By Joseph Santoliquito
Philadelphia (CBS)–Why bother? Really, why should any National League team pile their stuff in the back of one of those large moving vans and come up north to play baseball this season?
The Phillies are supposed to go 162-0, sweep every team known to man, animal and fan alike in the postseason and secure the franchise’s third World Series trophy and second world championship in four years.
So really, why bother?
To hear some sports talking heads in this city and beyond jibber and jabber about the Phils’ four aces, and their potent lineup, and the fact that they won a Major League-high 97 games last season sans Cliff Lee, not to mention the gushing, over-hyped euphoria of Phils’ fans, this season shouldn’t even be played.
Even World Series-winning manager Bruce Bochy of the San Francisco Giants seems willing to concede it’s a Phillies world and Major League Baseball has to live in it before a pitch is thrown.
“Because of track record, I think you would have to look at Philadelphia’s staff as the best in baseball, Bochy told a San Francisco Chronicle reporter. “I think everybody in the National League would tell you the road to the World Series has to go through Philadelphia, with the quality of their staff.”
The one group that seems to have it down, the guys who are looking at this realistically and aren’t heading into this 2011 campaign thinking the Phillies should already be mapping out championship parades is, well … the Phillies themselves.
Sure, they’ve been cautiously optimistic, save for the occasional Jimmy Rollins’ bold prediction “we’re going to win over 100 games” stuff emanating from Clearwater, Florida.
But if you want some real, hard cold wisdom when it comes to this season, let’s go to sage Rich Dubee, the Phillies’ pitching coach, with a prescient warning to “curb the excitement a little bit, too. We still have to play baseball. I mean, we are absolutely thrilled with our starting rotation. You can’t downplay that. I don’t think anyone who has ever seen baseball would downplay it. But the fact of the matter is we have to play 162 games and play up to our potential.”
It seems as if the Phillies themselves make the most sense of anyone right now—which is refreshing. Let the fans and media blow this thing up in April and May, they seem to be collectively saying, while we keep a straight, steady course, as they’ve done year-after-year under Charlie Manuel, and see where this journey takes us.
It has all the signs of a fun year. It should be. But there are signs lurking that it’s a season that could totally collapse. Again, this is an old team. If Ben Francisco starts in right field, it will be the oldest regular lineup in Phillies’ history, averaging 32.3 years/per position.
Guess what happens with age?
Players break down much easier, and it takes longer for them to recover. Guess what? Rollins and Chase Utley are showing signs of slippage already, much closer to the downside of their careers than the upside. If injuries occur, and they’re likely with such an older lineup, problems will erupt.
Here’s something else to consider:
After Roy Halladay had his best season as a Toronto Blue Jay in 2003, winning the American League Cy Young with a 22-7 record and posting a 3.25 ERA over a career-high 266 innings pitched, Halladay broke down the following year, in ’04, going 8-8 and throwing 133 innings—his lowest sum over the last nine years.
Halladay threw in 250.2 innings last year, the second-highest total of his career, and he completed nine games, matching the same amount of games he completed in 2003. Yes, he went 21-10 and there’s no question Halladay is a future Hall of Famer, winning his second Cy Young. But he was hurt and riding fumes during the postseason—and it showed, as his innings dropped after Halladay’s incredible no-hitter against Cincinnati in his first playoff appearance.
Lee tailed off, too, in the postseason last year, losing games One and Five of the World Series. He saw his 2010 postseason ERA balloon from a 0.75 low to 2.78 in two World Series games against the Giants.
The lesson here is that there are no guarantees. No, the Phillies will not go 162-0, and maybe not even 101-61. Yes, they should win the National League Eastern Division again, but who’s to say how much further they can go from there.
Let’s just see how this plays out and enjoy the ride. Don’t get too high on the fumes of expectations only to see them deflated under a deluge of injuries by worn down players suddenly showing their age. Remember, this is Philadelphia. Whatever can mess up something as perfect as this is bound to be tested in one way or another.