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Series Three: Phillies at Marlins Preview

In the past, over at the old site, we were occasionally called out for what was perceived as our use of the royal "we" (i.e. using the plural form of I when it wasn't warranted).  Well, that criticism wasn't necessarily fair.  Yes, Mike was the "face" of the organization over at The Book of Mike, but he wasn't the only person behind the scenes making things happen.

Today, to silence the doubters and the royal "we" accusers, we'll let one of the folks who has been behind the scenes for awhile come out of the shadows and conduct our series preview with Philadelphia Phillies mascot, the Phillie Phanatic.  As will be immediately obvious to you, today's insider is the sole reason that we've been able to line up exclusive interviews with the mascots of the Marlins' opponents before each series so far this year.

:  First of all, I'm honored to have been given this opportunity.  As some of you may know, Mike and I go way back.  It has been an honor for me to be affiliated with this Marlins blog for some time now.  I'd like to go on and rave, but I'd just get emotional, so let me give you the pitching matchups for this series:

Game 1 (tonight): Brett Myers (0 - 0, 1.35) vs. Al Leiter (0 - 0, 1.59)
Game 2 (4/12): Randy Wolf (0 - 0, 4.50) vs. A.J. Burnett (0 -1, 3.00)
Game 3 (4/13 - day game): Corey Lidle (0 - 0, 1.69) vs. Dontrelle Willis (1 - 0, 0.00)

Now that that's out of the way, let's get going with our interview with the Phanatic...

:  Mr. Phanatic, it's great to see you again.

:  Thanks, Grover!  Same to you.

:  So tell us, expectations have been high for the Phillies for a few years now, but they haven't managed to reach the post-season since 1993: will that change this year?

:  Well, I'm not sure that it will.  The Phillies are a very good team again, like we have been for quite a few years in a row now.  But the NL East is much deeper too.  While there isn't a clear favorite - i.e. the Braves - like there usually has been in the past, there are probably four teams - the Mets rough start notwithstanding - who legitimately could have hopes of winning the division.

That said, if the Phillies don't win the division this year, I would expect to see wholesale changes before the 2006 season.

:  Why do you say that?

:  Well, for one, this is Philadelphia.  Our fans are not very tolerant of much, particularly a lack of success on the field.  If the Phillies don't start winning in the post-season pretty soon, we could be looking at a very disgruntled fan base.

In addition to that, the Phillies still think they have the talent assembled to win the division.  For the past few years the players told management that it was Larry Bowa - our former manager - who was holding them back.  Bowa is gone this year - replaced with Charlie Manuel - so that excuse is gone.  It's time to put-up or shut-up.

:  Since you just mentioned him, tell us a little bit about Charlie Manuel and what we can expect from him?

: Well, Charlie is not just some guy who was picked up off the street.  True, he's never managed in the National League before, but he did manage for three seasons at the major league level in the AL with the Indians.  He's been in pro baseball for more than 40 years and when you include time served in the minors, he's spent more than a decade as a manager.

With the Indians, Manuel's philosophy was more to wait for a bloop-and-a-blast than to make something happen with a hit-and-run or a stolen base.  That might change some here in the National League.  Larry Bowa, who admittedly had a much different approach to the game, was very successful using both the hit-and-run and the steal in recent years.

:  That's true, but isn't the Phils new ballpark more condusive to the long ball?

:  Yes, it most definitely is.  Last year our pitchers complained about Citizens Bank Park's dimensions - and their concerns were substantiated when it was discovered that the distances listed on the outfield walls were somewhat overstated last year.

CBP was very homer friendly in its opening season last year.  That means that pitchers have to keep the ball low - or be prepared to pay for leaving it up.  On the flip side, CBP hasn't been a good park for doubles, mainly because the space in the outfield isn't very big.  Some of the quirks in the outfield though make it a good park for triples.

:  A good home run park should be a good thing for Miami's own Pat Burrell, shouldn't it?  (Editor's Note: Burrell played college baseball for the University of Miami from 1996 - 1998; he is originally from California).

:  It definitely should be.  While he was a disappointment again last season, and was one of Bowa's more vocal critics, big things are expected of Burrell in 2005.  Early returns are pretty good for Pat though, as Charlie Manuel has moved him back up to the cleanup spot, in between Jim Thome and Bobby Abreu.  While it's great to hit between those two boppers, Burrell will have to earn his keep in the cleanup spot.

:  Since we're talking about former Canes, what can you tell us about Jason Michaels?

:  I feel kind of bad for Michaels because he's kind of caught in between.  He's proven that he deserves to be a major leaguer, but the Phillies don't exactly have a role for him.  Burrell has left field locked down, Abreu has right, and Thome is unquestionably the first baseman.  The Phillies have tried Michaels some in center field, but he doesn't really project as a center fielder.  Plus the Phillies brought in Kenny Lofton for that role this year.

:  I thought the acquisiton of Lofton was a little odd.  Don't the Phils have some youngsters in the minors who could play center or any of the other positions that the Phillies have filled with veterans?

:  Well, our best prospect is Ryan Howard.  He's a power hitting first baseman who likely has a long career ahead of him in the majors.  There just isn't room for him right now as Thome is in front of him.  To help try to clear a path to the majors for him - he hit over 40 homers in AAA last year - we're trying to get him some work in the outfield in the minors.  If there's any sort of a serious injury - which we of course hope there isn't - at first base or in one of the corner outfield spots, Howard would be the first guy called up.

The Phillies have also developed a number of young pitchers.  Some were traded away but some are still here.  One is Gavin Floyd and I suspect you'll know a lot more about him as the season progresses.  In his opening start over the weekend against the Cardinals he looked very good.

But to answer your original question, no - the Phillies really don't have a prospect who could have filled the center field job this year.

:  Thanks for your time Phanatic!  The Marlins and Phillies will be getting together quite a few times this season, so we hope to be able to catch up with you throughout the year to see how things are going and what we Fish fans can expect to see.