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Should Phillies fans have lower expectations for 2012?

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Down in Clearwater, Florida, the Philadelphia Phillies are gearing up for another run at baseball’s ultimate goal. It’s something that all 30 teams aspire to do as Spring Training begins. Of course, reality sets in for about half of those teams after Opening Day, but fortunately for us, the Phillies have luckily not been in that lower half of 15 in recent years. Ryan Howard photo: (CSN, Kevin Flatley)

The second highest payroll in baseball obviously helps, but that can only get you so far. Results are expected, and when your team has underachieved the last two seasons, the pressure to win only increases. And in the case of the Philadelphia Phillies, there are no exceptions.

While aspirations still remain high for this Phillies team, does the team’s most recent playoff failures lower expectations of the fanbase?

If this is the case around the Tri-State Area, it’s not a total surprise. After all, the Phillies, winners of 102 regular season games last season and picked by many experts to win the World Series for the second consecutive year, were upset again in last year’s post season by the eventual World Champion Cardinals.

In the weeks that followed, I’m sure many fans were left wondering the same thing I was: If you can’t win the World Series with the juggernaut that the Phillies put together, what kind of team can you win the World Series with?!

Fact of the matter is, the baseball gods don’t pick favorites. As the last decade has shown, the team with the hot hand in the playoffs (combined with a short layoff between rounds) usually wins it all. As good as the Phillies were last year, they’ve run smack into destiny the last two seasons. Besides, the Phillies’ two World Championship teams of 1980 and 2008 were not the two best teams the franchise ever fielded on paper let alone Major League Baseball in those respective seasons, but that’s why you play the games.

For all their talent, the 2012 Phillies still have their share of issues. Consider the following:

-  He is taking some ground balls and hitting in the cage, but will Ryan Howard ever be able to regain the form that made him one of baseball premier sluggers when he returns from his achilles injury?

- Chase Utley is being so closely monitored that he won’t see much time in Spring Training. His patellar tendinitis is a degenerative condition that will not improve. At 33, this is not encouraging.

- Same goes for Placido Polanco, who battled hip, back, and groin pain last season in addition to a double sports hernia. Polanco will be 37 by seasons end. Who is to say some of these injuries won’t resurface?

- Can John Mayberry Jr and Laynce Nix be an effective platoon in left field?

- The hype surrounding the Phillies’ starting rotation is gone from last year. Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee are getting up in years. Will they be able to make every start? Some questions remain as to whether Joe Blanton will fully recover from his elbow injury and regain his spot in the rotation. Can Vance Worley repeat his success of 2011?

-With the exception of Chad Qualls and Jonathan Papelbon, who will handle desgnated bullpen roles is really anybody’s guess. Can Jose Contreras return and regain his 2010 form after elbow surgery? Will Antonio Bastardo and Michael Stutes get their grooves back after struggling in the second half of 2011?  

Even with their question marks, if healthy, the Phillies are still talented enough to win 90 games and change in 2012. But will another division title start to lose it’s luster with the fans if all it equates to is another early playoff exit?

Don’t get me wrong, Citizens Bank Park will still be packed all season long, the Hunter Pence shirts will still be seen all over the Delaware Valley, and television ratings will be at an all-time high.

Let’s just hope it stays that way for a little while longer.


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2012 brings back healthy NL East hatred for Phillies fans

Contact Joe Vallee at jvallee@philly2philly.com  

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Ryan Howard photo: (CSN, Kevin Flatley)