The Phillies’ heralded hurling hydra might power them past our Braves and every other team in the universe. Wouldn’t surprise anybody. Still, I’m feeling a tad optimistic.
Maybe it’s just the usual March foolishness. But my good vibrations emanate less from the Braves’ spring than from the Phils, specifically their advancing years when compared to our boys. Among the top 15 players on each roster — 8 regulars, 5 starters, 2 relievers — nine Braves are 27 or younger, compared to one Phillie (Hamels.) Five of those Bravos are over 30, compared to 11 Phillies. The average ages of the 15: 28 for the home squad, 32.5 for the Phils.
As for the regulars, the Phils are younger at just two positions, and not by much: Rollins at 32 is two years younger than Gonzalez, and 35-year-old Polanco is three years younger than Chipper. Our guys are younger at five positions, and McLouth and Victorino are both 30. The Braves have decidedly younger starters at catcher, a 5-year difference, first base (10 years), left field (9 years) and right field (8 years.) This is based on depth charts on the teams’ web sites, which have Ben Francisco as the Phillie’s starting right fielder.
The pitching staffs are interesting age-wise. Our top two, of course, are getting up there. Lowe’s 37 on opening day, Huddy will be 35. But then Hanson, JJ and Minor are all 25 or younger. Halladay and Oswalt are 33, Lee is 32 and Hamels is 27. Blanton is 30.
In the bullpens, Kimbrel is just 22 and Venters is 26. Lidge is 34, Contreras 39.
All this could, of course, mean nothing. On the other hand, Utley and Rollins, both 32, have been injury prone the past couple seasons, and have shown signs of decline. Rollins is still a good player, no doubt, but his OPS has slipped three straight years. His on base percentages the past two seasons were a paltry .296 and .320. Utley remains the NL’s top second baseman, a superb player. Yet he might not be quite the same as a couple or three seasons back. His OPS has declined in each of the past three years.
At first, Howard’s home run totals were 48, 45, 31 and his RBIs slid from 146 to 141 to 108 the past three seasons. Again, the guy’s still a force, but perhaps not quite the colossus of two-three seasons back. Past their top four, the Phils’ order will likely include Ibanez, Polanco, Ruiz and Francisco — hardly fearsome.
The Phillies, you’ll recall, endured multiple scoring droughts last season. Now one of thier best hitters, Werth, is gone, and the other guys — seven of eight regulars are 30 or older — have another year on their bodies. The first one’s an if roughly the size of Stone Mountain, granted, but IF McLouth or Schafer give us much at all, and if Chipper is reasonably productive — say, .285, 15-20 HR, 75-85 RBI — you could plausibly argue the Braves’ lineup is close to if not perhaps better than Philadelphia’s.
Think about this. The Braves have four guys you can more or less count on to put up very good to great offensive numbers: McCann, Prado, Uggla and Heyward. The Phils do too, in Howard, Utley, Rollins and Victorino. After that, it gets iffy for both teams. But the rest of the Braves might offer a bit higher ceiling, especially Freeman and Chipper, than the rest of the Phils — Ibanez, Francisco, Ruiz and Polanco.
The Phillies might win it all. However, I don’t think they will bludgeon the National League. More likely, they’ll have a passel of low-scoring games where their bullpen could be decisive. And their pen, like that of the Braves, could go either way.