The 2013 Major League Baseball season is going to be unlike any you've ever seen before.
Sounds dramatic, but with the Houston Astros setting off on their voyage of the American League West, that's a fact. With each league now housing a balanced number of teams, this season really will be unlike any of its predecessors, playing host to more interleague play than in years past.
For the Philadelphia Phillies and their fans, however, that statement rings particularly true. Not only will they face more American League teams, highlighted by at least one bout against every team in the American League Central, but they'll face other challenges closer to home.
The National League East is only getting better. The Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves are two of the best teams in the National League. The Miami Marlins and New York Mets will have some young talent.
The Phillies enter the 2013 season as a relative unknown. With an aging roster sprinkled with a few younger players, this could be a club that contends for a World Series, but it could also very well be a club "in transition."
But regardless of what happens, we're looking forward to another season of baseball. Here are 25 of the best series the Phillies will play this upcoming season.
Nick Swisher will be playing in Citizens Bank Park this season, but it won't be as a member of the Phillies' outfield.
Swisher will visit Philadelphia as part of the Phillies' American League Central reunion tour, when Swisher's Cleveland Indians are in town for a short, two-game set in mid-May.
The Phillies and Indians have not squared off since 2010, when the Phillies swept a three-game series in Philadelphia.
The Indians, who turned over their roster a bit by trading Shin-Soo Choo to the Cincinnati Reds and adding players like Swisher and former Phillies' starter Brett Myers, will be looking to prove that they can keep ground with the big dogs of the AL Central.
One of the biggest moves of the Phillies' offseason involved sending fan-favorite Vance Worley to the Minnesota Twins as part of a package for center fielder Ben Revere, a deal that is likely to work out well for both clubs.
The Phillies will make what is quickly becoming an annual trip to Target Field in Minnesota later this year, when the club may be opposed by the "Vanimal" and a new-look Twins rotation.
While the outlook on the Twins is not very good for the upcoming season, they added quite a few starting pitchers with upside this winter, including Worley and former top Phillies prospect Trevor May.
This one will be worth marking on the calendar for the nostalgia factor alone.
One of the great things about the Houston Astros moving to the American League is that the Phillies will meet some unfamiliar foes this season, and I say that knowing full well that there are some people out there vehemently opposed to more interleague play.
But, whether we like it or not, it's happening, and the Phillies will have the opportunity to play against each team from the American League Central this season—a division that they have not seen with any regularity since 2007.
While they have seen the Cleveland Indians more recently (2010), the Tribe will be the first club to welcome the Phillies to the American League this season, where they'll need a designated hitter for the first time.
When the Milwaukee Brewers let Price Fielder walk away and sign with the Detroit Tigers last offseason, some wondered whether or not they would be able to replace his production and how they would be able to do it.
The long and short of it is that any team with Ryan Braun on its roster is going to have a solid offense. Then the Brewers made one of the better value signings, at least for last offseason, and added Aramis Ramirez, who was arguably more valuable than Fielder.
The Phillies will play a four-game set with the Brew Crew in the first week of June, when they'll have to formulate a game plan designed to stop a dynamic offense. If this pitching rotation can keep the Brewers in games, they'll contend for the AL Central crown.
This rivalry has died down over the last few seasons with the New York Mets heading in the wrong direction in the standings, maligned with everything from injuries to unfortunate financial mishaps.
With that being said, a few sparks seem to fly whenever the Phillies and Mets meet on the field. The Mets may not contend this season but they're not all that far away from putting an exciting product on the field.
Trading R.A. Dickey this offseason was a blow for the fan base, but with exciting prospects like Zack Wheeler and Travis D'arnaud on the horizon, it may not be too soon for the Mets to start shaking the Phillies' tree again this season.
This particular series against the Mets will be an important one for the Phillies. It is the first three games of a nine-game road trip to open the second half of the campaign, following the All-Star break.
One of baseball's most exciting teams from the second half of last season wound up being the San Diego Padres, led by a surprise MVP candidate in third baseman Chase Headley. The Padres' influx of young talent and dynamic offensive players has them lined up to be a surprise contender if the pieces fall into place in 2013.
The Phillies will get their first shot at the new-look PETCO Park (the Padres are moving the fences in) near the end of June, when they visit San Diego to kick off a long, 10-game road trip that also includes the payroll-Goliath Los Angeles Dodgers and ever-improving Pittsburgh Pirates.
This is the kind of road trip that leaves an older team exhausted. It will be important for the Phillies to win this first series against the up-and-coming Padres.
Can the Chicago White Sox topple the Detroit Tigers in the American League Central?
The Phillies will have some small say in determining the outcome of that race, when the White Sox make their first visit to Citizens Bank Park since the 2007 season when they were swept out of town.
