>Rebuilding in Philadelphia

>The highlight of season 13 for the Philadelphia Dead Milkmen was salvaging a .500 record, and season 14 looks to be similarly uneventful. Plagued last year by an underperforming offense that scored only 776 runs—down 135 from S12—and an often-ineffective rotation and bullpen, Philly looks to take a step back and try to rebuild in S14.

Offense
Philadelphia has traditionally fielded a powerful lineup, and last season should be an aberration—the Milkmen did, after all, record a solid .776 team OPS and hit 242 home runs last year. The Dead Milkmen lineup is a young one, with only two regulars over 30. Coaches have targeted some more defensively-oriented players this season in hopes of balancing out the less mobile sluggers on the team.

1. Newly acquired corner outfielder Santos Guerrero will play left field and lead off for the Dead Milkmen. Coming over from Scranton in a trade for closer Earl Lincoln, Guerrero had already been traded three times before coming to Philadelphia. He has a good power–speed game, hitting 40 home runs and stealing 26 bases last season at AAA (.262/.349/.580/127 RBI/118 RS), and his skill set looks like a good fit for Citizens Bank Park.

2. Perennial All-Star Walker Wilkins mans right field and hits second for Philadelphia. S13 was something of an off-year for Wilkins (.328/.408/.556/96 RBI/88 RS), but only by his high standards. The lack of a real lead-off man hurt his RBI chances last season, one of the reasons Philadelphia acquired Guerrero. The Milkmen extended the face of the franchise last year through S18.

3. Hughie Phillips will move back to first base for S14 and hit third. After steady improvement in his rookie and sophomore campaigns, Phillips declined sharply last year and posted notably poor numbers (.235/.320/.398/61 RBI/86 RS), also committing 11 errors in left field. Philadelphia hopes to see him rebound to the 30-HR player he was two years ago, and hitting third in this lineup should give him many RBI chances.

4. The cleanup spot will be occupied by Philadelphia’s powerful designated hitter platoon: lefty Charles Ransom and right-hander Kevin Gao. Like Phillips, Ransom had an off-year in S13 (.238/.327/.496/71 RBI/64 RS). His exceptional power, however, makes him a good bet to improve on that line. Waiver wire claim Gao posted excellent numbers last season (.329/.400/.717/35 RBI/30 RS) in only 49 games and should be a great complement for Ransom.

5. Consistent third-baseman Jacob Dunn hits fifth for the Milkmen. While Dunn’s performance in S13 (.276/.331/.492/97 RBI/102 RS) didn’t earn him a third consecutive All-Star & Silver Slugger nod, he did continue to post the solid offense and good defense that Philadelphia relies on him for.

6. Third-year player Billy Ratliff will play second base and hit sixth for Philadelphia. Like several other Milkmen, Ratliff had a disappointing S13 (.245/.286/.498/91 RBI/74 RS), although he once again showed good power for a middle infielder with 37 home runs. Ratliff looks like a good bet to return to his rookie form.

7. Shortstop Karim James, the oldest Milkman, will hit seventh. James signed a two-year deal in S13 but put up a severely disappointing offensive performance (.227/.309/.271/39 RBI/49 RS) while committing an unexpected 29 errors. Jones still has excellent range for a shortstop, and Philadelphia is only hoping for moderate offensive production from him this year.

8. Philadelphia’s catcher platoon of rookie right-hander Brian Glynn and free agent veteran lefty Raymond McEwing will hit eighth. The Milkmen switched gears from longtime catcher Sean Thomson, a reliable .800-OPS hitter but average at best defensively, to this new defense-first platoon. Neither player is expected to contribute much at the plate, but behind the plate they should be much more valuable.

9. Mobile centerfielder Greg Biddle winds up Philadelphia’s lineup. Biddle was ineffective as the leadoff hitter last year (.257/.329/.269/32 RBI/77 RS), but the Milkmen value his excellent range in center field. Hitting ninth makes his shortcomings at the plate a little less painful while still giving him a chance to make use of his good baserunning skills.

Philadelphia’s other bench players to start the season consist of corner infielder/outfielder Trenidad Estrada, who hit well in AAA and in a major league cup of coffee last year; rookie CF/2B Pokey Mills, a useful utility player; and first baseman and Rule 5 pick Mike Benjamin, a switch-hitter with excellent power who could probably hit 50+ HR in cozy Citizens Bank.

