Today is opening day of the baseball season....a day of promise, new hopes and dreams, and the start of a new series of disappointments for the Philadelphia sports fan.
No franchise (not even the Eagles) can so incense the Delaware Valley as do the Philadelphia Phillies. It is the franchise that has been in Philadelphia the longest, it is the sport that runs the longest during the course of a calendar year, and also has the most vexing ownership group of any team in the city. It is also one of the losingest franchise in all of professional sports, closing in on 10,000 losses (10,000!). Yet hope springs eternal every year for the Philadelphia Nine, our beloved Phigtin' Phils.
My thoughts for the opening of a new Phillies season are many and varied. On paper, they are alot like the weather forecast today: Sunny with a high of 73, absolutely beautiful. Why do I get the feeling they are going to be more like what the weather today really turned out to be: Overcast and cool, with a high of 61 degrees. I believe that ultimately the Phillies will make the playoffs. I would really like them to beat out the Mets for the NL East crown, but I fear that that will not happen. I would really not be surprised by anything that happens with the Phillies this year. As such, I have 5 reasons why they'll stink and 5 reasons why they'll make and suceed in the playoffs.
5 Reasons why the Phillies make and suceed in the playoffs:
1.) Chase Utley and Ryan Howard are the two most exciting young position players in the game today. They will be the cornerstones of this franchise for years to come.
2.) The starting pitching is probably as good as there is in the National League, with Brett Myers, Cole Hamels, Freddy Garcia, Adam Eaton, and Jamie Moyer. It far outstrips the Mets starters and is comparable (or better than) to the Braves and Cardinals.
3.) The return of Ryan Madson to the bullpen. Madson was lights out in the bullpen, before he requested to be tried out in the starting rotation to ill effect to the team. Sorry Ryan, you're just not a starter.
4.) The Phils' catching situation is the best it's been since the early to mid 90s when the Phils had good defensive catchers who could handle pitchers like Daulton, Santiago, and a young Mike Lieberthal (who still had a pulse back then). I am more confident with Rod Barajas and Carlos Ruiz (with Chris Coste not far) behind the plate than I have been since those halcyon days of the early 90s.
5.) Love the additions to the coaching staff of Jimy Williams and Davey Lopes. They'll bring both technical baseball acumen and fire to a team desperately in need of both since John Vukovich was bumped upstairs because of his illness.
5 reasons why the Phillies will stink:
1.) There are potential health issues with 3/5ths of the starting pitching staff. Garcia is starting the season on the DL and Hamels and Eaton always seem to be nursing some injury. I am especially worried about Hamels, who has never had a full season of health in his professional career. The health and consistency of the starting rotation will be the single biggest factor in how this team performs this season.
2.) Tom Gordon is a DL trip waiting to happen. Gillick must acquire a "back-up" closer by converting either Aaron Rowand or Jon Lieber into bullpen help.
3.) Pat Burrell is a malcontent who could potentially singlehandedly sink this offense with another crappy performance. He needs to cut down on his strikeouts and fulfill at least some of the promise that he had when he was drafted first overall in 1998.
4.) Anyone else nervous about Shane Victorino starting full-time? I'd be more comfortable if the Phils had a power bat to platoon with the energetic, but slap-hitting Victorino.
5.) Wes Helms is not an adequate fielding third baseman. Hopefully, Rollins can cover alot of ground to his right.
So there you have it.....ultimately, I believe they will make the playoffs (but we'll see).
Other baseball predictions:
1.) The Mets will trade Lastings Milledge for starting pitching when Pedro Martinez and Orlando Hernandez either don't effectively come back from injuries or are simply ineffective.
2.) Diasuke Matsuzaka will be barely above .500 for the season. My prediction: 14 - 12. He'll start with a handful of wins and a lot of hype and will come back down to Earth (like most pitchers that come over from the Japanese Leagues). Certainly, not worth what the Red Sox paid.....
3.) Bobby Abreu will have a big year with the Yanks, fueling endless talk on Philadelphia sports radio (most of it angry-talk).
4.) NL MVP: Albert Pujols; AL MVP: Vlad Guerrero
5.) Roger Clemens will come back with whatever AL-East team is leading in July (either New York, Boston, or Toronto).
6.) The Angels will win the World Series. Not sure why....I just like how their team is set up.
7.) There will be at least one time during the year where Steinbrenner attempts to fire Joe Torre. He'll get talked out of it by Cashman and Torre will retire at year's end.
8.) Despite the presence of Alfonso Soriano, the Cubs will still stink.
9.) Derek Jeter and David Ortiz will be on the cover of Sports Illustrated AT LEAST once this baseball season. Sports Illustrated has forgotten that baseball is played in cities other than New York or Boston.
10.) Randy Wolf will have a 15 win year in LA.
11.) Barry Bonds will break Henry Aaron's home run record. Sammy Sosa will crack the 600 homer mark in his comeback season.
12.) AL Cy Young: Jered Weaver; NL Cy Young: Brett Myers