The White Sox will be an interesting team to keep an eye on in 2013. They have a solid pitching staff that includes former Phillies' top prospect Gavin Floyd, as well as a number of young players attempting to build off of solid seasons, including Cy Young contender Chris Sale.
In the long run, this may not be the most important series on the docket but it is an interesting one.
The Phillies and Detroit Tigers are familiar foes in the Grapefruit League.
They'll be squaring off during the regular season for the first time since 2007 this year, when the Phillies will travel to Comerica Park to take on the defending American League champions.
The Tigers dropped the World Series to the San Francisco Giants last season, but this club is not any worse for wear. In fact, they may be getting even better.
With Justin Verlander at the helm of one of baseball's best starting rotations, the Phillies will also have to contend with an offense that includes Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, Victor Martinez and Torii Hunter.
This is a club that can put up a few runs in a hurry.
The Phillies will take their first road trip out west in the second week of May, when they'll pay a visit to Hunter Pence and the World Champion San Francisco Giants at AT&T Stadium.
The Giants, who are coming off of their second World Series title in just three seasons, are a familiar foe of the Phillies. These two clubs have had some heated battles in recent seasons and there is no doubt that the Phillies will be looking to rekindle those flames.
While the Pence storyline will undoubtedly be a big one, look for pitching matchups to reign supreme in this series. The last time Cliff Lee pitched in San Francisco, he hurled a 10-inning gem that wound up being a loss.
With the Houston Astros moving to the American League, the schedule became much more interesting in 2013. One of the more fascinating series throughout baseball is the "home and home," where teams will play what is essentially one series in two ballparks.
The Phillies will play their "home and home" against Shane Victorino and the Boston Red Sox, beginning at Fenway Park on May 27. The clubs will play a pair of games in Boston, a venue that has not been particularly kind to the Phillies in recent memory.
The Boston Red Sox make the short journey to Philadelphia to finish off the final two games of their "home and home" series against the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.
For Phillies fans, this will be a pair of games to keep an eye on. First and foremost, these are two clubs following remarkably similar paths over the last few seasons. It will be interesting to see what they're capable of in 2013.
This will also be the return of Shane Victorino, who is making his first trip back to Philadelphia since being traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers last season.
All in all, this is essentially a pivotal four-game series against the Red Sox wrapping up the month of May.
Following a long road trip to open the second half of the season, the Phillies will return home on July 30 to square off with the San Francisco Giants in a three-game set.
These clubs have become small-time rivals over the last few seasons, and it will be interesting to see if there are sparks to reignite the flame should both of these teams be contenders late in July. On the same token, they'll play through the trade deadline, which is always interesting.
The Phillies dropped the season series to the Giants, four games to two, in 2012.
The last couple of weeks during the regular season are going to be tough on the Phillies as they play on the road in Miami and Atlanta. Before that six-game road swing to end the season, however, the Phillies will play at home for the final time against the New York Mets.
Listen, the Mets aren't going to contend this season. They're in a small rebuilding mode and don't have the pieces to make a run. But this isn't a club that's going to go down quietly at the end of the year.
The Mets have a few interesting players that should be up in September, and if they're in a position to spoil a season for the Phillies, they're going to do everything within their power to make it happen.
If the Phillies are going to contend for the postseason this year, let alone the National League East, nearly every series on the calendar between themselves and division rivals are going to be of the highest importance.
The Atlanta Braves will return to Citizens Bank Park on July 5 for a three-game set with the Phillies, as each club begins the run towards the All-Star break.
For the Phillies, this will be a big series. It's the start of a 10-game homestand that also features four games against the Washington Nationals and three against the Chicago White Sox—including the Braves, three clubs that finished better than .500 in 2012.
With the way this Phillies' club is constructed, a strong first half is going to be important any way you slice it.
The Los Angeles Dodgers aren't going to be afraid to throw their monetary weight around. Before the Phillies resigned Cole Hamels to a long-term deal, the Dodgers were arguably their greatest threat in free agency.
With Hamels unavailable, the Dodgers let out a bold, "Meh," and signed Zack Greinke to a huge deal of his own.
In less than a year's time, the Dodgers have added high-profile names like Greinke, Carl Crawford, Hanley Ramirez, Josh Beckett, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Brandon League, to join a roster that already featured names like Clayton Kershaw, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier.
This is going to be a fun team to watch, and they'll be making their only regular season trip to Citizens Bank Park for a three-game set beginning on August 16.
"Unfinished business" is going to be a popular term tossed around among Phillies veterans this season. When the 2012 season ended, there was a general feeling of animosity that the Washington Nationals had something this club wants—the NL East crown.
The first series of September will pit the Phillies against those Nationals in the Nats' final visit to Citizens Bank Park of 2013, and if they're close in the standings, this one will be a doozy.
This is also the first three games of what will be a nine-game homestand for the Phillies, also featuring the Atlanta Braves and San Diego Padres. If the Friars can prove that their second half success from '12 was legitimate, this Nationals series could kick off one of the best homestands of the season.
