Friday, March 31, 2006
Inquirer photographs by Akira Suwa
Slugger Ryan "H Bomb" Howard (above),
pitcher Brett Myers (below left),
and infielders Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins.
I'm one of those miserable malcontents who've failed to get enthused about the Phillies since the strike of '94. (Yuh, got some character flaws.) But I'm hankering to recapture the passion I had as kid hanging on every pitch on radio or TV. I'm sure I'm not alone. (Especially with the Eagles and Sixers on dissapointing downslides.) That's why I asked a friend, Sam Hughes, to tell us why we should rekindle the spirit that, pre-Buddy Ryan and Bill Giles, had long made this a baseball town, even with much worse teams than this year's. Here's his case:
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As far as I'm concerned, anyone who claims to be a baseball fan and can't be at least reasonably enthusiastic about the Phils' prospects this season has either (a) allowed their worldview to become a reflection of their own loser personality, or (b) is not really a fan at all. This is a team that won 88 games last year, missed the wild card by one game -- that's one Billy Wagner meatball to Craig Biggio -- and the division title by two. They could have easily won five more games with better decision-making (had they kept Polanco and dumped Bell, sat Thome when he was clearly injured, banned Endy Chavez from anything beyond pinch-running and defense, benched or released Worrell and Addams a lot earlier than they did, etc.). While Manuel is not going to suddenly become a tactical genius, his (and Gillick's) decisions this spring have been very encouraging -- especially in the way they reward talent and achievement over washed-up or injured Proven Veteran-ness. In past years, under Wade (and Bowa), this was a consistent, maddening, and fatal problem. This year, they promoted Madson and Floyd to the starting rotation even though they shelled out $2.7 M to Ryan Franklin, for the very good reason that they are, at least potentially, better pitchers. Tomas Perez, an engaging character but a lousy hitter, looks to be on the way out despite a dopey gift contract from Wade. I admit to mixed feelings about dumping Padilla, who will probably have a career year in Texas just to spite us, but there's something to be said for cutting bait on a moody and somewhat injury-prone pitcher who was not living up to his considerable potential -- and who would have made more than $4 M this year.
So what's to like?
-- The lineup that scored more runs (807) than any team in their division should score even more this year with (hopefully!) full seasons out of Howard, Utley, & Rowand, not to mention a better bench.
-- The very good defense got even better with Rowand.
-- While the starting rotation certainly has some question marks (especially with Floyd), it also has a fairly high ceiling. Myers could win 17 games if he pitches the way he did last year, and he might just pitch better. Lieber did win 17 games. Lidle (a better trade than I thought at the time) should be good for 12. Madson is a big upgrade to the rotation and could well win 14-16. Floyd could either win 14 or lose 14, half of the latter in Scranton. Franklin can step in and eat innings, even if he's likely to barf up a lot of runs. More important, there is help not far away in the minors.
Yes, they lost Wagner, and they will miss his arm, if not his mouth. But it was a wise decision to let him go in that market. $44 M for a guy who will be very lucky to pitch 80 innings a year is insane.
As for the competition:
The Mets did get better, especially at first base, but then, they weren't that good a team last year. (They scored 702 runs, compared with the Phils' 807.) If they get full, healthy seasons out of Pedro, Wagner, and Floyd, they will be very tough. But does anybody really think they will?
The Braves have that pact with the devil thing going on, not to mention a very good farm system, neither of which should be underestimated. But they no longer have Leo Mazzone; Chipper's getting old and fragile; Hampton's out; Smoltz is due for an extended visit to Dr. Jobe; and their bullpen inspires no fear.
The Marlins got worse--much worse.
The Nationals played way over their heads last year, and take it to the bank that they won't this year.
It's easy to get sucked into the rank swamp of Negadelphiativity, which is created by several things: poor baseball journalism (see Eskin, Howard; and many of the region's out-of-touch general-assignment columnists); the Phils' own history of shooting themselves in the foot; and the aforesaid loser mentality of many fans and potential fans in these parts. But most of the time that attitude is just lazy, dishonest, and stupid. This is a good team (if it stays reasonably healthy). If you can't enjoy this season, that's your fault.
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Me again: C'mon. Suspend that snarly nastiness, if you're so afflicted, and post here your best reason for enjoying this Phillies season. Myself, I think Gillick did a really smart thing ... (continued in the comments)