The Phillies open the 2012 season Thursday (1:35 p.m., CSN) in Pittsburgh. Much has been made about the injuries to Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, and what could be a very anemic offense … here is our take:
First base. There is a gaping hole left by Ryan Howard’s Achilles injury. Who knows when he’ll come back and if the lack of strength in his leg will impact his pop. Jim Thome, Ty Wigginton, John Mayberry Jr. and Laynce Nix will try to fill the void.
Second base. Another huge hole. Chase Utley is out indefinitely. Will Utley ever be the same player he was? Freddy Galvis, who is learning second base on the fly, should provide solid defense but hitting big-league pitching is a maybe.
Shortstop. Can you imagine the bind the Phillies would be in if they didn’t re-sign Jimmy Rollins? J-Roll looked good in Clearwater. Expect Rollins to try to drive in runs out of the three-hole.
Third base. How great would it have been if the Phillies acquired a power hitting-third baseman and made Placido Polanco a supersub? It would have looked awfully good. Instead, the Phillies are stuck with the aging, oft-injured Polanco at third.
Left field. It is John Mayberry’s job to lose. After a strong second half in 2011, he earned the gig despite a poor spring. The Phillies need Mayberry to drive in runs and hit right-handed pitching. Nix should get some playing time as well.
Center field. Shane Victorino is in his prime entering his walk year. Expect a strong season from the Flyin’ Hawaiian. He was very good in the five-hole last season.
Right field. Meet your clean-up hitter. Hunter Pence will be the key to offensive production. Will the three- and five-hole hitters offer enough protection or will hurlers pitch around him?
Catcher. Carlos Ruiz works very well with the aces and is exceptional at digging pitches out of the dirt. Can Chooch have a plus-year at the plate? The Phillies can use the production.
Starting rotation. It doesn’t get any better than Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels. The aces might be enough to lead the Phils to another division title. But can Vance Worley avoid a sophomore slump? And is Joe Blanton healthy enough to be an innings-eater?
Bullpen. Jonathan Papelbon should be lights-out. Antonio Bastardo and Michael Stutes are questions. Chad Qualls is a solid veteran the team needs since Jose Contreras will start on the DL. Kyle Kendrick is invaluable as a spot starter/long man.
Bench. Charlie could use a right-handed bat, but his reserves have a lot more power than last year’s model. Thome, Nix and Wiggington can all go deep.
Coaching. Charlie Manuel will have his hand’s full coming up with the best lineup possible. If the Phils can survive the injuries and win in a much-improved NL East, then Manuel will have a legitimate claim for NL Manager of the Year.
The Phillies’ Opening Day roster has 12 pitchers, two catchers, six infielders and five outfielders.
Pitchers: Joe Blanton, Roy Halladay, David Herndon, Jonathan Papelbon, Kyle Kendrick, Chad Qualls, Michael Stutes, Vance Worley, Antonio Bastardo, Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, Joe Savery.
Catchers: Carlos Ruiz, Brian Schneider
Infielders: Freddy Galvis, Pete Orr, Placido Polanco, Jimmy Rollins, Jim Thome, Ty Wigginton
Outfielders: John Mayberry, Laynce Nix, Hunter Pence, Juan Pierre, Shane Victorino
New role for J-Roll, Pierre to lead off
Charlie Manuel loves sticking with his guys.
And for nearly his whole Phillies managerial career, his lead-off guy has been Jimmy Rollins.
That era appears to be over — at least until the Phils are at full strength. Manuel will bat newcomer Juan Pierre in the top spot — maybe Shane Victorino on some nights — and shift Jimmy Rollins to the three-hole. Placido Polanco will remain at No. 2.
“Jimmy knows how to play. He’s a tremendous player. He knows his hitting,” Manuel said.
Rollins hit third in both exhibition games this week and went 1-for-5 with two RBIs. He batted .271 in 27 games there last season, along with a .361 on-base percentage.