There are basically three reasons for our fans' pessimistic attitude. The first is the notion that we are too old to contend. Wrong. The team the Phillies will field this year will have five of its eight regulars over age 34 (Carlos Ruiz, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Marlon Byrd and Jimmy Rollins) and four pitchers over 30 (Cliff Lee, A.J. Burnett, Roberto Hernandez and Mike Adams). Too old? Consider the pennant-winning 1993 Phillies. They too had five starters in their 30s (Daren Daulton, John Kruk, Milt Thompson, Lenny Dykstra and Jim Eisenreich). They had two starting pitchers over 30 (Danny Jackson and Terry Mulholland) and three bullpen contributors 30 and over (Roger Mason, Mark Davis and Larry Andersen). So, all in all, the 2014 Phils are similar in age to the 1993 pennant winners.
The second reason for doom and gloom is that we were so bad last year that there is no way we can turn it around enough to make the playoffs. Wrong again. The '93 Phils won the pennant with a 97-65 record only 1 year after finishing in last place in the NL East with a record of 70-92. Other notable "worst to first" championship teams are the Red Sox in 2013 (69-93 in 2012) and the Twins in 1991 (74-88 in 1990). It's also important to note that last year's terrible 73-89 record was produced, in great part, by injuries rather than a lack of talent. Consider that Ben Revere broke his foot on Saturday, July 13, going into the All-Star break. At the break, the Phillies were only 6 1/2 games out. Revere was batting .305 before his injury and had come alive after a woeful start to spark the team. If he stayed healthy, would the Phillies have caught the Braves? Not likely, but it's not far-fetched to say they could have made it into the wild-card game. Let's not forget about Howard, who played very little in the 2013 season.
The third reason for the doubters is the most ludicrous of all - the fact that the Phillies are off to the worst start of any MLB team in spring training (1-8). History shows spring-training records have very little to do with how a team will do during the regular season. There are numerous examples of teams with great spring training records that went on to have terrible years: the 2011 Kansas City Royals (20-11/71-91); the 2006 Marlins (19-9/78-84); and the best example, the 2002 Orioles (20-9/67-95). Conversely, there also are plenty of examples of teams who did terrible in spring training and went on to make the playoffs: the 2011 Diamondbacks (12-25), the 2010 Rangers (10-19), the 2009 Dodgers (15-22), and the Phillies during the height of their success in 2007 (11-18), 2008 (12-18) and 2009 (13-19).
So, all of this pessimism simply doesn't add up. I believe the Phillies can make the playoffs this year and do some damage, but for that to happen a lot of different things must fall into place:
1. Our five key players (Howard, Utley, Rollins, Lee and Hamels) must stay injury-free. Right now, I don't like what I'm hearing about Hamels.
2. Chooch, now that he has been granted an exemption to use Adderall, the substance that resulted in his suspension last year, reverts to the 2012 Chooch who was a legitimate power hitter.
3. Marlon Byrd plays like the 2013 outfielder he was and achieves numbers near .291, 24 homers and 88 RBI.
4. Domonic Brown repeats his 2013 performance.
5. Ben Revere stays healthy and hits .300 again, steals bases and robs extra-base hits in centerfield.
6. Cody Asche turns into a dependable third baseman who can hold his own at the plate.
7. We get two dependable fourth and fifth starters out of Kyle Kendrick, Jonathan Pettibone, Hernandez or Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez.
8. Bobby Abreu plays like Matt Stairs as our pinch-hitter designated hitter.
9. Our three bullpen setup men (Adams, Jake Diekman and Antonio Bastardo) prove to be reliable and efficient.
10. Closer Jonathan Papelbon shuts up and pitches like the old Papelbon.
Now I realize that's a lot of things that must happen for us to reach the postseason. But if it were March of '93, I bet the list of things that had to go right for that version of the Phillies was even longer, so cheer up! That ant can move that rubber tree plant.