In January, fiery shortstop Jimmy Rollins shocked the world by announcing that the Phillies are the team to beat in the NL East. Rollins' comment seemed particularly shocking considering the 97-win Mets of 2006, who had advanced to within a game of the World Series. The Phillies hadn't even played in the postseason since 1993, so who was Rollins to talk?
Rollins backed up his words, though, batting .296 with 30 home runs and 41 stolen bases. He set a major league record with 716 at bats. He led the league with 139 runs and 20 triples. And he became just the fourth player in baseball history to top 20 doubles, triples, home runs, and stolen bases in the same season, adding his 20th triple in the season finale.
Rollins led the Phillies right into the postseason in dramatic fashion, as the Phillies overcame a seven-game deficit in the final 17 games. For his brilliant season, Rollins was rewarded with National League Most Valuable Player honors.
Why is Rollins' prediction rated so high? Because the Phillies were a team used to being just not good enough, and Jimmy put some much needed extra pressure on his teammates by challenging them to play for a division title.
In the turn of the decade, the Phillies seemed to play just to avoid disaster, to finish third or fourth—anything but last. Then for about five or six years, the Phillies played, it seems, to turn in a winning season. But the 2007 team entered spring training with a goal in mind, and that was actually making the postseason for the first time since 1993.
I don't think the Phillies would have won the division in 2007 if Rollins hadn't made his prediction. And lacking postseason experience may have prevented them from winning the World Series in 2008.