Mike Missanelli: Fear not the dire predictions, Phillies fans

? One prognosticator has Charlie Manuel's Phillies failing to make the playoffs this season, even with the extra wild-card spot. DAVID M WARREN / Staff Photographer
? One prognosticator has Charlie Manuel's Phillies failing to make the playoffs this season, even with the extra wild-card spot. DAVID M WARREN / Staff Photographer (Say what?)
Posted: April 01, 2012

In America, we are nothing if not a nation that keeps up with the trends. So here's what's trending now.

Mega Millions reached an all-time high as folks continued to pour money into a black hole to chase their fortune. Rick Santorum is so desperate for his own political party's acceptance that he's exhuming the memory of the Babe Ruth of Republicans, Ronald Reagan. And Kim Kardashian is, well, still being Kim Kardashian.

But the trend of all trends this spring has been to talk down the Phillies.

Yes, with opening day for the Phils in Pittsburgh on Thursday, sports pundits from all over the world are tripping over themselves with bleak predictions for a franchise that has been baseball's gold standard over the last several years. They say the Phils have lost their championship aura and are fading back toward the pack of the regular National League teams.

The most serious blow was struck last week by Jim Bowden, a former major-league general manager now blogging for ESPN's website. Bowden said that the Phillies won't even make the playoffs this year and that both the Miami Marlins and the Washington Nationals have surpassed them in division-contender status.

Now, either Bowden is screaming for attention, or Ruben Amaro Jr. didn't return a phone call of his somewhere along the line.

To say the Phils won't make the playoffs in 2012 is saying that at least five teams will finish better than them this season. OK, let's play along. The Marlins, the Reds, and the Giants win their divisions. This year, there are two wild-card teams. So Bowden is saying that the Nationals (and oh, by the way, he used to be the GM in Washington and picked a lot of their players) and, say, the Arizona Diamondbacks will be better than the Phillies?

Gee, when did the Phils turn into the New York Mets?

Certainly, the Phillies are not a team without flaws. Who knows when Ryan Howard will come back this season, and when he does return, will his Achilles tendon be strong enough for him to be the same run producer? Who knows if Chase Utley will come back at all. Manager Charlie Manuel is going to have to spackle together a lineup for maybe the first two months of the season.

But show me a team in the National League that can trot out Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels three days out of every five and maybe you'll get my attention. The San Francisco Giants are the trendy pick to get to the World Series this year - and their starting pitching, from top to bottom, isn't as good as the Phillies' and their offense is even worse.

OK, the Marlins have blossoming young players and they added Jose Reyes. The Nationals have a healthy Stephen Strasburg. And the Diamondbacks have Paul Goldschmidt. (Did I just write that?)

But making the Phillies into Oliver Twist is just downright disrespectful.

Laugh off these doomsayers, Phillies fans. Most of you know that I am not a homer. But if the Phils don't make the playoffs and finish behind both the Marlins and the Nationals, I volunteer to run in the president's race at Nationals Park wearing a Rick Santorum head. The following is a further analysis of the Phillies' season:

Things that are likely to go right:

 1. Jimmy Rollins. This has been a quiet spring for the Phillies shortstop. Very few people talk about Rollins as a major factor anymore, but I think he's poised for a great year. He's happy, he has a new contract, and I think he relishes this role of being under the radar. Rollins' only problem this year might be finding harmony with a varying second-base partner.

2. Hunter Pence. Remember, the Phils will be playing an entire season with their spunky rightfielder. Vegas has just set the over-under number for Pence home runs this year at 23.5, no doubt because Manuel, at least in the early days, won't be able to provide him with much lineup protection. But I'll take the over on those home runs. In fact, in Sports Illustrated's baseball issue, an enemy scout predicted 35 bombs this year for Pence.

3. Cole Hamels. I don't see Amaro settling on a long-term contract for Hamels any time soon. (Contrary to reports, contract talks are not heating up between the parties. In fact, my information is that Hamels' agent, John Boggs, hasn't even heard from the Phils GM since Boggs visited Clearwater in early March.) Which means his fire is going to rage this season.

Things that could go wrong:

 1. Freddy Galvis. I'm just not seeing it. The Phillies can't live with Galvis at second base if he hits .220, which is what I fear, despite some nice spring training numbers. We're talking about a kid who was a weak offensive player in the minor leagues. Up here, the breaking balls are a little tighter.

2. Ty Wigginton.I watch Wigginton and I see Wes Helms. The Phillies are going to have to get at least 100 games out of Wigginton, filling in at first base, third base, and maybe second base. But he had a miserable spring and his bat looks pretty slow to me.

3. The bullpen. Antonio Bastardo's velocity is down. Michael Stutes has a sore shoulder. And I worry how much the Phillies are really going to get from Jose Contreras. No faith in the bullpen means that Halladay, Lee, and Hamels are going to be stretched to the limit.

Parting shot

Last week, Donovan McNabb auditioned to be a television commentator in case no NFL team will offer him a job as a backup.

In an appearance on ESPN's First Take, McNabb blistered Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan with statistics showing that Shanahan messes up more quarterbacks than he helps. So McNabb voiced fears for Robert Griffin III, the Skins' likely first-round pick.

I wish McNabb could see that activity such as that is why he was never universally accepted by the Philadelphia fan base. See, it's never his fault.


M


ike Missanelli hosts a show from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 97.5-FM The Fanatic. Contact him at mikemiss@975thefanatic.com.

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