25 Must-Watch Philadelphia Phillies Games This Season

Greg Pinto@@Greg_PintoCorrespondent IApril 4, 2012

25 Must-Watch Philadelphia Phillies Games This Season

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    One thing that you will hear a lot of Philadelphia Phillies say throughout the season is the now-cliche, "We have to take it one day at a time."

    From the players' perspective, by all means, take it one day at a time. Professional athletes are some of the most focused individuals on the face of the Earth. From the perspective of everyone else, you can bet your bottom dollar that we're looking ahead.

    Though I'm sure you don't need any extra incentive to watch baseball this season, consider this a bit of a bonus: The Phillies' schedule is bursting at the seams with great match-ups.

    Between Opening Day in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and the last game of the season in Washington, D.C., the Phillies will face a slew of rivals, historic rivals, perennial contenders, and up-and-coming teams ready to give the Phils a run for their money.

    Though it's impossible to capture the energy of a 162-game baseball season in 25 games, here are 25 that you should keep a watchful eye on in 2012.

    For news, rumors, analysis and game recaps during spring training, check out Greg's blog: The Phillies Phactor!

April 5th vs. Pirates

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    It's Opening Day.

    What other reason do you really need?

    Roy Halladay will make his third consecutive Opening Day start for the Phillies against an up-and-coming Pittsburgh Pirates team that is looking to make a little noise in a National League Central that really has no clear favorite.

    The Phillies, who will implore a unique offense compared to years past, know the importance of getting the season kicked off on the right foot, so this series could become a bit of a battle for a team that has struggled at PNC Park in recent years.

April 9th vs. Marlins

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    After beefing up over the off-season, the National League East may be the most improved division in all of baseball and it won't take the Phillies long to get their first look at one of its most improved teams—the Miami Marlins.

    Gone are the familiar teal and black uniforms that have symbolized the Marlins over the years. Now, the Fish are represented by a bold color scheme following the move into their new ballpark, but that's far from the only thing that makes this club "bold."

    The Phillies will get their first look at new Marlins' manager Ozzie Guillen and a whole cast of interesting characters, including Hanley Ramirez, Jose Reyes, and Carlos Zambrano.

    The Marlins are a vastly improved team ready to challenge the Phillies, but can they overthrow them? We'll get a glimpse of what they're capable of soon enough.

April 16th at Giants

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    It may not be the most high-profile rivalry in sports, but there is no denying that the Phillies and San Francisco Giants aren't fans of one another.

    During the 2010 National League Championship Series, the series between the Phillies and Giants had developed into a giant powder keg, and a ball tossed back towards the mound from Chase Utley caused that keg to explode.

    After the Giants defeated the Phillies, bad blood lingered into the 2011 season, when Shane Victorino ignited a benches clearing brouhaha that took the rivalry to a whole new level.

    With both teams experiencing disappointing ends to their '11 seasons, it will be interesting to see where this developing rivalry goes in 2012.

April 23rd at Diamondbacks

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    With the injuries piling up and plenty of guys heading to the disabled list to begin the season, the Phillies aren't a consensus pick to win the National League this season. Not by a long shot.

    In fact, one of the popular choices among baseball writers is the up-and-coming Arizona Diamondbacks, who made a lot of noise last season by capturing the National League West crown.

    They have plenty of pitching (Ian Kennedy, Daniel Hudson, Trevor Cahill, JJ Putz, to name a few) and hitting (Justin Upton, Chris Young, Miguel Montero, etc.) and are serious contenders out west.

    The Phillies will get their first look at the D'backs during an early west coast swing in April.

May 1st at Braves

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    You think the Atlanta Braves want a shot at the Phillies this season?

    The Phillies practically ended their 2011 season when, heading into the final three games of the season, they swept the Braves, in Atlanta, while the St. Louis Cardinals continued their improbable march towards the postseason.

    I'd guess that the Braves are out for a bit of revenge this season. They'll get their first shot at the Phillies during the first series of the month of May, when the Phils travel to Turner Field to square off with their division rival yet again.

