Philadelphia Phillies: 5 Distractions New Phillies Must Conquer
Yes, that is indeed Jim Thome mid-split making a catch at first, circa 2005. Though he's donned the red and white before, Thome, along with new additions Jonathan Papelbon, Laynce Nix and others, will have to adjust to a Phillies franchise that is miles apart from the days of old.
Philadelphia is a tough market to play in. The fans hold an absolute love/hate relationship with the team, and they aren't afraid to speak their collective mind. The game itself has also changed, and new members may not be ready for the fierce competition of the NL East.
If these new faces want to be successful in Philadelphia, here are some of the distractions they must conquer.
Overlooking the Washington Nationals
When one thinks of the NL East, a two-horse race comes to mind—the Phillies and Atlanta Braves tower high above the rest, in a division that contains perennial weaklings Washington Nationals, Miami Marlins and New York Mets.
Due to small payroll, comical signings (see: Jayson Werth, Johan Santana) and subpar past performances, it is no doubt easy for incoming players to write off their division foes as easy wins.
This would be a dangerous mistake to make.
In fact, of all the teams the Phillies faced in 2011, there were only two that gave the Phightins' a losing record: the World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals and the "bottom-basement" Washington Nationals.
The Nats have had the Phillies' number for quite a while now, and they're only getting better. A young core that includes first baseman Michael Morse and second baseman Danny Espinosa is backed up by the likes of Ryan Zimmerman and Ian Desmond.
The addition of Gio Gonzalez will only make the Nats more lethal, and new additions Dontrelle Willis and Chad Qualls may not be ready to face such strong hitting (I left Papelbon out because, let's face it, the AL East is very strong).
I was very hesitant in adding fans to the list, because I feel that "distraction" is not the right word.
Phillies fans are some of the best in the world, but sometimes they can be harsh.
If a player falls into a slump, there is a faction of fans that will have no problem yelling at that player (I remember just last season yelling at the under-performing Raul Ibanez).
Newcomers Papelbon, Nix and Wigginton will have to learn to harness the power of the fans for good, though, instead of being brought down.
They can't be intimidated by high expectations, and they have to feed off the energy a sellout crowd provides every night.
The Phillies are one of (if not the) most hyped teams in 2012.
Their pitching staff hasn't lost a step, and their offensive core has the potential to be very productive.
As mentioned in the previous slide, there are high expectations for this team.
With Ryan Howard's injury, the new additions, more specifically Jim Thome, will play a major role in the team's success.
Thome, as well as every player—new or old—can't just get sucked into the hype of the team and become complacent.
It sounds super simple, but to win, the Phillies have to outscore their opponents (no kidding, huh?).
Charlie Manuel's Style
Charlie Manuel has no problem playing the matchups when it comes to pitching.
He relies heavily on left-handed and right-handed one-out guys, and will frequently jog out to the mound to bring in a new arm.
Chad Qualls and Dontrelle Willis have to learn to deal with this.
Qualls, who pitched a staggering 74 innings last year in San Diego, may be more of a situational guy if Jose Contreras comes out healthy.
If that happens, Qualls will have more appearances, but his innings pitched will go down as he is brought in to get just one or two outs.
The same applies for Dontrelle Willis. A converted starter, Willis will have to learn that he is no more than a LOOGY (Left-handed One Out GuY) in the organization.
He can't get frustrated, like ex-Phillie JC Romero did, and let his performance suffer if he gets pulled without recording an out. Manuel is a harsh general, but he knows what he's doing.
Let's say that during Ryan Howard's injury, John Mayberry Jr. will be playing first base.
Now, instead of Jim Thome automatically winning a starting job, there is now a contest for the job in left field between Wigginton, Nix and (if he's healthy) Juan Pierre. Who gets the job?
Considering all three are on the same tier ability-wise, a huge position battle may erupt.
Like Chad Qualls and Dontrelle Willis, the new position players can't be distracted by who wins more playing time and must focus on playing their best game.
If the new guys avoid the distraction of position battles, they'll all play better.