It's always tough to defend a World Championship.
The pressure is on from day one. The fans expect more. The sports magazines pick your team as the favorite to win it all. The games sell out and everyone holds your team to such high standards that anything less than another title is unacceptable. They know what your team is capable of doing, and they long for another championship.
In short, defending a World Championship is not easy.
Yeah, right. How would I know?
I'm a Philly guy. How would I have a clue what it's like to defend a championship? No Philly team has ever won anything in my lifetime (except for the Philadelphia Soul, but then the entire Arena Football season got canceled). This feeling is all new to me.
And I love it.
People have been getting on the Phillies' case so far this year. They're not playing well, the starting pitching sucks, they overachieved last season, blah blah blah. Everything I hear from my friends, family, co-workers, etc. is about how the Phillies are not playing well thus far in 2009.
Take a deep breath.
The Phillies are 4-3 this year. That's pretty good. Compare that to their 92-70 record last year.
2008 winning percentage: .568
2009 winning percentage: .571
The Phillies this year have won a greater percentage of their games than last year's club.
Sure, the season is just over three percent over, but that's still a pretty good winning percentage. That projects to 92.5 wins for the year, or pretty much the same number of regular-season wins as the 2008 World Champion Phillies had.
There are some obvious flaws with the '09 team so far.
No quality starts from the starting pitchers in seven games is pretty bad. The Phillies have been trailing first in all seven of their games this year. And who can ignore former MVP Jimmy Rollins' anemic batting average or World Series MVP Cole Hamels' mammoth-sized ERA?
But there's a reason this team is above .500.
Talent. Determination. And that never-say-die attitude that led to eight wins in a huge comeback win against Atlanta to avoid an opening series sweep.
There's Chase Utley, who defied all odds, and not only didn't miss a game after his hip surgery, but is hitting at a .400 clip with a .516 on-base percentage. Ryan Howard is hitting .345, close to one hundred points higher than his 2008 average. And Lights Out Lidge is still perfect—although he's been close several times.
This Phillies team is resilient. Tough. Motivated.
And after last postseason, experienced.
The team is 4-3 and they have the ingredients to make another championship run. Utley, Rollins, and Howard would make any team in baseball jealous. Hamels isn't going to give up seven runs in every start this season.
Matt Stairs is the best “if you need a home run” pinch hitter in baseball. And Raul Ibanez is sure making Philly forget about Pat Burrell with his tremendous play (three home runs, six RBI, and a .690 slugging percentage).
This is a team that historically starts off slow in April. So 4-3 really isn't too much to be worried about. It's above .500.
This is a team that peaks in every month leading up to September—and really comes through down the stretch. Not to worry right now.
Keep watching, Philly phaithful, and enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: the chance to defend a World Championship.