Can Phillies do it again?

Posted: April 03, 2012

DURING THIS most golden era of Phillies baseball, the winning has come smooth and easy. Great pitchers go out and do their job and the bash brothers do theirs.

It's all been great fun, watching the Phillies take over and own the town. Go to the Shore for the weekend, you're surrounded by fans wearing Phillies apparel. Happened all summer, and for several summers. And most weekends, they won two of three games.

But there is an uneasiness over the team this year. You can almost feel it and no one likes it. Freddy Galvis is your Opening Day second baseman, not Chase Utley. Ryan Howard? Who knows when we'll see him.

It is one very long season. You win a lot, you lose a lot. There will be losing streaks. The trick is to contain the losing streaks with minimal damage. With superior pitching, that usually happens.

With that, here are five reasons to be optimistic and five reasons to be pessimistic this season:

5 REASONS THEY WILL WIN

1. The Big Three: Every fifth day, Charlie Manuel gets to send either Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee or Cole Hamels to the mound. No manager in baseball has the luxury of employing three No. 1 starters. They will win 50 games - more than halfway to a division title - and they will keep the Phillies close in most of their other starts.

2. The other starters: Can Vance Worley duplicate last season's 11-3 record with a 3.01 earned run average? If he does, the division race is over. The Phillies also have Joe Blanton and Kyle Kendrick. Blanton was injured most of last season, going 1-2 and making eight starts. When healthy, he can be an effective starter. Ditto for Kendrick. If either Blanton or Kendrick are strong, the division race is over.

3. Hunter Pence: When he was acquired last year, he was a solid righthanded bat to complement Utley and Howard. Now, a monster season is almost mandatory. He seems ready to deliver.

4. Big year from somebody (anybody): With Howard and Utley not playing, the Phillies need serious bat help. Calling John Mayberry Jr., Shane Victorino, Jimmy Rollins, Placido Polanco, Carolos Ruiz, Jim Thome.

5. Jimmy Rollins: With a freshly signed contract to go along with his elite status at shortstop, Rollins likely will be a Phillie for life. He is a lifetime .272 hitter who averages about 15 home runs a year. If he delivers more, make plans for October.

5 REASONS THEY WILL LOSE

As hard as it is to believe, the Phillies actually might not win the NL East. Bad luck can happen any day, 60-plus losses await and maybe another NL East team is just better.

1. Small ball: It's the catchphrase of the spring. The switch has been turned on and, alas, the slugging Phillies are going to play small ball. It sounds fine. The execution is a bit more dicey. You're asking players used to swinging for the fences to advance runners, bunt, hit behind runners. Hmmmm. Good luck.

2. An injury in the rotation: This is the scenario that most haunts Phillies fans. Should one of the Big Three go down for any extended time, down go the Phillies.

3. Howard and Utley: If the lineup's power players are sitting glumly in the dugout each night from 7:05 to 9:45 past June 1, this division will go down to the final week.

4. The bullpen: Jonathan Papelbon is your new closer. It is a benefit to not know NL batters? We'll see. The rest of the 'pen is muddled with injuries and a lack of lefties. This just smells like trouble.

5. It's over: This is less of a baseball calculation than a human reaction. The Phillies have won the NL East five consecutive times. They won't win forever. Each year since winning the World Series in 2008, they have come up one step shorter. The next step would be not winning the division. It isn't what you want to hear, but it's the music the band plays at the end of the night.


Contact Chuck Bausman at bausmac@phillynews.com

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