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
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
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
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
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
”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
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
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
”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
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
”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.