Thursday, March 31, 2016

Can Phillies Be Surprise 2016 Contenders?

I'm going to be honest with you right from Jump Street here. I'm an old glass-half-full guy, and even I don't really believe that the Phillies can actually contend for the National League East crown in the 2016 season.
Going further, I don't believe that the Phillies can contend for a Wildcard playoff spot. I don't even really believe that the Phillies are going to finish at or above the .500 mark in the 2016 season.
However, on that last point, I am willing to hedge my bets a little.
Buoyed by the performance of the team in the Grapefruit League, where the club finished with an encouraging 15-10-3 record that included some offensive outbursts that seem on the surface to be unsustainable based on the present talent, I have to admit to some optimism.
Now for it all to come together, and the team to actually make a run that sees them approaching that .500 mark come September, a few things have to happen. 
I am going to have a full prediction breakdown on the 2016 season in the coming days, but here are a few things that must break the Phillies' way in order to experience a fun September.
First, the Phils need to get greatly improved pitching over the 2015 version of the team. I see no reason that cannot happen. 
Just look at the starting rotation of Jeremy HellicksonAaron NolaCharlie MortonVincent Velasquez, and Jerad Eickhoff. You cannot tell me in all honesty that it isn't measurably better from 2-5 than what the club was preparing to run out this time a year ago, aside from the ace in Hamels.
Next, the bullpen needs to improve. The group saw tremendous increased competition this spring as GM Matt Klentak brought in any experienced relief arm that he could lay his paws on to try out for a spot. 
The incumbents were clearly up against it, and the team appears to be headed into the season with a much better relief cast, as well as more experienced and talented depth available to promote from AAA should a need arise.
I sincerely believe that the total pitching staff is improved when looked at as a whole, top to bottom. There is no one anywhere near the class of Hamels as an ace. But there is much more talented depth all the way through the rotation, and through the bullpen.
But the biggest key to taking a true run at the .500 level in 2016 will be the offense. Two major keys, guys who must come through with strong seasons if there is any hope of a better offensive attack, are Odubel Herrera and Maikel Franco.
These two were studs a year ago in a mostly punchless lineup, and they need to take the next step forward in 2016. Franco can be an All-Star as soon as this year, and could quickly develop into an NL MVP candidate.
If the Phillies can get enough offense to support the improved pitching, they have a chance to run at the .500 mark later in the season, and possibly push the Marlins and Braves for a 3rd place finish. 
If they can get to August, call up 3-4 of the better prospects, then it could really get interesting come September.
Longshot to contend this year? Certainly. Longshot to take a run at .500 and 3rd place? Most major prognosticators would answer in the affirmative. 
Me? I'm going to remain glass-half-full. Give me this current team with health, and I think they have a real shot at just such an overachieving year. It might not even be actual overachieving, but simply the beginning of a breakout for the franchise.

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