Yes it is possible this team is not as mediocre as SOME say, but we all agree: the Phillies will not win 80+ games and it will be tough to win more than 70. But there is some hope at the ML-level. Now that the opening day roster is finalized, I will take a look at how the Phils win more than 67 games. First, the story lines: (1) change in hitting philosophy; (2) playing time; and (3) bounce-back seasons. So, without further ado, let us begin. I will go in defensive order.
Hamels, Buchannan, Billingsley, and Nola will be the top four to watch. Right now, the rotation projects as Hamels as the ace (obviously) and then a bunch of 4s & 5s with moderate upside. Hamels will then likely be traded and hopefully Nola continues to impress at AA & AAA in the 1st half to warrant a call-up at the time Cole is traded - a smooth transition there hopefully. Buchannan building off of a solid 2014 and Billingsley dominating the last two trimesters of 2015 will net the Phillies a win or two each.
Most of the late-2014 stats proved that the Phillies bullpen was in the top 3 in both the NL & MLB (the Yankees led the pack there). Papelbon has performed well on the field as a Phillie, which is likely to continue; however, he is also a trade candidate. But at least he can keep an eye on the younger arms - notably Giles, Diekman, and De Fratus - before he goes. Those guys may regress a bit due to (1) the league catching up to them a bit plus (2) more luck benefiting opposing hitters, but if they can adjust to the league (with Pap's help), there shouldn’t be too much of a problem.
My second-to-last concern with the 2015 Phillies is the catching (bullpen success is last). I'm hoping Rupp begins a transition much like Chooch did in 2006. I think Rupp is a solid back-up this year, with upside as a solid primary next year. Offense is not quite there yet and defense/ rapport w/ pitchers could be minor but notice-able issue but all-in-all, Rupp looks ready for 2015.
I’ll put Ruf in here and hold off on discussing Franco when I discuss third basemen. First, Howard: I think he will bounce back despite Spring Training stats showing otherwise. I'm not too concerned with S.T. stats because he had a near-career-high OPS in April 2014; avoided the DL last year & still had 95 RBIs & a .285 AVG w/ BIP (a.k.a. BABIP), which are OK in a pitching era; and is normally a Summer hitter. The key will be to improved his plate discipline: i.e. reduce the strikeout rate. This will lead to more BB & balls in play (BIP) overall, and increase the AVG, OBP, RBI total, and OPS. Note: It'll get harder to trade him after May 9th when his 10-&-5 rights take effect. Once he’s gone, Ruf & Franco take over, with Ruf the leading candidate to replace him for now. I hope Ruf is given five starts per week... most of those, initially of course, will be as a left fielder. I think he can hit ML pitching to the tune of 20 HRs & (conservatively) 80 RBIs. Expecting for 120 RBIs and 35 HRs from first basemen this year.
Second Base: Will Ryne rest Utley (beginning around May 1st)? His trimester-to-trimester decline last year proved he needs more rest: 130 starts and 550 PAs max. I think this will happen and lead to a successful 2014 from Chase. Looking for a .275 AVG from Chase this year. Hernandez, Herrera, Galvis and Asche are notable back-ups to Utley.
Asche enters the year as the primary Phillies third-baseman for the second consecutive year, which is something he needs to keep in mind as he was a bit lacking in the mental aspects of the game. Now, unless he cuts down his errors & improves some offensively, he’ll continue to be a four-to-five-start-per-week player. Franco is set at 3B defensively but his bat has yet to translate to MLB success, so Asche has time to prove he can play everyday or will he need to move around more (2B/ LF) in future years? We shall see what happens with he & Franco as 2015 progresses. Looking for .270-or-greater AVG & 10-15 errors max. from third basemen this year.
For at least 60% of the Phillies’ ~1400 innings this year, Freddy Galvis will man the SS position. Known for his GLOVE, this should mitigate the loss of Rollins in the defense category. Galvis’ career (ML + MiL) OPS (on-base-plus-slugging), however, is 50-100 points lower than J-Roll’s was, so we’re looking for some offense from Freddy, who will man the 7-hole for most of the year. Playing nearly every day will help. However, it is clear that he is just keeping the field warm for J.P. Crawford, due up mid-late 2016.
Revere & Herrera should be a force at the top of the line-up with their speed, especially now that Revere’s ankle is screw-less. Brown, after he gets back on the field, needs to produce like he did in 2013 (although more spread out over the season instead of w/i a single month). Sizemore, Francoeur and Danks are viable back-ups. All the OFs (including Ruf) have one thing in common: their defense is mediocre at best. Hopefully their bats and then spread-out playing time make up for it.