by Nick Fattori
It seems like it was only yesterday when Brad Lidge struck out Eric Hinske to win the World Series against the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008 for the Phillies.
Since then, each season has ended in disappointment. Actually, each season’s ending for the Phillies has gotten progressively worse.
In 2009 the Phillies made it back to the World Series, but lost to the Yankees in six games.
The following season, the Phillies had the best record in the MLB but were bounced from the playoffs in the NLCS in six games against the eventual world champs, the San Francisco Giants.
The Phillies once again finished with the best record in baseball in 2011 and had an outstanding 102 wins, but lost in five games to the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLDS. The Cardinals, like the Giants, also went on to win the World Series.
Finally, in 2012 the Phillies faced an injury-plagued season. They were without stars Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Roy Halladay for most of the season, and when they eventually returned were only half of what they usually were, at best. The Phillies missed the playoffs for the first time since 2006 and finished 81-81.
Now, it is 2013. There is hope around Philadelphia. This is their last shot. But things aren’t as easy as they once were in the National League East. Before last season the Phillies had won five straight division titles.
The Atlanta Braves added both Justin and B.J. Upton to their outfield on top of a team which went to the playoffs last year.
The Washington Nationals also made major additions adding lead-off center fielder Denard Span, starting pitcher Dan Haren and closer Rafael Soriano and look to repeat as division champions.
The New York Mets have also shown improvement and with a cast of young players and all-star David Wright might just be a factor down the stretch this season.
And, as usual, there is one team that every other team in the division beats up. That team this year is the Miami Marlins. After giving away basically every decent player, the Marlins will look to rebuild.
The Phillies made a few additions, like trading for center fielder Ben Revere and signing veteran third baseman Michael Young. While these were not bad additions, they alone will not push the Phillies back to the top of the standings. They also lost catcher Carlos Ruiz for the first 25 games due to drug suspension.
So, where does this leave the Phillies? This season could really go one of two ways.
A positive outlook would be to predict that all the players play the way they are capable of playing and the Phillies either win the division or get one of the two wildcard spots.
The other possible outcome would have stars like Howard, Utley and Halladay underperform, without the same skill that they had before their injuries. If this happens, it will be another struggling season and by the end of July, you could see the Phillies trading many of their top players to begin rebuilding the franchise.
Through two and a half weeks the Phillies have looked solid. They haven’t looked great, but they haven’t been too bad.
The pitching has been the one weak point and taken them out of the game very fast, but it has also won them a few games as well.
Howard and Utley have looked good to start the season and both are hitting much better than they were after they came back from their injuries last season.
Halladay struggled mightily his first two starts of the year, but had a dominant start on Sunday against the Marlins to get his confidence up.
But, at the end of the day the Phillies success comes down to the role players. Obviously to be successful a team needs to have some stars on the roster, but it is the role players who put the good teams over the top.
For the Phillies it will come down to players like Michael Young, Dominic Brown and whoever eventually wins the battle for the left field spot between John Mayberry Jr., Laynce Nix and Darin Ruf.
People think Young’s best years are behind him, but through Sunday’s game Young was batting .357 and had no errors in the field.
Brown tore the cover off the ball in Spring Training and hit seven homeruns and had 17 RBIs. He has continued to hit well and has done nothing to prove he doesn’t deserve the starting spot in right field.
Finally, there is the battle between Mayberry Jr., Nix and Ruf for the left field spot. Mayberry Jr. has done his job so far and has hit for average and played well in the field.
Nix has also hit well and has been an excellent pinch-hitter, having already hit two pinch-hit home runs this season.
Then, there is Ruf who is starting the season in AAA. Last season, Ruf nearly won the minor league triple crown, leading the league home runs and RBIs and had the second best average.
He is a first baseman, but is getting training in the minors to help turn him into an outfielder.
Whichever man eventually wins the starting job in left field will deserve it and play an instrumental part in the success of the team.
Although this season has not started out necessarily well any Phillies fan knows that April is just not their month because Ryan Howard usually is batting about .138 and couldn’t hit a beach ball and the team as a whole can’t buy a run.
The Phillies have a habit of getting out to slow starts, but turning it on late in the season.
However, if they can continue to play well and get a few games over .500 by late May, then this team will be a force to reckon with come late August.
The Phillies may not be the same team they were two or three years ago, but to say this team is done is crazy.
There will never be any quit in the Fightin’ Phils.