The Philadelphia Phillies are entering the 2013 season as one of the teams in the major leagues that didn't qualify for the playoffs last season, which was an unusual winter goat coat for them to have worn.
The team's playoff streak (2007-2011) ended after a tumultuous 2012 regular season. As Charlie Manuel's diamond boys begin to prepare for a new baseball year, there are some key challenges that collectively await them.
Carlos Ruiz was caught using a banned stimulant for a second time, which necessitated a 25-game suspension at the start of this season. “Chooch” is a critical factor behind the plate and was an unbelievable force while standing at it with a bat in his hand last year. It remains to be seen how this middle-aged catcher will perform, especially down the stretch, without any supplements.
Darin Ruf was a baseball world wide revelation last summer, as he broke Ryan Howard's Double-A franchise record by hitting 38 home runs for the Reading Phillies. Then, he hit three more blasts after a September call up and another ten in the Venezuelan fall league.
The 26-year-old converted (as of last August) left fielder is going to be given a shot to win a starting job in spring training. The impact this dynamic young man could make in the Phillies' lineup will be significant if he accomplishes even half of what he did last season.
Roy Halladay's right arm issue is a serious concern. If “Doc” is able to remain healthy and start 30 solid games, the Phillies rotation should be formidable. If he looks like he did last season, it won't be possible to truly replace one of the great pitchers of this era.