By Mike Angelina
It’s incredible to see how damaging one loss has been to the vibe and overall feeling feeling that surrounds the Philadelphia Phillies this year. That one loss–their quiet 1-0 fall to Chris Carpenter and the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 5 of the 2011 NLDS– seems to have changed the entire attitude of the Phills’ fan base.
This is usually the time of year that fans walk around the city with their red Phillies caps, flood talk radio lines talking about how the Phillies have to win, and run the countdown until Opening Day they’ve been maintaining in their homes till the final days. Now it seems like people are doing it out of habit, like flipping old months of the calendar, rather than that exciting, can’t wait attitude.
It also seems that there are less frequent utterances of things like, “Well, the Phillies can figure out how to win with this roster,” as was typical. People would be overly excited for Kevin Millwood starting Opening Day and Joe Roa starting the Home Opener. “Happy Opening Day” wishes were common.
Now, the new thing to say is, “Well, the Phillies just can’t win with this roster.” I hear it screening calls at 94 WIP. I see it looking at the drop off in ticket sales. I feel it when people mention the Phillies.
“Especially after last year, to me, it’s time to move on from this group and this team, they can’t win with them anymore,” one fan said to me.
They “can’t win”? As in not possible?
People are overreacting. Are they still paralyzed? All this over, in reality, one loss? Let’s first consider the context of the loss:
It came at the hands to the to the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals, and to who might be the best big game pitcher since Curt Schilling, in Carpenter.
Let’s get some perspective on this one loss:
They took the eventual World Series champion to the maximum amount of games in the series and lost by one run to the hottest pitcher in the game. They had two warning track fly outs, which on different nights would have produced four more runs.
Going into that game, they averaged over five runs per game in the series. In their 2008 World Series clinching series, they scored less than five runs per game. Besides, the Cardinals went on to beat the third best offensive team in the NLCS, and the major league’s best overall hitting team in the World Series-with Carpenter starting three times.
This is not just to say that things easily could have gone differently, very differently, with maybe something like a more timely breeze, to carry the fly balls out, a break here or there, and things could have gone very differently. The Phillies weren’t so far off that we can conclude they “just can’t win” anymore.
It was the third straight year they lost to the World Champion, and it was the closest they came to beating the champ. But all the other off seasons the same optimism and expectation to win still existed.
This season shouldn’t feel too different.
Chase Utley literally has the same injury as last year, just in the other knee. In fact, his return to contributing is actually more promising this year than it was last. Ryan Howard’s status is the same as it was before the off season began. The Phillies are prepared to provide enough production in his absence for the beginning stage of the season.
Phillies fans would know as well as anyone that a slow start to the season is something that won’t prevent a nice finish, so they should be fine without Howard until he returns. They’ll be able to do more than just tread water though, given how favorable their early schedule is. 30 of the Phillies’ first 39 games are against teams that finished below .500 last season. They won’t even have back to back series with teams that finished with a winning record until late July–after the All-Star break.
When the opponents get tougher in late July-August, it is very likely that Howard and Utley will be back. The Phillies played their best ball each of the past few seasons this time of year anyway. Come post season when their guys are back, they are in a better position than they were last season from a depth standpoint.
Everything they needed to do this offseason they did. They retained their leader, Jimmy Rollins. They got younger with Freddy Galvis and John Mayberry Jr., with a young bullpen core soon to come. They got players that are compatible with small ball with Juan Pierre and Galvis. They have more depth with Ty Wigginton and Laynce Nix, both of whom can combine with Jim Thome to provide some pop while stepping in for Howard. And while doing all of this they upgraded the closer role.
They can get their right handed bat off the bench throughout the course of the season when it becomes available. Plus, they now have a full year of Hunter Pence and no longer need to experiment with Domonic Brown.
And in every three game series, they are guaranteed to send at least one ace to the mound.
There was incredible excitement and optimism going into the 2011 season after the team signed Cliff Lee, a guy the public never thought should have left anyway. He’s still here. And now they can’t win with Halladay and Hamels respectively pitching on Opening Day and the Home Opener.
It’s just unbelievable to think how damaging that loss has been to people’s vision of this team, and how much it has numbed them. That has to be the case as for why
So relax and shake yourself from the 1-0 loss. This is a very talented baseball team, with a very capable task in front of them. They won 102 games last year, stayed in first place without Utley, and made their biggest strides late.
Be sure to wake up and regain your feeling for this team, it’ll make it easier to enjoy the season. And Happy Opening Day, whether you’re excited about day one with Halladay on Thursday, or you’re going to Opening Day to see Hamels on Monday. They can win those games. If Millwood and Roa were winners, then these aces sure are.
Mike Angelina is a Producer at 94 WIP-FM / 610 WIP-AM and contributes to CBS Philly on both local and national sports. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeAngelina