COMMENTARY | What are the odds that an elderly baseball team with a core of frequently injured players could capture the division title?
This is the dilemma the Philadelphia Phillies have coming into the 2014 season. Not only have their returning players all aged a year, but the new ones joining the team are pushing 40 years old.
As troublesome as things might appear when comparing this current Phillies team to others in recent years, their roster is still not the rubbish they had in the late-1990s. This does little to help boost morale as fans now know what it's like to experience constantly winning.
Optimists remain confident that the 2014 Phillies could legitimately compete for the division title. However, there are three teams that will stop the Phillies from winning the division.
The defending National League East champion Atlanta Braves have everything they need to repeat in 2014. Even with B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla having batting averages worse than most pitchers, they managed to take the division.
There is no shortage of quality players on the Braves. The Upton brothers, B.J. and Justin, have room to improve and Jason Heyward has yet to reach his ceiling. Like many players on the Phillies, Heyward just needs to stay healthy.
The rest of the offense is pretty good, too. Leading the way is first baseman Freddie Freeman. Freeman had a breakthrough season in 2013, finishing fifth in the MVP voting.
Offensively, they only lost Brian McCann this offseason. Evan Gattis will replace him, possibly even adding extra power.
Truly the best advantage the Braves have over many teams is their pitching. Beginning with a starting rotation consisting of Kris Medlen, Mike Minor, Julio Tehran and a few more younger players that are above average, the Braves are set as far as starting pitching is concerned.
Their bullpen is also one of the best. Anthony Varvaro, Luis Avilan and David Carpenter are all middle-relief pitchers who had ERAs below 3.00 in 2013. Add to this bullpen closer Craig Kimbrel and it may be very difficult to score any runs against the Braves' pitching staff.
By comparison, the Braves are far superior to the Phillies. Worst of all, the Braves have many younger players. It's beginning to look a lot like the 1990s in Atlanta.
More stiff competition in the division, the Washington Nationals have suddenly become the biggest rival to the Phillies. This is not the same team that moved from Montreal. The Nationals are good now -- really good.
The Nationals actually match up very well with the Braves. Their outfield consists of Bryce Harper, Denard Span and former Phillies outfielder Jayson Werth. Werth finally lived up to his contract in 2013, hitting 25 home runs with a .318 batting average. During the summer when the team had trouble scoring runs, Werth was the one bright spot.
On the infield are equally as talented hitters. Ian Desmond has become one of the best hitting shortstops in the league and Ryan Zimmerman continues to be the team's anchor when healthy. At first base, the team has Adam LaRoche, who got off to a very poor start in 2013. He did eventually finish with 20 home runs, something only one member of the 2013 Phillies did, Domonic Brown.
The starting rotation for the Nationals is also a very good one. Stephan Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann lead the way. While Strasburg and Gonzalez were the ones who came into 2013 with the high hopes, it was Zimmermann who won 19 games.
The Nationals also managed to acquire Doug Fister from the Detroit Tigers in the offseason. Fister will undoubtedly remain one of the best fourth starters in the league, this time in the offensively weaker National League.
Weak bats need not attempt to swing against Nationals' pitching.
The most classic enemy of all is always yourself. Certainly, the Phillies fall into this category.
Injuries, lack of motivation, bad transactions and anything else that has kept them from winning in the past are all reasons why they will once again fail to capture the division.
The only upside the Phillies have compared to the rest of the division, besides them not being the New York Mets or Miami Marlins, is that they are still the most experienced. Most experienced, however, for this bunch tends to mean, "most likely to pull a hamstring walking to first base."
The Phillies will have to overcome themselves in order to capture the National League East. They will have to prove everyone, including myself, who doubts them, wrong.
Sure, they have no shot at winning the division. Fortunately, thanks to the "creative" mind of Bud Selig, there are two choices of wild cards they can try to seize from the rest of the league.
Tim Boyle is a lifelong and loyal Philadelphia sports follower who enjoys writing about his favorite teams and discovering unique statistical facts.
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