That’s all a Phillies fan could dream for this year. A painstaking 13 years away from the postseason has left Phillies fans with a parched and empty throat for anything, forget about a championship.
As the temperatures turn and the familiar sounds of spring return, the Phillies are playing ball in Clearwater, Fla., preparing for a season of high expectations.
Two years ago, the club made the decision to take the team in a different direction, firing fan-hated general manager Ed Wade and hiring Pat Gillick.
The move injected a lost sense of hope into the exiled souls of many Phillies fans. Gillick, a proven winner, immediately went to work building a postseason contender.
Now in his second year with the Phils, Gillick is working at piecing together the final pieces of the puzzle started years ago. His lineup is scary and his starting pitchers are rated among the best, although his bullpen could be better.
The weaknesses however, are as evident as Britney Spears’ escapades. Most fans – scratch that – pretty much all fans, would agree that Charlie Manuel could very well take a championship-caliber team and finish last in the division.
His abilities to manage and hold intelligent press conferences have been scrutinized for a long time now. So long as the Phillies can keep the wins column high, Manuel will be able to hide from the attention and avoid assassination plots.
The other major weaknesses are a bullpen that, to the surprise of many fans, allowed the third lowest ERA in the majors last year (3.79).
Left fielder Pat Burrell could very well be the other recipient of all the criticism this season, next to Manuel.
If Burrell continues to swing and miss, he will be harming the team’s golden boy, Ryan Howard. Last season, Howard dropped everyone’s jaw after earning MVP honors in just his second full season in the majors. Howard’s numbers went beyond unbelievable, knocking 58 home runs and putting up all kinds of other impressive statistics.
If Burrell, a former number one overall pick in the MLB draft, cannot produce, pitchers will be able to pitch around Howard. In that case, Howard will become more like a Barry Bonds of ’04, getting walked every time he steps to the plate.
No matter how many runs the Phillies offense produces this season, the starting pitchers will undoubtedly give up less than they have in previous seasons. Freddy Garcia, Brett Myers and Cole Hamels are arguably the best top of the rotation trio in baseball.
With each glorious sound of a ball popping into a leather glove, Phillies fans are growing more anxious. Could this be the season?
Only time will tell. We can only pray to God that we do not finish this season one game out of the playoffs again. Like the marketing slogan of old, “you’ve got to believe.”