If the Phillies want to make the postseason this year, they're going to have to post a winning record in the month of September. Seven of the eight series that the Phillies play this month will take place against members of the National League East.
Smack-dab in the middle of the first homestand of September, the Phillies will square off against the Atlanta Braves, who will very likely be cruising near the top of the division.
This will be the Braves' last regular season visit to Citizens Bank Park of 2013, and the Phillies will want to make this one count.
The Phillies will square off with every team in the American League Central this season, including one of the more intriguing matchups on the slate: A rematch of the 1980 World Series between the Phillies and the Kansas City Royals.
The Phillies and Royals are not familiar enemies. The last time these two clubs squared off in the regular season was during the 2007 campaign, when the Phillies dropped two of three to Zack Greinke and the Royals.
Now, the Phillies will get a crack at the new-look Royals very early in the season when they open their home slate from April 5-7.
While the Phillies will likely miss new ace James Shields, this is not a club to let your guard down against. This isn't your big brother's Royals. This is a club with a lot of young talent that could surprise a few people in 2013. They'll be fun to watch.
The Phillies will play the Washington Nationals just once in the month of August, but it will be a big series. If the Phillies are still in contention, every series against the Nationals approaching the end of the season will only build in importance.
This one is a three-game set that will send the Phillies to Washington, D.C. to square off with the Nats, who are suddenly a relatively easy choice as the preseason best team in the National League.
The Phillies will have to prove that they can keep pace with the much young Nationals in the second half if they have any dream of winning the World Series in 2013.
The final two months of the season are going to be an uphill battle for this aging Phillies club as they'll face more than their fair share of contenders, including this three-game road set against the rival Atlanta Braves.
At this point in the season, the differences between these two clubs should become apparent. The Braves feature a much younger roster with an offense built around what is easily the most athletic outfield in baseball, including Jayson Heyward and the brothers Upton.
The Phillies will have to rely on their experience at this point, especially if they're still contenders. Charlie Manuel needs to schedule days off for his aging stars, if they have any shot at a World Series title.
There is a whole lot more to the season than this, but there are two things that the Phillies absolutely have to do if they want to contend this year: get off to a good start in the first half of the season and contain the Washington Nationals.
Easier said than done.
But this is a veteran team that may not have the steam (or balance of young talent) to make a comeback in the second half of the season, if need be. They'll need to get off on the right foot and keep the momentum moving forward.
One of the biggest "momentum series" of the season may be this four-game set against the Nationals. Part of a 10-game homestand, the Phillies have the opportunity to leave themselves in a good position heading into the All-Star break by winning series against the Atlanta Braves, Nationals and Chicago White Sox.
One of the more fascinating parts of the Phillies' schedule is that they'll face both the Kansas City Royals and Cleveland Indians before they square off with the rival Washington Nationals in late May.
The Nationals, who still have their fair share of doubters following an early exit from the postseason, will look to build on their winning ways and simultaneously drive the Phillies back into a rebuilding position.
The Phillies, on the other hand, will look to prove that 2012 was a fluke. If any rival could take the next step in 2013, this would be my bet. The Phillies and Nationals are two teams with a growing displeasure for one another.
They'll meet for the first time in '13 during this series.
Are the Washington Nationals the best team in baseball?
That's the kind of question that people attempt to answer early in the season but can only fully be answered in hindsight. The Phillies will have more than a few chances to upend their new rival this season, perhaps none more important than this series in September—the last time these two clubs will meet in the regular season.
If the Phillies are healthy, they should be able to keep it interesting. What an incredible series this would be if these two clubs were close in the standings, and the stars aligned to pit Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels against Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmerman.
The Nationals also have a dynamic offense that will be exciting to watch, fan of the club or not.
The Phillies' season will come full circle during the last series of the campaign when they return to Turner Field to square off with the Atlanta Braves, this time in a four-game series.
The implications here are obvious. If the Phillies are in contention in the final week of the season, this could be a huge series. They'll play four games against a division rival on the road.
If it came down to it, would they be able to win a four-game series against this pitching staff and one of the most athletic outfields to ever grace the sport of baseball? Hold on to your hats. This is going to be a fun ride.
The Phillies won't have to wait long to meet their first rival of the 2013 season, as they're set to open the campaign with a three-game set on the road against the Atlanta Braves.
Chipper Jones won't be around to terrorize the Phillies any longer, but this is an improved team. With a young nucleus already in place, the Braves made two of the biggest splashes of the offseason, signing B.J. Upton as a free agent and acquiring his brother, Justin Upton, in a trade later in the winter.
Getting off to a good start is going to be essential for the Phillies this season, and there isn't much more of a challenge than opening the year on the road at Turner Field. Expect the Phillies to likely throw all three of their aces at the Braves.