May 4th at Nationals

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    The Washington Nationals are desperately trying to take back their ballpark, and they've gone to some extreme lengths to do so.

    There is no doubt that Phillies fans travel well, and with Nationals Park just a short distance away from the city of Philadelphia, the trip to Washington, D.C. has become an annual event for the Phillies' faithful.

    Not this season. 

    The Nationals have launched a massive "Take Back the Park" campaign for their fans, offering ticket pre-sales for fans that live in the Washington, D.C. area. All of this is in an attempt to keep most Phillies fans out of the park and bring Nationals fans in.

    Of course, the Phillies fans will not be deterred, so you can expect to see some sparks fly in this series, starting on May 4th.

May 13th vs. Padres

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    Is there a more tender moment during the baseball season than that select Sunday each year where you treat your mother, wife, or loved one to some Phillies baseball? (I'm sure there is, but hang with me here.)

    The Phillies will celebrate Mother's Day at home this season, giving away a women's scarf to all of the mothers in attendance. (Just what you need heading into the dog days of summer, right?)

    Let's be honest though. It's the thought that counts.

    You'll also get to see the Phillies take on a reloaded San Diego Padres team, who traded their ace Mat Latos to the Cincinnati Reds over the winter to help their present (Yonder Alonso) and future (guys like Yasmani Grandal and Brad Boxberger.)

May 18th vs. Red Sox

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    Picture this for a moment.

    The Phillies are slated to kick off their inter-league schedule with a bang, taking on the Boston Red Sox for a three-game series at Citizens Bank Park.

    In the first game of that series, they hold a one-run lead heading into the bottom of the ninth inning. The bullpen door swings open and out steps none other than former Red Sox's closer Jonathan Papelbon, now on to save the game for the Phillies.

    I'm sure Papelbon will have some butterflies as he prepares to take on his old team, his friends. Not Cinco Ocho though. That guy brings an explosive fastball and a splitter, among the rest of his repertoire, to the mound and doesn't care who is standing between he and the catcher.

    Regardless of whether or not Papelbon gets into a game against the Red Sox, it is going to be a fantastic series as the Sox attempt to rebound from the disastrous end to their 2011 season against one of the National League's best teams.

May 24th at Cardinals

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    As much as the Braves want a shot at the Phillies, there should be no doubt in anyone's mind that the Phillies want a shot at the St. Louis Cardinals.

    Despite the fact that the Phillies' early exit from the 2011 NLDS was no one's fault but their own, you still can't help but feel as though it was the Cardinals who stepped on those World Series hopes and dreams.

    They'll be a much different club in 2012. Albert Pujols is gone. Chris Carpenter is on the disabled list. Adam Wainwright will return to the rotation.

    You can bet your bottom dollar that revenge will taste sweet regardless of who's on the field, as long as the Cardinals' insignia is emblazoned across their chest.

    The Phillies and Cardinals will meet for the first time this season late in May, before the Cards come to town in August. More on that in a bit.

June 3rd vs. Marlins

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    Dad doesn't need an excuse to go to a Phillies game. Tickets to a Sunday afternoon game are at the top of any baseball fan's list.

    Because they'll be on the road when the actual date rolls around, the Phillies will celebrate Father's Day on June 3rd this year against the Miami Marlins, where they'll hand out a special cap to all of the fathers in attendance.

    Regardless of the occasion, this is going to be one heck of a game. The always-entertaining Marlins will be in town, led at the helm by new skipper Ozzie Guillen.

    Who knows? Maybe we'll get lucky and be treated to a match-up of Roy Halladay and Josh Johnson, where Phillies fans can hope for a little more Father's Day perfection.

June 4th vs. Dodgers

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    Remember the last time Cliff Lee pitched against the Los Angeles Dodgers? I'm sure the Phillies' left-handed starter does, because on that day he was more like a left-handed slugger, launching one of his two home runs from the 2011 season in LA.

