It’s easy to put the Phillies in the World Series today.
Despite sitting out the middle portion of free agency, Ruben Amaro was able to improve an already formidable team to the point that it will enter the 2010 season with a crown tentatively on its head, a collection of expectations higher than Crispin Glover in this interview.
Go to SportsBook.com, go to any website that takes wagers on future odds. The Phillies are favored, by a large amount, to capture a third consecutive National League championship. Their odds of winning the World Series are only lower than that of Jerek Deter’s Yankees.
But is this fair? Is it acceptable to make foregone conclusions about the 2010 Phillies, or place so much trust and faith into a set of 25 men that could possibly fail to live up to the hype that has been created from several years of unprecedented franchise success? Put this song on and we’ll have a look-see.
Before you answer the questions posed, let’s take a moment to explore the team’s relative health since the start of the 2008 season. In two years:
- Ryan Howard has missed two games
- Chase Utley has played hurt in parts of both years, but only missed nine games
- Shane Victorino has averaged 151 games
- Cole Hamels has made 33 and 32 starts
- Jayson Werth has missed little time since becoming an everyday player; 159 games in 2009
- Ryan Madson has been healthy enough to average 78 appearances
- Joe Blanton has missed no time
- Jimmy Rollins spent a little while on the DL in 2008, but has still averaged 146 games
The Phillies have been healthy. Very healthy. Sure, injuries have sidelined Raul Ibanez, Greg Dobbs, J.C. Romero, Brad Lidge, Jamie Moyer, and Carlos Ruiz, but other than Romero, none of those injuries have resulted in an extended absence. It can be easily argued that none of these injuries have significantly impacted the team’s success since 2008.
Losing a left fielder for a month, a top pinch hitter for a few months, or a situational lefty for 3/4 of the season can have an effect, but would you honestly equate those losses with not having a Jose Reyes, a Carlos Beltran, a Johan Santana, or a Carlos Delgado for most of the season?
The point is that the Phillies core has been healthy. (Everytime I hear the word “core” I think of Michael Scott saying “I got this new machine, it’s supposed to work your core. Your front core, your back core…I think it’s even used by the marine corps.”) No player has appeared in more games since 2008 than Ryan Howard, who, in case you haven’t heard, is quite the difference maker. The rest of the players in the above list have all been together on the field a vast majority of the time and haven’t seen the rigors of an 162-game schedule result in an inability to perform on a daily basis.
Does this degree of health have any bearing on the upcoming season? The short answer is no, it doesn’t. Ryan Howard is just as likely to miss 30 games as any other relatively healthy player, because there is no real predictor of injury other than old age and prior surgeries or red flags. But, in looking at the Phils’ recent overwhelming success, it must be noted that the key cogs have been healthy and/or lucky enough to avoid deterioration, collisions, or suffering a broken collarbone by falling down a flight of stairs while carrying deer meat (see: Clint Barmes, 2005.)
The National League East has not been as competitive as it should have been. Over the past few seasons, the Braves and Mets have both dealt with crippling injuries that have ended their respective seasons in the middle of the summer. The Phillies were 14-4 against the Braves in ’08 and 12-6 against the Mets in ’09. In those years, the Phils also beat the Nationals 27 times in 36 games. The rest of the division wasn’t exactly peaking.
The Mets followed up on a ridiculous, comically bad 2009 season by having a ridiculous, comically bad offseason, but they won’t lose 92 games again. The Braves traded their ace for what turned out to be no good reason at all, but starters are still employed in Atlanta that seem to baffle the Phillies with regularity (Jair Jurrjens and Derek Lowe, I’m looking at you.) The Marlins and Phils seem to trade blows every year and finish .500 against each other (give or take a game,) and the Nationals will once again be walking around with their pants on the ground in 2010.
The NL East lacks a legitimate threat, but it isn’t hard to imagine the Phils losing a game or two more to the Mets or Braves, even with the additions of Roy Halladay, Placido Polanco, and the biggest prize of all, Cody Ransom. Why? Well, because of the laws of sustenance and regression, of course.
The “Eggs-In-One-Basket” Adage
It is necessary to look at aspects such as good health and surrounding divisional weakness when viewing recent and future success because unfulfilled expectations can leave an awful taste in your mouth. No, the Phillies have no realistic competitors in the division or even the National League as a whole (the Cardinals and Dodgers both got worse; can you name one team that got better?) and yes, if games were played on paper they could take the 2010 NL Pennant and throw it in the bag.
But anything can happen. We all know that. Roy Halladay could take a line drive off the knee and miss six weeks. Ryan Howard could strain a muscle during a home run trot and Cole Hamels could develop back stiffness while getting a pedicure. Or none of that could happen and the Phillies could win 100 games. The point is, we don’t know.
And since we don’t know, we all need to take a deep breath and temper our expectations. When the Eagles laid two eggs in Dallas earlier this month, the consensus opinion in the city seemed to be, “Well, that sucks…how many days ’til pitchers and catchers?” The reason it was easy to get over the Eagles pathetic finish was because of the looming excitement the Phillies have created for us all in recent years.
Being able to rely on the Phillies strengths to make up for the painful deficiencies of the Eagles is a beautiful thing, but with such high hopes comes the possibility of heartbreaking disappointment. The Phils may be the most qualified team to reach the World Series again, but I truly thought I was the most qualified applicant for MLB.com’s Associate Beat Writer internship. I didn’t temper my expectations and the results were extremely difficult to deal with when things didn’t work out.
Rather than getting lost in fantasies and thinking about what should happen, focus on the anticipation and ecstacy the Phillies have given us and will hopefully give us for years to come.
I’m not imploring you all to just “accept it” if the 2010 Phillies don’t realize their potential. I’m just suggesting that we all take things in stride and focus on the journey rather than the destination.
The mantra of this team since 2007 has been “one day at a time.” As difficult as it will be, perhaps we should adopt the same mindset.