Remember your version of Roy Halladay on the mound for the Philadelphia Phillies during your first time at the ballpark? It was probably with your dad and/or best friend. The grass was so green and you felt that you had found nirvana. Everything just jumped out at you: It was so huge. It was a cathedral to your favorite sport. It was the genuine article in all visual directions. At my stadium it had the appearance of a normal building on the outside, but there was a whole different world inside.
The Phils will soon march to the drum beat of their 4th straight journey for that elusive 2nd ring. The core is the heart of this battle-tested band: Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels and Carlos Ruiz. The red pinstripes produced a 102-62 franchise record for 2011 with these warriors. They enter ‘12 after having an MLB best 3.02 ERA and an MLB number one defense, but their glove work is often overlooked. They have a packed house for every single game–even the final 2 exhibition ones. The consecutive sellouts have reached 204 for the regular season, dating back to: July 7, 2009. Their first triumph will set the managerial mark of 647 for Charlie Manuel in Philly: It will stand alone as the organizational high.
It will be more difficult to top the NL East for the 6th straight time, but they have done so in recent years even with a significant number of injuries. They began last April without Utley and this spring it will be Howard. The competition is stronger for this tour but the Braves are roughly the same–minus a few veterans moving on. The Fish have added talent and personality challenges, while the Nats are taking one more big step in the right direction. The last two Octobers have weighed heavily on the shoulders of Howard, the Big Piece. He had a borderline strikeout call to end the ‘10 NLCS and it got worse last summer. He ruptured his left Achilles tendon during his first stride out of the box on a weak groundout, ending the NLDS. Another championship would be the perfect salve for those two mortal blows.
The locals landed a 1st trophy during their ascension, can they hoist it one last time on the way down? Here are 3 reasons for and against that happening.
Best case scenario for 2012
A 2nd title for this squad is a realistic possibility. They have the personnel to celebrate with a parade down Broad St., but today’s postseason has 3 hurdles for a divisional winner. The road to the championship has gone through Philadelphia for the last 4 playoffs. The Phils were triumphant in 2008. The Yankees (‘09), The Giants (‘10) and Cards (‘11) had to suffer 2 losses by their hand before they could claim the ultimate victory.
Most important Phillies
This is a tough section when you have 3 elite pitchers, the 2nd-best hammer, a strong game-calling, clutch-hitting receiver and some big sticks. I’m choosing the 2 who need to recover from physical maladies. There is a premium on what Chase Utley and Ryan Howard will bring in 2012. Utley had a tailored off-season program which will allow him to be the dangerous 3-bat he was before his knee problems last campaign. Howard will miss April and at least half of May, which means his healthy cut will alter the entire dynamic for opposing hurlers afterward. These two will make a huge difference in the firepower and the margin of triumph for ’12.
Potential breakout players
On a club that has 20 vets, last summer’s 3 skyrocketing youngsters and 2 others, there are not many to pick from. One of the other jobs is a reserve infielder, while the last man is a middle reliever with backend potential. However, my confidence faded with his inconsistency after the middle of June, which left the bottom 2 emerging stars. I tabbed them to achieve greater heights for a full 162. John Mayberry Jr. has the leftfield position to lose, while Laynce Nix is there for the tough right-handed arms and an if-needed platoon. Mayberry hit .301 with 12 bombs and 37 RBI after returning from Triple-A Lehigh Valley in early July, where he made adjustments to his approach. His ‘11 totals were: .273, 15 homeruns and 49 RBI. Antonio Bastardo was almost perfect through the first 5 months in the set-up and closing roles. He was 6-1 with a 2.64 ERA and had 8 saves in 9 chances. However, he had a 1.35 ERA for his first 56 outings out of 64. He reminded the Fox people of a young Mariano Rivera before no. 42 became a dominate 9th-inning force. We may have only experienced the tip of a massive iceberg, which means this could be his Mt. Everest.
Worst case scenario for 2012
After setbacks in the Fall Classic, NLCS and NLDS, the ultimate failed result would be no postseason with 2 wild cards available. Unfortunately, winning hasn’t changed the decades of its opposite mentality, and many fans fear this unlikely outcome. Injuries would have to incapacitate 2 aces or 3 regulars for that type of lost season. It is possible but it is not probable.
Biggest areas of concern
The 8th frame is their Achilles’ heel unless Jose Contreras is healthy, and there are other questions in the bullpen. The 3 studs fired at least 7 innings in 69 of 95 starts (72.6%) and Jonathan Papelbon is 2nd behind only Rivera. Plus, there were 4 other outings of 6.1 frames or more for a percentage increase to 76.8%, which is the deep-into-the-game threshold. Contreras missed 4 months after achieving 5 saves in 5 April opportunities. He returned for May’s end and June’s beginning, but the rest did not solve his right-forearm strain. He returns from September elbow surgery but his backups are Chad Qualls and Bastardo. Qualls was hit hard away from the big confines of Petco Park, while Bastardo collapsed in September.
Who needs to rebound from a rough 2011
Placido Polanco had an off year and ended up in the 7 hole instead of hitting 2nd. He battled injuries for the 2nd straight summer, playing through most of them. He averaged just .277 after producing–at least–a .295 mark in 6 of his previous 7 tours. He also has had a health-related, 40% lack of power to deal with. Polanco will probably open 2012 in the 2 slot with the big bopper on the mend: His lineup production is vital during that first 4-6 weeks.
Be sure to check out the Philadelphia Phillies page for the latest developments during Camp Clearwater.