PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Think back to the fourth weekend of October, last year.
The Phillies season is in the process of ending with a game-six loss to the Giants in the NLCS, the Eagles are in the midst of an abysmal fourth quarter meltdown in Tennessee, the Flyers are just seven games into the regular season, and the 76ers have yet to play their first meaningful game under new head coach Doug Collins.
What was to come of sports in this city?
Fast forward to mid-December.
The Phillies send their fans into a complete frenzy with news that they have lured free agent pitcher Cliff Lee back to Philadelphia, securing, on paper, the most dominant starting rotation in baseball.
Since then, the Eagles have won a division crown, the Flyers have proved to be one of the best teams in the NHL, and the Sixers have established themselves as a legitimate playoff contender.
But despite all of that, the buzz in this town has never strayed far from its baseball team.
Fear not Phillies faithful — our national pastime has returned.
On Sunday, Lee and the rest of the pitching staff, along with the catchers, reported to Clearwater, marking the start of Spring Training and the first step in the Phillies 2011 campaign.
In all, thirty-three players arrived at Bright House Field, most of them keeping their workout to a minimum.
The first official workout for pitchers and catchers is set for Monday, with the position players scheduled to join them on February 18th — and Grapefruit League play beginning a week later.
With Lee joining Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels and Joe Blanton, the Phillies starting rotation is a well-oiled machine.
But what about the bullpen?
There is no reason to think that Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge won’t return to 2010 form and continue to get the job done in the late innings – and Jose Contreras certainly earned his new two-year deal — but if there is one question mark surrounding this club’s pitching staff at the start of camp, it would be the front-end of their pen.
Chad Durbin was solid in middle-relief last season, but he remains a free agent. Is Kyle Kendrick the guy there, now?
David Herndon was serviceable in his role last year, but he still has work to do.
Danys Baez had an absolutely dismal 2010 season. Will he be able to bounce back, or will the Phils choose to eat the remainder of his salary and part ways with the veteran right-hander?
No doubt, we’ll have a clearer picture by opening day on April 1st.
That said, with the horses Charlie Manuel will be racing out to the mound to start games on a daily basis, it may not be much of an issue at all.
With four aces and an offense that’s as explosive as any in the league, expectations are extremely high heading into Spring Training — but don’t make plans to attend a parade in the Fall just yet. The Phillies know better than anyone that they’ll still have to prove themselves on the field — and like a every year, staying healthy will be key.
No team can win a World Series in February — but with the Phillies’ makeup — it’s okay for an anxious and excited fan base to welcome Lee and the gang to the Sunshine State, and to look ahead at what might happen this October.
Reported by Dan Majka, CBS Philly.