"The 0-2 pitch, swing and a miss! Struck him out! The Philadelphia Phillies are 2008 World Champions of baseball! And let the city celebrate!” It was seven months ago that the legendary Harry Kalas made the proclamation that marked the beginning of exuberant celebrations in the City of Brotherly Love.
There was a massive parade down Broad Street. There were speeches, including the bestowing of the infamous title, “World F---ing Champions,” upon the team from their second baseman. Then there were TV shows, banquets, appearances, and filming of commercials.
Oh, and there was a little ring ceremony.
Now the team is in the midst of their reign as World Champions. As the current kings, the team will either burn under the heat or bask in the inherited spotlight coming from the magnifying glasses that hover over their every move. Many look at the Phillies and wonder if the perpetual underdogs will repeat or if last year was a fluke.
The Phillies are the real thing.
While the team has their fair share of problems—ahem, starting pitching, ahem—they compensate with other factors. 22 of the 25 players that were on the team’s 2008 post-season roster have returned, keeping the core of the championship team intact.
Last year, the team had stretches when they struggled with their feast-or-famine offense and this year is no different. The last two games are a perfect examples—May 5th, the team piled on the hits in their 10-7 victory over St. Louis, but on May 6th the team couldn’t put up a run against the New York Mets, leaving seven on base.
Philadelphia is not alone with this problem, but their resiliency early in 2009 sets them apart from other teams.
In their first eight wins, the Phillies came from behind in each one. Philadelphia is the only National League team in history to start the season in that fashion, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
While the offense may stumble, it is potent enough to carry the team and make up for the unpredictable starting pitching.
Currently, the reigning World Champions’ pitching staff owns the worst ERA in the National league with a .583 ERA. Phillies’ ace Cole Hamels admitted he wasn’t prepared for the season and now has a 7.27 ERA. The rest of the starting rotation, with the exception of ol’ faithful Jamie Moyer, have not been up to par. Surprisingly, Brett Myers leads the group with a 5.35 ERA.
Brad Lidge is no longer perfect, but no one expected him to save every game for the rest of his career. Blowing a save may have been a good thing, as it takes the focus away from which game will bring that “L” next to his name. The bullpen will remain stable, especially with the Ryan Madson-Lidge combination. Jack Taschner may be this year’s questionable reliever, based on his performance with the San Francisco Giants.
This year’s Phillies still possess the menacing offense that opposing teams fear (even through their slumps) and have added another weapon to their arsenal.
Offseason acquisition Raul Ibanez wasted no time in proving that he is worthy of the Phillies’ pinstripes. In the first 25 games, Ibanez has the sixth highest batting average (.347) in the NL. Second baseman Chase Utley joins him in the top ten, tied for seventh was a .333 batting average.
On the opposite end, shortstop Jimmy Rollins had an uncharacteristically slow start, hitting an abysmal .207 in March and April. Luckily, the former MVP has been warming up and his batting average has been steadily climbing away from the Mendoza line.
Philadelphia has been known as one of those teams that are routinely slow starters. While the old cliché says, “You can’t win a championship in April,” the month does serve as a preview of what’s to come.
Sitting atop the NL East after 25 games, the Phils are experienced and hold a clear understanding of what makes them a winning team. While the offense is their biggest threat, it’s the team’s tenacity and championship swagger that gives them the extra push to remain the National League’s best team.
One member of the Phillies family that will be sorely missed is long-time Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas. After his death, the team seemed to lack the lightheartedness that was normally seen in the dugout and on the field. The team once again displays their fun-loving nature, but the adoration and respect they hold for Kalas is seen every day through the "HK" patch worn over their hearts.