Are the Phils a threat?

I like Ben Revere, acquired by the Phils from Minnesota, but otherwise their offseason has been a bust. They got older, acquiring Michael Young, who’s coming off a dreadful season with the Rangers. And the 36-year-old third sacker will only make a bad fielding team worse.

Today they signed clubhouse cancer Delmon Young, another poor fielder who had a .296 OBP and .411 slugging percentage last year in Detroit. His career numbers aren’t much better.

Yes, they still have Hamels, Lee and Halladay.  Lee was better than his record in 2012 but will be 34 on Opening Day. Halladay, 36 in May, wasn’t very good last season and with nearly 2,700 innings pitched you’ve got to wonder how much he’s got left. Kyle Kendrick and John Lannan complete a rotation with little depth.

Looks like a .500 team to me.

The Phils’ spring has been worse

You think it’s been a bad spring at Disney? Check out what’s happening in Clearwater.

The Phillies announced that second baseman Chase Utley “has come to a bit of a plateau” in his rehab. He’ll travel out of town for a few days to see a specialist for his knees, the team added. Utley’s chance of playing on Opening Day seem slim and prospect Freddy Galvis may get his chance at the MLB level.

Speaking of rehab:

Ryan Howard‘s projected return date has been pushed back about a month. The expectation at the moment: late May or early June.

Add to that reports that Roy Halladay’s velocity is down and you can see why a good start is a must for the Bravos, who need to take advantage of the Phils’ woes. They have no excuse not to, with an April schedule that has them playing the Mets in six of their first 12 games. The Braves have another 7 games against Houston and Pittsburgh.

Rowland’s bouquets

*The first goes to Craig Kimbrel, the most dominant closer in the game. How many records have been set with a month to play? And CK ain’t on ‘roids. You’ll note that he broke the rookie saves record set last year by former Braves farmhand Neftali Feliz. Imagine Feliz, O’Flaherty, Venters and Kimbrel in the ‘pen, with support from Petah (due back this weekend) and Arodys.

*Our next bouquet goes to the Phillies rotation. Credit where it’s due — though many of us scoffed at the mere comparison with the great Braves staffs, the Philly starters have delivered — especially Cliff Lee, who, over July and August, joined Walter Johnson (1913) and Bob Gibson (1968) as the only pitchers with at least five wins, no losses, and an ERA below 1.00 in back-to-back months.

August was not as pristine as July, but it was no less remarkable. In July, Lee allowed one run on 21 hits in 42 innings (a 0.21 ERA). Opponents managed to score twice on 23 hits against Lee in 39-2/3 August innings (a 0.45 ERA).

I hate complimenting the Phillies, but as a Braves fan I can’t help but appreciate such outstanding pitching.

If Tommy Hanson is not his old self by the playoffs the Braves aren’t getting by the Phils. Assuming they get that far.

If they do, and somehow prevail, the World Series will bring a less challenging opponent. The Yankees have nothing after Sabathia — Ivan Nova, the Bronx’s version of Dillon Gee,  is their second starter The Red Sox have a brittle Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and a third starter, John Lackey, with a 5.94 ERA.

Detroit, Texas or the O.C. Angels may be better bets to get to the Fall Classic. The Tigers have Verlander, Texas has depth and the Angels have probably the best starting three in the AL with Weaver, Haren and Ervin Santana.

But none of those teams, NL or AL, have bullpens that compare with the Braves, which is why I’m still slightly optimistic about an October run.

*The last bouquet goes to FW. We’ve had our problems with the current braintrust but this year he’s pushed all the right buttons. He made the best deal at the trade deadline, didn’t trade D-Lowe (like many of us wanted) and yesterday secured two useful pieces for the bench.

Jack Wilson won’t put them over the top, but if Gonzo gets hurt, you’ll be glad to see him at SS instead of Julio Lugo.

Verducci high on Braves’ postseason chances

From the esteemed SI scribe:

The team with the best chance of keeping the Philadelphia Phillies out of the World Series is the team that trails them in the standings: the Atlanta Braves. No disrespect to the Milwaukee Brewers, a legit threat in their own right, but no team will take a greater inventory of pitching into the postseason than the Braves, whose bullpen is shortening games the way the Yankees did in the late 1990s.

You know about Johnny Venters and Craig Kimbrel, the eighth- and ninth-inning options for manager Fredi Gonzalez. They have not been scored on in 39 1/3 combined innings for the past two months and almost never give up home runs. But Eric O’Flaherty has Venters-like stuff, Peter Moylan is working his way back off the DL, Arodys Vizcaino is bringing high-90s heat, and top prospects Randall Delgado, who was sent back to Triple-A after one-hit ball against the Giants, and Julio Teheran, perhaps the top pitching prospect in baseball, all will be available in September and October.

Meanwhile, lefty Mike Minor (six shutout innings against the Giants) and righty Brandon Beachy give Gonzalez options as starters or long relievers. Atlanta’s postseason rotation hinges on the health of Tommy Hanson, whose shoulder finally cried “uncle” from his stop-and-go delivery. Hanson could be back from tendinitis in five to 10 days. But the Braves are deep on the mound and, with Michael Bourn and Jose Constanza giving them a speed element, much more dynamic on offense.

Give GM Frank Wren credit. He shopped for Carlos Beltran but balked at giving up any of his Four Horsemen: Minor, Teheran, Vizcaino and Delgado. He wound up with a better fit — Bourn — who the Braves also control for next season, without yielding his top prospects.

