- New era
- Fun to watch
- Good Chemistry
- Ryan's Hopes
- Pimp Daddy
- Taking the Fifth
- For Whom the Bell Tolls
- The Girl who loved Tom Gordon
1. New Era
For all the malcontents who never tired of harping on Phillies former GM Ed Wade, the wait is over. You can officially tune back in to the Phillies. Ding-dong, the witch is dead, the wicked witch is dead. New GM Pat Gillick floats in on a wave of fairy dust and with a wave of his wand, bippety-boppety-boo, the Phillies evil curse is mercifully over. This might sound too much like a Cinderella story, but Gillick has made some encouragingly clear-headed moves. By believing in Ryan Howard, by getting real value for Jim Thome, by folding on high-staked Billy Wagner, by signing Tom Gordon, Abraham Nunez, Ryan Franklin and Sal Fasano, by trading for David Dellucci, and finally, by promoting Ryan Madson and Gavin Floyd into the starting rotation, Gillick has already put his personal stamp on the Phillies. Evidently Gillick resists fiscal insanity, rewards good performances by his younger players and will not hesitate to purge his roster with "addition by subtraction". Let the Gillick Era begin!
2. Fun to watch
This Phillies team can win in so many ways. Offensively, they measure up with anyone. Jimmy Rollins' new approach has been a revelation. After making key adjustments, J-Roll finished strong last season with a 36-game hitting streak, the ninth longest in baseball history. If he can reach base as handily this season, expect your Phillies to score a lot of runs. Expect a lot of dingers, too. Bobby Abreu and Chase Utley should chip in about 60 between the two of them; Ryan Howard might crack 50 by himself; Pat Burrell looks poised to reach 40. Defensively, the Phillies are an excellent club. With potential gold-glovers Rollins and newcomer Aaron Rowand, the Phillies are especially strong up the middle. Expect a wide array of Phillies Web gems among the highlights this season.
3. Everyone loves an underdog
Not many people in the national media even talk about the Phillies when discussing the NL East. Instead they assume the real race is between the Braves and the Mets. For Philly fans the insult is old and familiar, but there's nothing quite like the joy of seeing the national media reluctantly come around to giving Philadelphia a little love. For now, it's all about the Mets, Mets, Mets. And sure, the Mets will be good, but what looks good on paper on opening day often proves to have been a mere mirage by the time autumn rolls around. Who really wants to see Billy Wagner get a ring with the Mets after dissing Philly like he did, saying his ticket out of town wasn't about the money, but about "having a shot at winning"? That's an insult, and you can be sure the Phillies noticed. No one wants to see the Braves win for the 15th time in a row but NO WAY do they want to see Wagner and the Mets taste that glory. Meanwhile, the Mets and Braves are pressure-cooked by expectations. Picked by prognosticators to finish no better than third, the Phillies are underdogs with nothing to lose.
4. Long Overdue
What would happen if the Phillies actually won the World Series, ending the Great Philadelphia Sports Drought? Forget about closing schools for the victory parade, people's heads might actually explode on Broad Street. For some reason no one ever thinks the Phillies can win. You'd think the word "Phillies" translates to something like "also-rans"in Philadelphiaese. But believe it or not, as you look around, the Phillies have the best shot to bring that championship feeling back to Philadelphia..
5. Better living through chemistry
Expect a lot of passion and style. Expect a winning attitude. Expect things to be light and loose and fun even without Tomas Perez. Expect good chemistry to be a priority under Gillick and manager Charlie Manuel. Also expect another blockbuster trade.
6. Ryan's Hopes
Ryan Howard hopes to avoid the fabled sophomore jinx. Expect him to finish top five in the National League home run race. Ryan Madson hopes to prove that he belongs in the starting rotation. Expect him to win 15 games if given the chance. Ryan Franklin hopes to dominate as a reliever until he gets another shot as fifth starter. Expect him to get his share of starts as the season wears on.
