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2012 brings back healthy NL East hatred for Phillies fans

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Over the last five years, the Phillies’ annual march to the NL East title has become more and more anticlimactic.

Some of that is due to a string of the most successful regular seasons in franchise history.  The Phillies’ win totals have gone from 89 to 92 to 93 to 97 to 102 since 2007.  

Unfortunately for the NL East, the other major contributor to the Phillies’ dominance has been the lack of much legitimate competition from the four other dan uggla teams in the division.  

The 2010 Braves were, in fact, the only other NL East team to record 90 wins over the last five years. The Marlins were often good until sometime in June before what seemed to be an annual summer implosion. The Mets were the Phillies’ main threat in 2007 and 2008, but have been 34 games under .500 since then. Then there were those poor Nationals, who averaged over 93 losses per year during the Phillies’ run of titles.

For Phillies fans, the NL East crown has increasingly become a forgone conclusion, and one of the byproducts of that divisional dominance has been the waning of the rivalries that can make a baseball season even more special.

But as the 2012 season approaches, we could witness the return of the pennant race to the NL East, and also the return of some healthy hard feelings towards the teams that have made it a race.  

First, there are the Braves, who may be the biggest threat to the Phillies’ streak.  And with the Braves, it’s not so much the players that are unlikeable, but the fact that they are attempting to take what the Phillies have.  There are sure to be a few big series against the Braves, who despite featuring a boatload of young talent, don’t really have an unlikeable bunch of guys.  Actually, the Braves will become a rival as a simple product of who they are: the team that ruled the NL East for a long time with a legion of wannabe fans whose passion was limited to ripping off the Florida State Seminole tomahawk chop but not necessarily buying tickets to important home games.  In 2012, the Braves' stellar pitching staff and bullpen will look awfully similar to the one featured in Philadelphia,  so fully expect them to challenge the Phillies.

If Phillies fans need more than a competitive rival, they can certainly find some hatred for the new-and-improved Miami Marlins.  The team not only has a ozzie guillennew name, stadium and uniform, but it also brought Jose Reyes and Ozzie Guillen to town. With Logan Morrison and Hanley Ramirez already in place, the Marlins are assembling a dynamic offense. 

However, it is the addition of Guillen that will undoubtedly generate some hatred among Phillies fans.  For years, Philadelphia fans have only had to endure the obnoxious Guillen’s rants on the occasional SportsCenter or PTI segment. But this year, Guillen will be running his mouth throughout the NL East title chase. Combine Ozzie’s mouth with Reyes and Ramirez’s attitudes (not to mention the appropriately brilliant acquisition of Carlos Zambrano) and the Marlins have all of the makings of a powder keg, but they may stay competitive for long enough make us hate them (and rejoice when they actually blow up).    

As Phillies fans look down the standings, they may also find themselves resenting the steadily improving Washington Nationals.  The beginning of that resentment probably started with the Jayson Werth signing, and was made worse by the Nationals “Take Back the Park” campaign that seeks to limit Phillies’ fans’ abilities to purchase tickets to Washington home games.

Ultimately, the Nats owners may be picking a fight with a Philly fanbase that will now make it a point to fill Nationals Park and let their voices be heard more loudly than ever.  This season could feature the major league debut of the Nats’ brash young star, Bryce Harper, who will be an easy target for right field spectators across the league. The Nats probably aren’t a legitimate threat within the division, but they could become a rival in more of a nuisance role. They will no longer be a guaranteed win, and could very possibly cause some headaches during the division race.

Finally, there is the New York Mets mess, and is it just me, or are the Mets pretty hard to hate right now?  The Mets have become such a disaster, that they have gone to an almost zero-reading on the hostility scale.  It’s not that we probably wouldn’t all still respond to the question, “What is your most hated baseball team?” with an immediate reply of “The Mets."  It’s just that answer wouldn’t have the same intensity as it did before the Mets became one of the sorriest franchises in professional sports.  It’s gotten so bad, that I actually look at the Mets roster and hope that their ineptitude could somehow result in the David Wright becoming the Phillies third baseman.  

While it’s fundamentally wrong to long for a Met favorite to come to Philly, the Mets have made it completely possible with their pathetic ownership and embarrassing underachievement over the past few years. Come to think of it, I think we can all still hate the Mets.

Over the next few weeks, we are sure to read a lot of previews that call for a very close NL East race.  There have even been some early predictions of a new division champ from the Phillies’ division.  

The division standings will not be the only thing that looks different in the NL East this year.  The competitive juices and intensity of rivalries will be going up a few notches, as well.  It might even be a good thing for the Phillies and their fans, as a regular season race could make the Phillies playoff-ready while keeping the fans’ from adopting a spoiled “wake me up when the playoffs arrive” mentality.


Matt Babiarz was born and raised in the Philadelphia area.  He graduated from the University of Alabama, but remained a very close observer of the Philadelphia sports scene.  He recently began covering the Phillies for Philly2Philly.com.   You can also read his work at Bleacherreport.com within the Philadelphia Phillies section. 

Matt can be contacted at mattbabz@comcast.net  

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Photos:
Reyes: LM Otero (AP)
Guillen: FanGraphs
Uggla: SI.com