Holliday who should be averaging around 8 innings a game. Having a guy who can do that on a regular basis should protect the bullpen giving most members an automatic offday

  5. David - Mar 31, 2010 at 10:44 AM

    What, are you a hater or something? ;-)

  6. YANKEES1996 - Mar 31, 2010 at 11:29 AM

    The headline for this article should be ” Will the real Cole Hamels please stand up…..AGAIN? I think the Cole Hamels of last year was an imposter and I agree that this is going to be a much better year for him. The Braves staying with the Phillies all year and maybe even winning the NL, yea, Craig that was a definite loyalty pick!

  7. Alex - Mar 31, 2010 at 12:23 PM

    Bullpen is questionable, but as osandroyals pointed out, the HALLADAY factor will routinely give the bullpen rest and days off. And don’t underestimate that impact. Having him go 8-9 innings on a regular basis can help even a moderate bullpen look like game changers because they’re pitching on more rest, they’re confident, and likely awed by his unbelievable and rigorous work ethic, which will certainly rub off on some.
    P.S. As a long time admirer of Doc when he was with my Jays, you Philly fans have added a whole contingent of supporters from up north!

  8. Jonny5 - Mar 31, 2010 at 1:00 PM

    Very nice, Glad to hear the Canadians are supporting the right side in the battle between good and evil. I bet you’re all just glad Stien-Vadar of the Yanker Galaxie didn’t snap him up to become another stormpooper……….. And Hey FANBOY! Yeah, Craig, you. Look, we have Baez, Kendrick,Romero will be a little late to join the group, Madson,Bastardo, Contreras, Durbin,Herndon will stay,I don’t know, when you look at those guys it doesn’t look so bad, And if someone becomes availible I’m sure they could pick them up. It’s not all that bad really Fanboy. Then Lidge comes back to true form (i hope), And Eyre comes back after he’s done his family roadtrip, and all is well. The NL East will have a bareknukled brawl to fight for 2nd place in the NL and Philly won’t be a part of it.

  9. Madhatters - Mar 31, 2010 at 2:03 PM

    Craig I do believe your homerism is doing you a disservice.
    The Phillies:
    -1-9 the Phillies will crush any NL squad.
    -their #1 is arguably the best starter in baseball
    -their #4 (No. FOUR!) was a rookie of the year runner-up
    -we have two former MVP’s
    -4 gold glove starters
    -The most prolific power hitter since Babe Ruth (read Howard’s stats over the past 3 years and believe it)
    -We have the best 2nd basemen in the league
    The Braves:
    -A great 20 year-old prospect
    -An aging deterriorating 3b
    -A coach who is on his final tour
    -JJ and his fluke 2009 season
    At the beginning of the year a simple pros and cons list makes the Phillies the clear favorite. The basis for your entire prediction is simply a very hopeful bias towards the Braves

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