7. Pimp Daddy, Philly style
Did y'all see Red Sox big hurler Josh Beckett jabber-jaw a little too loosely with Philly's even bigger slugger Ryan Howard this spring? Apparently Beckett took exception to the way Howard "pimped" his long fly ball by appearing to stalk the long fly ball. Boston's Beckett heckled Howard and when Howard beckoned Beckett things got hot. Before you could say that three times fast, Beckett started towards Howard but was stopped smartly by his boys in the dugout. Judging from the look on Mr. Howard's face, I don't think Josh would have liked what he found if he had climbed all the way up those dugout steps.
Usually an affable guy, Howard is obviously not going to be intimidated by anyone. Pimp Daddy don't play dat! Even more than his record 11 home runs in Spring Training, Ryan Howard's obvious passion and pride indicate his readiness to be a force on the diamond for a long time to come. Both Howard and Beckett later said "it's over", but who knows, they might re-kindle the fire in May at Philly, in June at Fenway or even in October in a showdown for the rings. Speaking of pimps, did ya notice that Three Six Mafia was sportin' the retro-70's Phillies gear at the Oscars while singing the winning song "It's hard out here for a pimp"? Who knew that pimps and the Phillies would go together in the Hustle and Flow of it all?
8. Taking the Fifth
Long has it been a sad Phillies tradition to carry a weak fifth starting pitcher in the five man rotation. This season Gavin Floyd will be the first to take the fifth, a surprising and hopeful choice. Anyone who has followed the career of Gavin Floyd knows he has loads of talent. Just last April, Floyd flashed his best stuff in a gem against the mighty St. Louis Cardinals, attacking the strike zone and frustrating Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen, Jim Edmonds and company with his dazzling curveball. At one point he locked into a zone to retire 19 straight batters. Gavin Floyd appeared to be here to stay. But then young Floyd suffered a mental breakdown in his next three starts against the rival Braves and Mets. Put bluntly, Gavin looked completely lost. The Phillies never had a chance in those games. Gavin was so shell-shocked that he never completely recovered in 2005, not even against lesser competition in the minor leagues. He flashed some of his talent in the Winter Leagues but ultimately couldn't maintain success.
Suddenly this spring Gavin Floyd has had a string of good starts. His poise has improved. He looks impressive. Still, it comes as a surprise to find Floyd in the rotation. By bringing him north with the team, GM Gillick is giving Gavin a huge vote of confidence, the very thing that young Floyd needs. It's a gamble that Gavin is ready to turn the corner, but it could happen. In fact, Floyd has shown an ability to get into the zone. He just hasn't shown the ability to stay in it for long. Making the Gavin Floyd drama even more interesting is that the Phillies had to bump Ryan Franklin to the bullpen to make room for him and then, they anointed Floyd as the fourth starter in the rotation, keeping Madson in the number five spot. Can Gavin Floyd get into the zone and stay there?
9. For Whom the Bell Tolls
Another drama still unfolding is the David Bell situation. Bell is a stand-up character-guy that everyone wants to see do well. With his four hits in the April Fools day exhibition against the Red Sox, Bell appears ready to play. But what will his role be now that Abraham Nunez is in town? Bell's struggles last season left a sour taste in fans mouths. Meanwhile, Nunez seems better suited as a table-setting two-hole hitter than either Bell or Rowand, both of whom swing through a lot of pitches. With Bell healthy, the Phillies must decide between Bell and Nunez at third base and determine who will bat second when Bell plays.
10. The Girl who Loved Tom Gordon
All the Phillies need to do is hand the ball to Tom Gordon with a lead. Most nights, a big offense, sharp defense and solid starting pitching will let Charlie Manuel do just that. While most people expect a drop-off at the back end of the pen, I believe Gordon will earn more saves for the Phillies than Wagner did last season (38). A quick stat check reveals that Gordon's highest single-season save total (46) is higher than Wagner's best (44). Besides, Wagner doesn't own a Steven King novel bearing his name.