2013 Opponent Preview: Don't sleep on the Philadelphia Phillies this year... if they can stay healthy

USA TODAY Sports

The injury-plagued Phillies finished with a .500 record in 2012. If they can stay healthy in 2013 (and they will need to), they could challenge for a playoff spot in the National League East.

The Phillies were a tale of two halves in 2012, playing .425 baseball in the first half before finishing the season on a 44-31 tear to end up exactly at .500. Injuries and ineffectiveness plagued a roster that won 102 games in 2011. Ryan Howard missed most of the year after tearing his left Achilles tendon during the 2011 playoffs, Roy Halladay struggled through one of the worst seasons of his career, and Chase Utley wasn't able to find his rhythm after returning from a left knee injury last June. They still have a star-studded roster, including one of the best pitching staffs in baseball, and should not be taken lightly in 2013.

Manager: Charlie Manuel (9th year)

2012 record: 81-81, 3rd in NL East

SB Nation blog: The Good Phight

Other Phillies coverage: The 700 Level

Series vs. Tigers: July 26-28 @ Comerica Park

Lineup

For the 13th straight season, Jimmy Rollins will be the Phillies' primary leadoff hitter. He will be 34 years old this season, but there are no signs of him slowing down. He's still a near-lock for 20 home runs and 30 steals while playing stellar defense at shortstop. Behind him will likely be new centerfielder Ben Revere. If Revere can replicate last season's .342 on-base percentage, this offense will be a nightmare.

The heart of the order will feature some combination of second baseman Chase Utley, first baseman Ryan Howard, and third baseman Michael Young. Charlie Manuel may choose to move Young in between the two lefties, possibly even bumping Utley up to the second spot in the lineup. The key for the Phillies here is health: both Utley and Howard have missed a substantial amount of playing time over the past couple seasons. Early signs in Spring Training are promising, especially for Howard, who was never fully healthy after returning from a foot injury late last season. Outfielder Dominic Brown may add himself into this group if he continues his strong spring production during the regular season.

After that, the lineup gets a bit murky. Catcher Carlos Ruiz is suspended for the first 25 games of the season and will be hoping to match his excellent 2012 numbers; that .339 BABIP from last year tells me he will fall short. Veteran backstop Eric Kratz will spell Ruiz from time to time and start the majority of games in April while Ruiz serves his suspension.

The other outfield spot will be a toss-up between Delmon Young, John Mayberry Jr., and Darin Ruf. Ruf absolutely destroyed minor league pitching last year, hitting 38 home runs at Double-A Reading. Mayberry was largely forgettable, and his splits play better in a platoon role. If I were running things, he would start against lefties, sliding Ruf to first base while Howard waits for a pinch-hitting opportunity. Switch-hitter Freddy Galvis will likely see plenty of playing time in a utility role, especially if any of the infielders get banged up.

Rotation

Cole Hamels established himself as the ace of the Phillies staff in 2012 with a 17-6 record and 3.05 ERA/3.30 FIP/3.23 xFIP in 31 starts. This wasn't really a breakout season for Hamels in terms of his numbers -- though his strikeout rate jumped back above a batter per inning -- but it just felt like this was Hamels' team. Given that the Phillies were 21-10 in games that he started, it's hard to argue otherwise.

Part of that "feel" is due to the fact that Roy Halladay had his worst season since 2003 last year. His FIP and xFIP were nearly a full run lower than his 4.49 ERA, but were still well above his career norms. Early reports suggest he's poised for a bounce-back season this year.

The key for the Phillies here is health: both Utley and Howard have missed a substantial amount of playing time over the past couple seasons.

You would never have guessed that Cliff Lee didn't win a game until July by looking at his peripheral numbers. His 3.16 ERA was 9th in the National League and he was worth 4.2 bWAR, the third-highest total of his career.

Kyle Kendrick and John Lannan might not be game-changers at the back of the rotation, but they are much better options than most teams have. Kendrick had a sub-4.00 ERA in 159 1/3 innings in 2012, but struggled with the home run ball at times. Lannan will get a chance to start after spending most of the year in Triple-A Syracuse in the Washington Nationals' organization last season.

The Phillies' bullpen wasn't very good last year, particularly in the 8th inning. Enter the best setup man in baseball, right-hander Mike Adams. Adams should shore up a bullpen that didn't have much going for it beyond closer Jonathan Papelbon and LOOGY Antonio Bastardo.

Spring Training storylines

Aside from Jonathan Papelbon giving up bombs, the biggest story of Spring Training for the Phillies is how Roy Halladay has looked after an abysmal 2012 season. In short, it sounds like he's (almost) back. Torii Hunter seemed thankful that Halladay will be in the National League after facing him in February, while Hamels refers to Halladay as "The Immortal." Getting Halladay back in form is one of this team's keys to success in 2013.

The other major point of interest in Clearwater is how outfielder Domonic Brown has performed. Brown has disappointed in his first few years at the MLB level, hitting just .236/.315/.388 with 12 home runs. This year, Brown is Raburning his way through Spring Training. Through six games, he is hitting .370/.453/.609 with three home runs, one of which was this moonshot.

Brown was Baseball America's #4 prospect prior to the 2011 season, and Phillies fans are understandably excited that a five-tool prospect might finally be reaching his potential.

Player to watch: Carlos Ruiz

Ruiz will miss 25 games after testing positive for Adderall, making him eligible to rejoin the Phillies on April 28th. Coming off of his first All-Star appearance in 2012 at age 34, he is starting to reach the twilight of his career. Ruiz is in the final year of his contract and will be looking to get one last payday with a strong season in 2013.

More importantly, however, is what Ruiz can do for this lineup. With the previously mentioned Brown emerging as a viable offensive option, the Phillies lineup is solid through the top six hitters. If Ruiz is able to replicate his 2012 numbers this year, the lineup becomes even more dangerous. Ruiz's bat also adds a bit of protection to the middle of the order, especially if he hits ahead of Brown.

Outlook

Many news outlets are automatically assuming that the National League East will be a two-team race in 2013. Given how well both the Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves played for most of 2012, it's hard to blame them. The Phillies probably lack the depth to compete with these two teams over the 162-game grind, but it's hard to count out a team that is just a year removed from winning 102 games. If the Phillies can stay healthy this year -- and I mean really healthy with that bench (or lack thereof) -- they have an outside shot at a playoff spot.

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