And give credit to Gonzalez, too. At the All-Star break he and pitching coach Roger McDowell re-assessed how they used O’Flaherty, Venters and Kimbrel. Though the Braves play so many close and extra-inning games, he decided to slightly back off how much he used his top relievers — not just to keep them fresh for the stretch, but also for the next five or six years. Atlanta, comfortably ahead in the wild card race, will be a dangerous postseason matchup going into the playoffs with a rested bullpen full of strikeout pitchers.

Open thread, 4/8, Braves vs. Kevin Grosses

Unfortunately, Kevin Gross won’t be on the mound tonight. The Braves will face two lefties, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, over the weekend, so the onus will be on Dan Uggla, who was acquired to make the line-up less vulnerable to tough southpaws.

The Braves have fared well against Lee in three previous starts, with 4 homers among 21 hits in 16 innings.

As for the Opening Night festivities, Talking Chop reports the Braves are planning a surprise for the first pitch honors. Among TC’s guesses: minor-league manager Luis Salazar, tossing to McCann. I’d put my money on that but, no offense to Salazar, I’d rather see members of the ’91 team, as this is the 20th anniversary of the greatest season Braves fans will ever experience.

Just make sure it’s not Montgomery. Or Gentry. (And would it be asking too much to 86 “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” from the musical rotation? Oh, and no between-innings host, unless it’s Walter Banks.)

Even more bad news for the Phils

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said in a radio interview on MLB Network Radio Wednesday afternoon that he anticipates Brad Lidge being out possibly until the mid-July All-Star break, or just prior to it. Lidge has begun the season on the disabled list with a right posterior rotator cuff strain and was initially expected be shut down completely for 3-6 weeks.

More bad news for the Phils

Their already fragile bullpen will start the season without closer Brad Lidge, who’s headed to the 15-day DL with shoulder pain.

Lidge says he’ll get an MRI when he gets back to Philadelphia and doesn’t know when he will return. Lidge was shaken up after allowing two hits and two walks in two-thirds of an inning against the Twins’ minor leaguers. “I’m a little concerned because I haven’t had shoulder problems in the past,” Lidge said.

Grim prognosis for Utley

I take no joy from this. Utley plays the game hard and is a helluva talent.

“It’s not good,” said Jimmy Rollins of his longtime double play partner’s injury. “We haven’t seen him at all, and he’s highly unlikely to make the start of the season.”

What isn’t being said yet is that it may go well beyond that. Utley was diagnosed with patellar tendinitis, and while no structural damage was found in the MRI, the pain persists. The Phillies recently announced he also has chrondomalacia and bone inflammation in the knee but still seem a bit perplexed that it hasn’t calmed down as it has in the past. New medical opinions are being sought. A cortisone shot a week ago is said to have produced only “minimal improvement.”

GQ skewers BoSox, Philly fans

Red Sox fans came in 6th in the magazine’s rankings of the nation’s worst sports fans.

aka Pvt. Pyle from 'Full Metal Jacket'

Insufferable Hypocrites. Winning the 2004 World Series was the worst thing to ever happen to Red Sox fans. Having been beaten into a state of lovable-loserdom by generations of championship futility, they now seem intent on living out some sort of horsehided cycle of domestic violence, inflicting upon us everything that for eighty-six years was inflicted upon them. It is a display of epic hypocrisy. All their whining about the Yankees’ salary-driven Evil Empire? They now gloat while drubbing opponents with what is routinely the second-highest-paid roster in baseball. All that self-satisfaction about being a bunch of scruffy underdogs? They blindly maintained it while winning the 2007 World Series with a payroll almost $90 million higher than Colorado’s. All these continuing claims to be an elite group of die-hard supporters? They have the biggest legion of bandwagon fans in the country, pushing past the Pinstripes as baseball’s top-drawing road team in 2005, 2007, and 2008. These days, Red Sox fans are indistinguishable from Yankees fans—just with more grating accents.

A-fucking-men. I would’ve ranked them first, but that dishonor went to Philly fans, who certainly belong in the conversation.

Things reached their nadir last season, when Citizens Bank Park played host to arguably the most heinous incident in the history of sports: A drunken fan intentionally vomited on an 11-year-old girl. The truth is this: All told, Philadelphia stadiums house the most monstrous collection of humanity outside of the federal penal system.

Phils less invincible by the day

Charlie Manuel says he’s worried about Chase Utley’s knee. He should be.

He’s not running, and he’s not doing anything in the way of lateral motion, as the Phillies don’t want to put any strain on his knee.

The Phils without Utley have an offense not much better than the Braves of last April. Their bench (Wilson Valdez, anyone?) is weak, and highly regarded rookie Dominic Brown’s broken hand will not only cost him games but valuable development time.

Not that I’m getting cocky or anything. We saw some pretty pedestrian offensive teams win division after division thanks to a Hall of Fame rotation, and Philly’s starting four all but guarantee contention.

Wheeze Kids vs. Whiz Kids

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.

Step in there and mash, young fella.

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.

Does Cliff Lee do impressions?

Denny Neagle was 27 when acquired by the Braves in 1996. At the time he had a lifetime 4.02 ERA and 1.310 WHIP.

Cliff Lee, 32, has a career 3.85 ERA and WHIP of 1.256 — negligible differences, especially when you consider Neagle pitched during the height of the steroid era.

I’ll grant you that Lee is a better pitcher, but not by much. And what are the odds the Arkansas southpaw matches Neagle’s numbers as a Brave (.667 winning percentage, 1.167 WHIP, 3.43 ERA)?

This is scary

I don’t think it will happen. God, I hope not.

Let’s presume Salisbury’s information is as bad as his spelling. I mean, come on.

Halladay. Lee. Oswalt. Hamels.

Let’s go Steinbrenners. Offer Lee 10 years and $200 million. Just to show you can.

You know you want to.