Philly Sports Live

Looking Ahead…

With one week remaining in the 2013 season, interim Phillies manger Ryne Sandberg has much to be proud of. The team has a respectable record of 18-16 since Sandberg took over the reins from Charlie Manuel. Though they will finish under .500 for the first time in 11 seasons, there is reason for optimism looking ahead to 2014.

That will most assuredly include the removal of the interim status from Sandberg’s job description. He has earned the full time gig, getting as much from the players on the field as one could expect. Certain players, like their skipper, have earned at least a shot at making the 2014 squad with their performance and “auditions” these last two months.

Though the Phils are 2-3 so far this week, Darin Ruf is hitting .429 with four runs batted in and nine hits in that span. He has 14 home runs and 28 runs batted in total. Perhaps the most telling and important statistic for Ruf has been walks. He has walked 29 times in 227 at-bats to date, along with 82 strikeouts.

Ruf sees a lot of pitches is very selective at the plate. The Phillies have not had nearly enough bases on balls these last two years, often making for quick outs and innings for opposing pitcher. Ruf’s discipline hitting, and power from the right side of the plate is invaluable for a lineup once dominated by left handed hitters.

The problem the Phillies will face with Ruf is where he fits in the field. With Ryan Howard’s large salary & increasing age, his trade value is slim to none. That has forced the Phillies to move Ruf around the outfield to keep his bat in the lineup. An infielder by trade, his range in the alleys is undesirable and his fielding out there is somewhat suspect.

Nonetheless, he has earned a spot on this club moving forward no matter where it is. The Phillies could be wise to try and move Howard, even if it means eating most of his remaining salary. They’re going to be paying either way, so why not try and improve the lineup?

A huge bright spot in an otherwise dreary season has been the health and production of Chase Utley. After two seasons riddled with knee issues and lost time, Utley has played in 124 games in 2013. That alone has been a breath of fresh air for the club. With that, his production has been all they could ask for. He’s hitting a decent .279 with 18 home runs, 68 runs batted in and 126 hits to date.

He played his way into a contract extension with the club this year, and rightfully so. Production aside, one might say the Utley is Mr. Phillie. Jimmy Rollins might argue this, but Utley is a guy that all Phillies fans want see retire in red pinstripes.

He embodies everything that a Philadelphia athlete should be, and no matter what his age, he has earned his status here. Similar to Chipper Jones in Atlanta, Utley will likely ride off into the sunset in Philadelphia.

The only trouble with this is the fact that Utley, Rollins and Ryan Howard might all patrol the same infield again next season. Even if they are all healthy, they’re on the wrong side of 30. This prevents the team from being able to plug in more youngsters and infuse some youth into the squad.

That is an obstacle that both Sandberg and general manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. will have to figure out.

Of course one cannot forget the production the Phillies enjoyed this year from one Domonic Brown. Coming off two years of injuries and road blocks to Citizens Bank Park, this year seemed to be Brown’s last shot. Being hailed as the clubs top prospect put lofty expectations on Brown from the fans and media, and he did seem to struggle with that a bit.

This season has been his time. He made his first all-star team and currently has a .273 average and a team leading 27 home runs. He also leads the team with a .507 slugging percentage. His raw fielding has also improved this year. He will look to be a power source moving forward for this club, along with Ruf from the right side.

Youngsters like third basemen Cody Asche, second basemen/outfielder Cesar Hernandez, and pitchers Tyler Cloyd & Jonathan Pettibone have also had extended auditions for the team this year. Ashe has seen the most consistent amount of time, and has performed admirably with a .261 batting average in 42 games.

Hernandez provides some versatility as he can play both second base and center field. He has seen more time in the OF with Utley in his familiar spot at second base. Hernandez is more defense oriented than offense, but is hitting .314 in the 26 games he’s played.

Pitching wise, Jonathan Pettibone made a strong case for spot in next year’s rotation with his contributions earlier this year. Though derailed this season by an injury, his record for 2013 stands at 5-4 with an ERA just over four. His mantra this season was consistency. He allowed 45 earned runs in 100 1/3 innings pitched with only 38 walks in those innings. He kept his team in almost every game he pitched, constantly giving them a chance to win.

With uncertainty after Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee heading into 2014, expect Pettibone to secure a spot at either the four or five spot.

The same cannot be said, unfortunately for Tyler Cloyd. He struggled in many of his starts this season, currently sporting a 2-6 record. He has an ERA north of five in 10 starts this season. Cloyd has allowed 35 earned runs in just 58 1/3 innings pitched and has also failed to go deep into games.

The fact is that Cloyd will not overpower anybody. His fastball tops out at 89, so he must rely on finesse and location to succeed. That’s not to say he won’t improve, but he took very few steps forward in the chances he’s had in 2013.

Along with on field personnel, Sandberg must also make some decisions on his coaching staff moving forward. Former Phillies’ shortstop and manager Larry Bowa has surfaced as a possible addition to the staff next year.

Another possible change could be at pitching coach, where Rich Dubee has been since arriving with Manuel in 2005. Bullpen coach and former Lehigh Valley pitching coach Rod Nichols could step into that role next season given all the young arms the Phils will be looking at. Nichols and Sandberg coached at Triple-A Lehigh Valley for a number of years and Nichols is very familiar with a lot of these young players.

It just makes too much sense. And after all, Dubee was Charlie’s guy, not Ryno’s.

Sandberg has a tall task ahead of him, but it is one that you can believe he is excited about and ready for. This is his team now, and that is a very good thing.

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