    The Dodgers will make the tip to Philadelphia for a long, four game series during the first full week of June, and given the history between these two clubs, we may see some sparks fly.

    On Monday, June 4th, fans will also receive a Cliff Lee bobblehead figurine. Luckily enough, Lee approved of the bobblehead during a Spring Training game and took it home for his own collection.

June 8th at Orioles

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    It's sad that one of the best rivalries in Phillies' history has quickly fallen by the wayside, devolved into two franchises heading in two completely different directions to the point where they didn't even meet for inter-league play in 2011.

    That's all going to change in 2012, as the Phillies will make the trip to Camden Yards for the first time in what seems like a very long time.

    Though the rivalry between these two clubs, opponents during the 1983 World Series, is all but dead, perhaps the return of the "Cartoon Bird" and a young, energetic roster from the O's can help breathe life into those dormant tensions.

June 12th at Twins

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    Surprisingly enough, the Phillies haven't been to Target Field, home of the Minnesota Twins, since it opened in 2010. That's all about to change in 2012, but the real question remains: What kind of Twins team will they oppose come June?

    Much like the Phillies, injuries to star players like Joe Mauer and Justin Moreneau have crippled the Twins, who missed the postseason last year. Now fully healthy, the goal will be to stay that way.

    Of course, one player who knows Target Field well is Jim Thome, who plays for the Phillies now. Will he be the secret weapon in a more familiar role, the designated hitter? Only time will tell.

June 15th at Blue Jays

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    From Joe Carter's mammoth, walk-off, World Series winning home run in 1993 to watching Roy Halladay tip his cap to the fans following a complete game victory for the Phillies, playing north of the border has drawn a slew of emotions out of the Phillies throughout their history.

    The Phillies will make the trip north yet again in 2012, set to square off with an underdog Toronto Blue Jays team that certainly has the tools to compete in the American League East.

    But let's face it: Any time there is the potential for a match-up pitting Halladay against the Jays, it is much-watch baseball.

June 22nd vs. Rays

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    See that picture on the left?

    The last time the Tampa Bay Rays came to Philadelphia, that happened. Brad Lidge struck out Eric Hiske to give the Phillies their second World Series title in 2008.

    A lot has happened since that final out. The Phillies have appeared in another World Series, but the Rays haven't been back.

    Sure, a lot of guys on that '08 Rays team have moved on, but a lot of them still remain as well. This will be much more than a match-up between two contenders in the middle of the summer. The Rays have some nasty memories to take care of in Philly.

June 24th vs. Rays

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    Closers are cut from a different cloth and Jonathan Papelbon is certainly no exception.

    Perhaps that's why the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), known supporters of Phillies baseball and recognized for their annual t-shirt giveaway, among other things, are recognizing the Phillies' new closer this season by giving away a number 58 Papebon tee on Sunday, June 24th prior to the series finale against the Tampa Bay Rays.

    Of course, Papelbon and the Rays are old foes. The former Boston Red Sox's closer is certainly familiar with the Rays' lineup, but who does that benefit?

June 25th vs. Pirates

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    When the Phillies and the intrastate rival Pittsburgh Pirates meet for a long four game set at the end of June, fireworks are sure to fly above these two teams intent on contending.

    No, seriously. There are going to be fireworks after the game.

    As they do every season, the Phillies will put on a pair of fireworks shows on Monday, June 25th and the following night, Tuesday, June 26th.

    Given the current state of the Pirates, this could be an interesting series. The Buccos are determined to show that they can win a close NL Central and the Phillies will be in a battle for the most talented NL East in years.

    There will be no shortage of fireworks.

June 29th vs. Marlins

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    I'm in Mia-

    No, I won't do that to you.

    The Phillies, however, will be in Miami for a three-game series with the division rival Marlins starting on June 29, and that will certainly be a series to keep an eye on.