Pitching Philadelphia’s pitching was surprisingly good for much of last season. The team’s 1.38 WHIP was tied for third in the AL, and the 4.65 team ERA—while only a few ticks above average—was the lowest it’s been since the Milkmen’s legendary 101-win S7 campaign. S13 Fireman of the Year Earl Lincoln (60 IP, 8-3, 36/41 SV, 1.17 WHIP, 2.40 ERA) left for Scranton in a trade, leaving Philadelphia without a clear closer for the first time since S9.

#1: Workhorse lefty Haywood Jodie (219, 12-12, 1.35, 5.22) will take the mound on opening day once more for the Dead Milkmen. Jodie’s an unexceptional pitcher but a reliable one; he took over longtime ace Rafael Vidal’s innings pitched franchise record this past season with more than 1,600. Jodie is still only 33 and has another season on his contract before free agency.

#2: Veteran right-hander Miguel Polanco (153, 11-9, 1.41, 4.24) came to Philadelphia in S12 to provide the team with a true ace and mostly delivered, winning 17 games with a 3.86 ERA. Polanco missed several starts last season with a shoulder injury and at 37, won’t be quite as sharp or as durable this season as in the past, but should still have another good year in him.

#3: The Milkmen signed Julio Bonilla (193, 5-18, 1.51, 5.58) last season in an attempt to bring in another quality free agent starter, but his S13 campaign was a major disappointment. Bonilla, still signed through next year, has the stuff to be a good midrotation starter, but definitely needs to improve this year.

#4: “Sweet Lou” Durham (190, 10-11, 1.35, 4.26) seems to alternate between solid seasons and disastrous ones, so there’s some concern over the fact that he pitched fairly well last year. The right-hander, in year two of a 3-year deal, has the fourth spot in the rotation for the time being with a solid spring training performance.

#5: Southpaw Candy Titan looked to be in the rotation for good after S11, but a terrible performance the next year had him back in AAA for S13. In a brief call-up, he pitched well in some aspects (25 K, 9 BB in 30 IP) and atrociously in others (6 HR). Philadelphia will give the 27 year old another shot—perhaps his last—this year.

Long relief: Del Valentin had a breakout performance last year (174, 12-11, 1.33, 4.33); while the right-hander certainly has the stuff for the rotation, his stamina keeps him from going deep into games. While he’ll be starting the year in relief, he could certainly step up if any of the starters falter. Rob Boone (46, 1.52, 6.26) hasn’t performed well given a late-inning relief role, and will move to lower leverage innings. Longtime minor leaguer Joel Monahan will also start the season in the bullpen.

Setup relief: Right-hander Robinson Jennings (93, 1.28, 3.57) earned a 2-year extension on what was initially a 1-year deal after pitching very well in the late innings last season. The 32 year old vet looks to have plenty left in the tank. He’ll be paired with rookies Lou Beimel, another righty, and Victor Canseco, a left-hander. Canseco, who was perfect on saves for Philadelphia’s AAA team last season, will get a shot at closing out games early this year. Depending on his performance and how competitive the Milkmen are in the opening weeks, he could take on the closing role full-time or become more of a situational lefty for the late innings.

Prospects
Philadelphia’s minors aren’t as strong as they’ve been in recent years, so this seasons’ 2 picks in the first 43, while not a real windfall, will be important. Without a strong draft class in recent seasons, there only a few quality players who will graduate to Philadelphia in the coming years.

1. RF Victor Lynch. Good power and batting eye and a great arm, but blocked by future Hall of Famer Walker Wilkins for at least several more years.
2. CF Shane Spivey. Solid all around at the plate and in the field, and ready for the majors now.
3. RP Trey D’Amico. Not quite closer material, but a quality late-inning reliever.
4. SP Armando Roque. Poor control, but excellent velocity and two great pitches.
5. 3B Juan Ramirez. Defensive specialist, good on the bases, questionable bat.

Outlook

With Fargo in the division, even a miracle season for Philadelphia would end in a low wild-card seed and a likely first round exit; the far more more likely outcome is 80–85 wins. The quality of the S14 draft class is far more important to the Milkmen in the long term.

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Alternative News, History, Music, & Interviews on podcast. Every now and then I blog too. Conspiracy and Theories. Interviews about the topics with those that have material concerning it. Independent Artists and Politics.
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