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USA TODAY predicts the Phillies will be even worse than last year. Is that possible?

USA TODAY has the Phillies finishing with 101 losses this season and again finishing as the worst team in the majors. It doesn't seem likely that the Phillies will be worse than they were last season. To first examine why they'll be improved, we start with a look at the pitching.

Let's face it, pitching is the most important part of a baseball team. No matter how much offense you seem to add, good pitching will usually beat good hitting every day of the week.

Last season, the Phillies ran out the likes of Chad Billingsley (5.84 ERA), David Buchanan (6.99), Kevin Correia (6.56), Severino Gonzalez (7.92), Aaron Harang (4.86), Sean O'Sullivan (6.08) and Jerome Williams (5.80) to start a total of 97 games. The Phillies were a combined 34-63 (.350) in those games, even lower than their .389 winning percentage on the season, leaving them at 29-36 (.446) when any of those pitchers weren't the starter. The record of the other starters even includes starts from Alec Asher (0-6), Phillippe Aumont (0-1) and Adam Morgan (5-7).

We know that Buchanan and Gonzalez are the only pitchers from that group who will return to the Phillies organization in 2016 and both are slated to start the season at Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Barring injuries, it would take an awe inspiring spring from either pitcher and a crash and burn type spring from one or two other rotation candidates for Buchanan or Gonzalez to open in the majors.

The 57 starts made by Buchanan, Harang and O'Sullivan figure to be taken by Jeremy Hellickson (27 GS, 4.62 ERA), Charlie Morton (23 GS, 4.81 ERA) and Brett Oberholtzer (8 GS, 4.46 ERA). While none of them were exactly Cy Young candidates, they were all better than any of the pitchers in the group of misfit arms that the Phillies ran out last season, especially when you consider that even Morgan, who posted a 4.48 ERA in 15 starts, was able to finish the year 5-7 at the big league level. Morgan too, figures to be at Lehigh Valley.

Add to that the fact that Jerad Eickhoff (8 GS) and Aaron Nola (13 GS) figure to be in the rotation for a full season and the numbers from the starting rotation figure to be much better.

The bullpen was simply a mess last season. Gone are the likes of Justin De Fratus (61 G, 5.51 ERA), Jake Diekman (41 G, 5.15 ERA), Adam Loewen (20 G, 6.98 ERA) and Dustin McGowan (14 G, 6.94 ERA). Of course, also gone are closer Ken Giles (69 G, 1.80 ERA) and former closer Jonathan Papelbon (37 G, 1.59 ERA).

The bullpen replacements aren't necessarily pitchers considered to be as strong as the new faces that will dot the starting rotation, but there's hope that they can certainly be better than the group from the 2015 squad. Pitchers like Andrew Bailey, Greg Burke, Ernesto Frieri, Frank Herrmann, Gregory Infante, Bobby LaFromboise, Michael Mariot, Yoervis Medina, Edward Mujica, James Russell and Daniel Stumpf don't exactly inspire confidence. 

Returning relievers are a decent enough group though. Elvis Araujo (40 G, 3.38 ERA), Luis Garcia (72 G, 3.51 ERA), Jeanmar Gomez (65 G, 3.01 ERA)Dalier Hinojosa (18 G, 0.78 ERA) and Hector Neris (32 G, 3.79 ERA) are a decent enough group and will likely fill up the bulk of the remaining bullpen spots in Philadelphia. Mario Hollands figures to return from Tommy John surgery sometime early in the season, which will also provide some help from the left side.

When you figure that the Phillies had 168 games, covering 208 1/3 innings, from relievers who finished the year with an ERA over five, things do look better for the home team in 2016.

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