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Phillies could welcome role of underdog in 2013


You hear the talk all around town as well as almost every local website when discussing the 2013 Philadelphia Phillies:
The team is old. They’ll probably finish third, behind the upstart Nationals and Braves. Their time has come and gone.

To be fair, all of the above might turn out to be in fact true. The Phillies are one of the oldest teams in baseball. Michael Young (37 in October), Roy Halladay (36 in May), Cliff Lee (35 in August), Mike Adams (35 in July), Chase Utley (34), Jimmy Rollins (34), Carlos Ruiz (34) and Ryan Howard (33) are not exactly fuzzy cheeked youngsters. You all know what the Nationals did in 2012, and the Braves (despite the retirement of Chipper Jones) added Upton Brothers, B.J. and Justin to a 94-win team.Roy Halladay photo: Jared Wickerham; Getty Images

Despite winning the World Series in 2008, that Phillies squad was probably their second to least talented team to make the postseason during their five-year run of NL East titles. As their regular season win total increased however, so did expectations. After returning to the World Series and losing in 2009, the Phillies were the prohibitive favorites to win it all in 2010 and 2011, but were upset by less talented teams that caught lightning in a bottle in the playoffs. As a result, only one championship banner from this era has been raised in Ashburn Alley at Citizens Bank Park, and expectations from the fan base has slowly waned as each subsequent season ends disappointingly.

But for the first time since 2007, the Philadelphia Phillies have something to prove.

And that’s why they might be dangerous.

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The majority of experts really don’t realistically see them making the postseason let alone win the division, and once again it’s not an entirely unrealistic assessment.

There are some encouraging signs in the early going. Howard seems to be fully recovered from his gruesome achillies injury. After a slow start, Michael Young has turned it on offensively, and Domonic Brown might be the biggest surprise of the early spring. Moreover, Cole Hamels has also looked solid in his first three starts, as does newly acquired Mike Adams coming out of the bullpen.

At the same time, you also have to take the good with the uncertain. Although he is 2-0 so far in Spring Training,  Halladay’s velocity is still a cause for concern.  After an uneven 2012, Cliff Lee has a 5.19 ERA in three starts, and Antonio Bastardo hasn’t been consistent since mid-season 2011.  Although Utley looks mobile in the field, the results at the plate aren’t there just yet.

In all fairness, Spring Training isn’t necessarily an indication (good or bad) for how things play  Expect a lot of these scenarios to develop over the season. A healthy Howard is half the battle offensively with this team, as his presence for most of last season was sorely missed in the lineup. Although the core of the Phillies remains Rollins, Utley and Howard, the Phillies will rely heavily on the top three starters (Hamels, Lee and Halladay), which could be an issue if Halladay doesn’t return to form and Lee suffers a similar fate as last season.

Don’t think this talk doesn’t spread down to the clubhouse, either. As a team, the Phillies know the window of opportunity is closing, and are probably more determined than ever to prove the doubters wrong. While they may not be able to turn back the clock to 2008, motivation is a powerful tool. And if I were the rest of the National League, I wouldn’t sleep on the Phillies.


Contact Joe Vallee at jvallee@philly2philly.com

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Photo: Jared Wickerham; Getty Images