World Series or bust.
That has been the mantra the Phillies have lived by since their 2008 championship run. Three years in a row, however, the team has failed to bring the trophy back to Philadelphia. And this mantra has never seemed more formidable than it does right now.
As the team kicks off its 2012 season in Pittsburgh today, sports pundits and baseball fans alike have seemingly pushed the Fightin’s off to the wayside—instead viewing the rejuvenated Miami Marlins and the up-and-coming Washington Nationals as the new powerhouses of the NL East.
Both teams are, undeniably, improving.
Miami made waves this offseason when they signed shortstop Jose Reyes, lefthander Mark Buehrle, closer Heath Bell and righthander Carlos Zambrano. And then there is Ozzie Guillen, who joins the team after an eight-year stint with the Chicago White Sox. Reyes, Zambrano and Guillen—three of the biggest hotheads in the game, all in the same clubhouse—what could go wrong there?
The Nats will see the return of Stephen Strasburg, who after 20 months of rehabilitation from Tommy John’s surgery will start on Opening Day. All Star Ryan Zimmerman is back, along with newcomers Brad Lidge, Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson. Oh, and let’s not forget Jayson Werth, who brings his ridiculously inflated $126 million, seven-year contract back for another season.
Meanwhile, the Phillies have remained relatively quiet this winter, replacing closer Ryan Madson with Jonathon Papelbon, and have bolstered their bench with the addition of slugger Jim Thome. But with both Ryan Howard and Chase Utley out for the foreseeable future, the Phillies' lineup looks more shallow, old and incomplete as it has in years.
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The Opening Day lineup will consist of: Victorino (8), Polanco (5), Rollins (6), Pence (9), Wigginton (3), Mayberry (7), Ruiz (2), Galvis (4), Halladay (1).
Based off of this, it looks like Charlie is shuffling up the batting order in response to the injury plague. Hunter Pence, who is in his first full season as a Phillie, is perhaps the most important piece to the order until Howard makes his return. With no other proven real power threats in the lineup, Pence is going to be carrying this lineup through the early part of this season. Rollins, who has struggled in every role outside of leadoff, will also need to respond to his new role.
Are things as bad as everyone is saying they are? No, absolutely not. Until the Phillies lose their NL East crown to somebody else, they are the favorites. And with the addition of an extra wild-card team to each league, their odds of reaching postseason play are even more likely.
A wild-card berth is not the worst thing in the world either—proven last year as the Cardinals humiliated Philadelphia in a Game 5 showdown in front of the Philly faithful.
That said, whether Wigginton and Thome can fill the void at first base remains to be seen. The same goes for Mayberry in left and Galvis at second. Certainly the losses of Howard and Utley will be felt, especially early on.
But the Phillies do not need another 100-win season. Nor do they need another NL East title. They don’t need to have the best starting staff in the majors (although they still do), and they don’t need to have the long-ball styled lineup they had in 2008. They need to win in October. They need to win the World Series.
Published originally on Phan Blog