I don’t know if anybody here remembers 2006. It was the year I got married, I was settling into my new job, and I was enjoying my last few days of Bachelorhood. ’06 was a special year, because that was the year that the Mavericks made the NBA Finals. The first two games, it went perfectly. And then something happened. The city of Dallas began to prepare their parade route. We were the laughingstock of the sports-talk world. We hadn’t won anything, yet here we were planning our parade route. And sure enough, the Mavericks had a collapse of epic proportions and the Miami Heat were the champions.
Now it’s 3 and a half years later. I have a beautiful wife and daughter, still at the same job and watched as the Phillies signed Cliff Lee. A lot of doom and gloom people are saying, “The year is over. The Phillies are going to be unbeatable.” The season hasn’t even begun. Here are 5 reasons why we are not champions… yet.
1. The Bullpen- There were some Phillies who pitched pretty decently last year: Brad Lidge (2.96 ERA, 27 saves), Ryan Madson (2.55, 6-2 record), Jose Contreras (3.34, 6-4). But Lidge’s “Lights Out” name is easily interchangeable with “Liftoff.” Danys Baez went out and pitched a 3-4 record with a 5.48. And somehow Charlie Manuel still put him in the game. While the bullpen has moments of brilliance, there are moments where they lack that consistency. This isn’t 1897. These starters aren’t going to be expected to finish every game.
2. The outfield-The outfield was uncharacteristically disappointing. Shane Victorino batted .259. That was the lowest in his time with Philadelphia. Raul Ibanez had a disappointing first half (.243), but had a good second half (.309). Jayson Werth was .186 with Runners in Scoring Position. While he’s somebody else’s problem now, who’s going to replace him? Dom Brown? Ben Francisco? As much as I love the puns (and the fact he was ejected from a game he wasn’t playing in), Ross Gload?
3. Jimmy Rollins-You know I love you, Jimmy. Passionately. You were the ’07 MVP. I drafted you on my fantasy team. I fought to get you; you were the only Phillie I fought for like that. (Nobody fought me for Kyle Kendrick. Sorry, Kyle.) Maybe it was my fault for drafting you. (Of course, if I was bad luck Adam Wainright would have not won 20 games.) Jimmy, you were injured and all, but you batted .243. You batted .241 in the leadoff spot with a .322 on-base %. As you led off a game, you batted .194. You were .346 in ’07 as the first batter. That’s the Jimmy I want. We need you to be on base more than 2 for every 10 games. Jimmy, you’re my hero, and if biologically possible, I would have your babies. But I need you to step up next year.
4. Age-Roy Halladay is 33. I’m not entirely sure if he’s human, as he seems to not age. 2 Cy Youngs, different leagues. He’s the active leader in winning %. But how long can he maintain this total, utter dominance?
Roy Oswalt is 33. He’s finished in the top 5 in Cy Young voting 5 times (and in my opinion, he deserved ’04’s Cy Young more than Roger “Bloody Gauze” Clemens) . Oh, yeah, and he’s #5 amongst active players in winning %. But he’s 33. How many good seasons does he have ahead of him? Of course, if the pitching thing doesn’t pan out, there’s always Left Field.
Cole Hamels will turn 27 on 12/27. ERA-wise, he pitched his best year last year, even though he had a 12-11 record (Thanks, Phillies offense). I’m not really too concerned about his age, but can Hamels anchor a rotation by himself? He did a pretty decent job in ’08, but for everybody applauding ’08, you have to remember ’09.
Cliff Lee is 32. While I think we have some good years ahead of us, I don’t think him on our team is an automatic World Series bid. That’s a lot of money and a lot of years to put into a 32-year old. Yes, the guy went 22-3 on a team that finished 81-81. I will follow him wherever I am able, but there are too many unknowns here.
5. “Second base” (The Unknown)-This past year, the Phillies’ number one enemy was second base. Not Chase Utley (whom I am trying to name my next kid after), but the actual base. Injuries hit us like Cody Ross in the NLCS. It seemed the culprit was second base. A lot of players seemed to have been injured rounding the base. Our team can look great on paper, but until we play the first game, there is nothing for sure.
So Phillies fans, right now, we have to be odds-on favorites to win the World Series. But remember, just because we have a rotation unparalleled in baseball history, we are not holding up our trophy just yet. The Phillies will have a lot of hard work ahead of us in the coming year. We have the target on our back; they are going to try to defeat us harder.