Scott Franzke, Phillies Booth Commander, Recently Spoke to Our Own Dic Humphrey About the Upcoming Season in Philadelphia.
By Dic Humphrey
@DicHumphrey on Twitter
Scott Franzke graciously gave an interview to Rattle and Hum Sports this weekend to provide our readers with insights into the Phillies, certainly the most prominent National League team for a number of years. Much was expected from the team last season, as the front office put together one of the best starting rotations in a number of years when they landed Cliff Lee in free agency. The Phils already had the Roys – Halladay and Oswalt and their home-grown Cole Hamels. Much was given by the team in the regular season as they led all major league teams with 102 wins, five more than the Yankees.
Unfortunately, the playoffs didn’t go as well, as they were knocked out in the first round by the ultimate World Series Champions’ Cardinals in five games. Actually, game five could not have gone any worse. Not only did they lose, after taking a 4-0 lead with Cliff Lee pitching, but on the final out of the game, All-Star first baseman Ryan Howard fell running out a ground ball. It was an Achilles injury that will keep him out of action for probably a third or more of 2012.
The Phillies are still the favorites to win the NL East going into 2012, but it’s a division that has become much more competitive. The Florida Marlins have become the Miami Marlins, and have added Ozzie Guillen as their manager and notable free agents, such as Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle. The Braves are back with a strong pitching staff, and the Nationals are to the point of being a better than .500 team that could make noise if they get some breaks. The Mets are the only team in the division that doesn’t figure to contend.
In 2011, the Phillies’ staff led the major leagues with a 3.02 ERA, and Scott Franzke says the rotation is still the strength of the team. “Oswalt has moved on, but the top three guys, I look for them to be as formidable as any three in baseball.” Those three of course are Halladay, Lee and Hamels.
Lee broke a lot of hearts in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area when he chose the Phillies over the Rangers last year as a free agent. However, he is still much appreciated for his 2010 playoff performance, and Franzke says he is much appreciated by the Phils and their fans.
“He’s so relaxed all the time. He likes playing the game. He loves to bat. He hit a couple of home runs last year. He’s a great athlete. He’s fun to watch.”
Joe Blanton will be one of the other two starters, after missing much of 2011, in which he appeared in just 11 games (eight starts). “He’s an underrated guy at the back-end of the rotation,” Franzke says about Blanton. “He’s a good big league pitcher.”
Vance Worley will be the fifth starter. He was 11-3, 3.01 last year in 21 starts and four relief appearances.
The Phillies big free agent signing this off-season was made to shore up the bullpen. Jonathan Papelbon was signed to be the team’s closer. “That’s the M. O. of the team,” Franzke said. “The Phillies identified what they want. He’s (Papelbon) the complete package as a closer. They’re (the Phillies) very happy with it.”
Left-hander Antonio Bastardo and right-hander Jose Contreras are the two main set-up men to get the ball from the starter to the closer. The bullpen has questions after those three, but Kyle Kendrick figures in the mix. “They (the Phillies) feel like he can help them.”
The problem for the Phillies will be the same as last year – offense. A year ago, the Phils tallied just 713 runs, a total surpassed by six other National League teams. At least to begin the season, Howard and Chase Utley will not be in the lineup. “Ryan Howard is progressing,” Scott Franzke says. He’s started baseball activities. Optimistically, he’ll be back the middle of May. Realistically, June 1.”
Utley is a strange case. He has a knee injury, but there is little known about the nature of the injury. The Phillies aren’t commenting, and perhaps they don’t know. There is no time-table for his return, and there is even speculation that his career is over. Franzke says though, “Utley feels like he’ll play at some point this season.”
The loss of Howard and Utley definitely creates problems. “You lose those two guys; that’s pretty big.”
The hoped for solutions to the problems include three players with ties to the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. They are former Ranger draft choices John Mayberry, Jr. and Laynce Nix and Hunter Pence, who joined Philadelphia last July in a trade with the Astros and became an instant favorite with the Phillies’ fans.
“He’s just a baseball player in every sense of the word. It’s not about looking pretty. It’s about results,” Franzke said about the Arlington High and UT-Arlington product. “It’s not your classic swing. It’s max effort all the time. Phillie fans LOVE him!”
The Phillies, barring injury will have Pence for the entire season, not just a couple of months, and should fill some of the void left by Howard’s and Utley’s absence.
With the pair of All-Stars out, Scott Franzke envisions manager Charlie Manuel using less of a set lineup and doing more mixing and matching. Pence in right, Shane Victorino in center, Jimmy Rollins at short and Carlos Ruiz at catcher are fixtures. Placido Polanco would be the regular third baseman, but he may see action at second to make room for Ty Wigginton. Wigginton, Jim Thome and Mayberry figure into the first base equation. Mayberry, Nix, and Juan Pierre look to be a left field platoon to start the season.
Mayberry, who was the Rangers’ number one draft pick in 2005, is a late bloomer. The Rangers obviously gave up on him, but 2011 proved to be his breakthrough year in the majors. Franzke noted that Mayberry was up and down early in 2011. In mid-June, he was back to stay. “He did a nice job, especially against left-handed pitching. “ By the end of the season, he and Raul Ibanez were a left field platoon. Scott Franzke noted Mayberry’s versatility as he can also play center field and first base.
“It’ll be interesting to see if he can develop into an everyday player. He’s going to get opportunities and the organization is still high on him.” Mayberry played in 104 games last season hitting .273 with 15 home runs and 49 RBIs in 2012.
Another question is how this team will react to last year’s playoffs disappointment. Scott Franzke hasn’t sensed in spring training that the hangover from the playoff melt down will be a problem. “I don’t think there will be a big one. They’ve done this enough to know you play hard every day to have a chance in the playoffs. They all know that once you get to the playoffs how quickly it can end. It’s a veteran team. There’s no young players.”
It is one of the older teams in baseball, and that brings up the question as to whether the Phils’ window of opportunity is closing. Scott Franzke doesn’t think so. “The pitching is still strong. They are working hard to keep Hamels.” (Hamels can be a free agent at season’s end if not signed to a contract extension.) Upper management has shown over and over again the ability to make adjustments. They want to be good now, but they want to have that core group going forward. I have a lot of faith in Ruben Amaro (GM Ruben Amaro, Jr.).
The Phillies have been a good team for a number of years, and should be again this season. They will have no problems making the playoffs if the quality of their play on the field can match the quality of Scott Franzke’s performance in the radio booth.