Favored Phillies know expectations are high

How’s this for pressure? Anything less than a World Series title

will be considered a failure for the Philadelphia Phillies this

season.

Expectations are that high for a franchise that’s won just two

championships in 128 years and has lost more games than any pro

team in professional sports.

A sensational starting rotation bolstered by the stunning

offseason addition of Cliff Lee is the reason the Phillies were

consensus favorites to win it all entering spring training.

Adding Lee to a staff that includes reigning NL Cy Young Award

winner Roy Halladay, three-time All-Star Roy Oswalt and 2008 World

Series MVP Cole Hamels gives Philadelphia a rotation that’s already

been compared to some of baseball’s all-time best starting

staffs.

But injuries took a toll this spring and the team will head

north without five-time All-Star second baseman Chase Utley, closer

Brad Lidge and outfielder Domonic Brown, a top prospect who was

expected to help replace Jayson Werth.

Still, the Phillies are considered the team to beat in the NL.

Even Bruce Bochy, manager of the defending World Series champion

San Francisco Giants, gave Philadelphia the nod when his club

opened camp.

The Phillies have won four straight NL East titles, and led the

majors with 97 wins last year. They were World Series champions in

2008, fell two wins short of repeating in ’09 and were two wins

away from becoming the first NL team in 66 years to capture three

consecutive pennants before losing to the Giants in the NLCS last

fall.

That’s why fans in Philadelphia began planning for an October

parade down Broad Street from the minute the Phillies signed Lee to

a $120 million, five-year contract in December.

Of course, having the best team on paper doesn’t guarantee

success.

”Sometimes people forget how hard it is to win. Sometimes we

forget everything about it – fans, media, organizational people,

players, managers and coaches,” manager Charlie Manuel said early

in spring training. ”The other day, I was just sitting and

thinking about winning. Winning is hard. The Yankees have won 27

World Series. How long have they been in existence, 128 years? That

means that over 100 years, they lost. Winning is tough. Winning is

hard. And you’ve got to stay at it.”

Losing Utley doesn’t help. Utley is out indefinitely with a

tricky knee problem, leaving a big void in Philadelphia’s lineup.

Utley’s injury and Werth’s departure – he signed a $126 million,

seven-year deal with Washington – means the Phillies will start the

season without their Nos. 3 and 5 hitters from the last few

years.

It’s a big concern for Manuel.

”We’re missing two big run-producers right in the middle of our

lineup,” he said. ”We’ve got people that are going to have to

step up and do better than they’ve been doing or prove that they’re

better big-league players than what they have been.”

Veteran Luis Castillo, signed after he was released by the New

York Mets, could end up taking Utley’s spot. Ben Francisco replaces

Werth in right field. Brown will begin the season in the minors

after he returns from hand surgery, but he could wind up splitting

time with Francisco at some point.

The Phillies are counting on several players who had subpar

seasons to regain their old form and spark a once-potent offense.

Jimmy Rollins, the 2007 NL MVP, is coming off an injury-plagued

year. The switch-hitting shortstop has to deliver, especially if he

bats third instead of his preferred leadoff spot while Utley is

out.

Ryan Howard, the 2006 NL MVP, had career lows in homers (31) and

RBIs (108). Now, he won’t have Utley in front of him or Werth

behind him. Raul Ibanez, Shane Victorino and Placido Polanco also

saw their numbers decline last year.

”We won 97 games last year, and I think if you go and ask

anybody in that clubhouse, we don’t feel that we were as good as we

probably should have been,” Rollins said. ”And due to injuries,

we still had guys come in and play and step up. We feel we were

probably 10-15 games short of what we probably should have been in

the regular season and definitely in the playoffs.”

The offense may not have to generate many runs whenever one of

the four aces takes the mound. No. 5 starter Joe Blanton is no

slouch, either.

”It’s not about us five or those eight or whatever,” Lee said.

”It’s 25 guys. We’ve all got to contribute. If we all do our work

and prepare each day and carry our weight, good things should

happen.”

The bullpen was a concern even before Lidge was shut down last

week because of shoulder issues. Lidge has been inconsistent since

his perfect season in ’08. He’ll be replaced by Ryan Madson and

Jose Contreras, and there isn’t much depth behind them.

Then again, the relievers may not get much work if the starters

consistently pitch to their capabilities and go seven or eight

innings.

”The biggest thing in baseball is health,” Oswalt said. ”If

we keep everybody healthy, we’ve got a great chance. But you still

have to play the games. These guys on the other teams get paid a

lot of money to do the same things we do. Just because we look good

on paper and what we’ve done in the past doesn’t mean you are going

to have a great year.”

In Philadelphia, great won’t even be good enough unless the

Phillies hoist that World Series trophy at the end.