Mike Schmidt was quick to point out that this Phillies team is younger—younger than the “Wheeze Kids” of 1983, whose average roster age was 32. This year’s group should average just a shade below 30, thanks to an outfield that most likely will feature a troika of 20-somethings.
Schmidt, who posted a 7+ WARP campaign in what was his age-33 season, sees the 2013 Phillies more like the 1980 team that finally won the franchise’s first championship. That era’s Phillies earned three straight division titles, from 1976-78, and lost the division to the World Champion Pirates in 1979, before putting it back together.
“They’re hungry,” Schmidt said. “That’s what I like. Ryan and Chase, personally, I think they lost some stature.”
Manager Charlie Manuel sees it too:
“Our Spring Training so far has been real good. We’ve had a lot of guys talking, and our communication has been outstanding. I look at our team, and the guys in our clubhouse, and we have a chance to be special.”
Turning back the hands of time isn’t as easy as just saying, “We’re All Healthy!” though. If you count catcher, the youngest player on the infield, Ryan Howard, is entering his age-33 season.
But the return of that powerful pair is being counted on most of all, as general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. explained:
“[Last year] we put some guys—[Shane] Victorino, [Hunter] Pence, even Jimmy Rollins sometimes—into places in the lineup and asked them to do things that maybe they weren’t capable of doing. Just the presence of having those guys healthy changes the dynamic of the club overall.”
Last season, Utley was productive when healthy (2.7 WARP in 83 games), but, according to WARP, Howard was the least-valuable player of the 49 that the Phillies employed.
“The Big Piece” has been “the Missing Piece” for the Phillies. It has been four years since Howard last delivered more than 1.6 WARP in a season for the Phillies, but Manuel is trying to get him back into game shape and to get his swing back in order.
“I’m gonna play him a lot early. I may play him for the next four, five, six days, I don’t know,” said Manuel, as his lineup card showed Howard’s name for the seventh consecutive day.
It’s all part of an effort to get Howard at-bats that hopefully will enable him to rediscover his erstwhile production. A healthy Howard and Utley certainly can impact the Phillies offense and give Manuel’s lineup much-needed length.
These may not be the “Wheeze Kids,” but a year-and-a-half removed from their fifth straight division title, 2013 just might be their last gasp.
All quotes courtesy of SiriusXM’s MLB Network Radio Spring Tour.