Sunday, March 30, 2008

Baseball season already? Time to get our Phil(s)

By Jeff Glauser
The Phanatic Magazine

Where did the time go?

Just six months ago, fresh off a disappointing cameo in the postseason, Philadelphia fans quickly looked up and shivered a bit at the local sporting prospects they faced between then and the time that pitchers and catchers reported.

It didn’t look pretty.

On one hand, they had a hockey team coming off the worst season in its franchise history.

On the other hand, they had a maddening football team that, only a month into the season, already showed signs of being just good enough to be competitive and just mediocre enough to remain home in January.

On the third hand (yeah, I know - just work with me here), they had a basketball team that… wait, they still had a basketball team?

Anyhow, as we know, the winter wasn’t so cruel to us, after all. The latter two teams have made surprise showings to give us hope for the future and the former team… well, they are the Gold Standard, right?

But what was once a forgone conclusion that a large bulk of the sports conversation in the Delaware Valley between October and April would pertain to the Phils, the defending division champs have largely flown under the radar. Yes, the one team that has actually proven itself in the recent past was basically forgotten about!

Last year, The Phanatic provided you “35 Reasons to Believe,” and included names like Randall Simon(!) as one of them. Yes, the Tonya Harding/Jeff Gillooly of wiener races made the cut.

This year? Nada. A vast emptiness of baseball chatter.

Does that mean that we simply expect great things this year, and it’s not necessary for a build-up?

Or, maybe, is there an uncomfortable feeling inside of us that we care not to talk about, like a kind of jinx which may transform our fears into reality?

The perennial skeptic that I am, I responded last year’s reasons to believe with reasons to “be-leery.” Regardless of how many of my reasons came to fruition (and many, in fact, did), the Phillies somehow still made it to October, so yes, I know where I could stick those reasons of mine.

This year, I’ll just call them simply “concerns.” Not predictions. Not damnations. Just “concerns.”

For example:

- Our No. 1 starter has never pitched a full year in health. Our No. 2 was a reliever last season and was not as good a starter as many of us recall. Our No. 3 is old enough to have fathered our No. 1 and 2 starters. Our No. 4 hasn’t pitched a full season yet and every time I think of our No. 5, I vomit a little bit in my mouth.

- Uncle Charlie STILL fills out the cards! Does that not scare you a little bit?

- The Mets got Santana this offseason. The Braves quietly got a lot better, as well. Did the Phillies improve as much as they did?

Again, just “concerns.” But sometimes concerns can become truths – a la the 2007 Phillies – and it still doesn’t matter. Perhaps that’s what we’ll see this year in order to repeat the excitement once more.

And now for my picks. I was hoping to put them off until Kenny Lofton got signed (since whatever team he’s been on over the past seven seasons – excluding his stint with the Phils – has made the playoffs), but, to no avail, as he remains unsigned.

NL Division Winners: Mets, Cubs, Dodgers
NL Wild Card: Braves

AL Division Winners: Red Sox, Tigers, Mariners
NL Wild Card: Yankees

World Series: Dodgers over Tigers (The Tigers have a sick batting lineup. The Dodgers are simply solid across the board. In the end, a shutdown bullpen, a resurgence by Andruw Jones and the steady leadership of Joe Torre prevails.)

I would love nothing more than to be proven wrong. Especially from the National League side. But, you know, I have these concerns…

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