    By the end of June, things will certainly start to get interesting in the standings, but things will get interesting on the field as well. The Phillies will make their first trip to the Marlins' new park, getting their first look at that...thing...in center field as well.

    They'll hope to keep it from going off, for all of our sakes.

July 20th vs. Giants

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    This rivalry has been brewing for the last couple of seasons and may just be ready to boil over in 2012. We know that there is the potential for sparks to fly when the Phillies travel to San Francisco to square off with the Giants, but what about when the Giants come east?

    They'll be in town for a three-game, weekend series beginning Friday, July 20th, and the 2010 NLDS was a pretty good indication of how the Phillies feel about Tim Lincecum and his Giants.

    Known to be a hostile crowd more often times than not, this will certainly be a series to keep an eye on.

July 31 at Nationals

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    The Phillies will head back to Nationals Park at the end of July, and it will certainly be interesting to see if the whole "Take Back the Park" initiative has anything left at this point of the season.

    This game in particular, however, will be interesting for another reason. As the teams square off on the field, baseball's general managers will square off in the front office. It's the trade deadline.

    The Phillies have made some big splashes in years past, landing Joe Blanton, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, and Hunter Pence right around each trade deadline, over the last four seasons respectively.

    A big deal may not be in the cards this year. The Phillies have few top prospects in their system left to deal and are pushed right up against the luxury tax.

    However, the team has always said that it will pay to make the right move, and the deadline is always one of the most exciting days during the baseball season.

August 10th vs. Cardinals

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    "Wall of Fame Night" has become a must-attend at Citizens Bank Park in recent seasons. Last year, we watched as the Phillies inducted the quirky, eccentric John Kruk onto the wall, and there are some interesting names up again this season.

    Former Phillies' ace Curt Schilling, who led the club to the World Series in 1993, is eligible. So is fan-favorite catcher Mike Lieberthal. How about Jim Konstanty, who was awarded with the National League MVP Award as a reliever in 1950?

    Whoever is inducted will be well-deserving, but there is a game going on this night as well, and it's a big one.

    The St. Louis Cardinals will return to Philadelphia for the first time since defeating the Phillies in the 2011 NLDS for a three-game series. Will there be bad blood? Probably not, but the Phillies certainly won't lay down and let the Cards walk off their field victorious yet again.

August 21st vs. Reds

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    I must admit, I have a strange fascination over bobblehead figurines. (That's the same reason that the Miami Marlins' new Bobblehead Museum is a thing of greatness.)

    If you'd like to collect a real dandy, the Phillies will be giving out a Hunter Pence bobblehead on August 21st prior to a game against a tough Cincinnati Reds team.

    The Reds may be without new closer Ryan Madson, but they still have plenty of weapons. From the newly acquired Mat Latos, to Aroldis Chapman, to Joey Votto, the Reds are going to be a tough team, and the Phillies will be hosting them as the postseason push gets underway.

September 16th at Astros

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    The Houston Astros have been in a downward spiral for years and things certainly aren't looking up for them in 2012, so you may be wondering to yourself, "Why is this a must-see game?"

    With the new collective bargaining agreement ratified and in effect, the Astros will move to the American League West for the 2013 season. The Phillies and Astros have had some exciting moments, and now, they're moving to the American League.

    Though a series against the Astros in the middle of September probably won't mean much for Houston fans, the Phillies could be right in the middle of a battle for the division. Help them send off the Astros in the only way they know how.

October 3rd at Nationals

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    With the Washington Nationals intent on keeping their young ace on a strict innings limit this season, will the Phillies even get an opportunity to square off with Stephen Strasburg during the final series of the season?

    Regardless, this one is shaping up to be a doozy.

    The Phillies have been at the top of the National League East for the last five seasons. The Nationals have spent those seasons rebuilding their franchise. Now, they're on the brink of challenging the Phillies for the crown.

    Given the whole "Take Back the Park" initiative going on in Washington, could there be a better series to wrap up the season? For one of these teams, it could all end on October 3rd.

    Will either have a hand in keeping the other out?