The great drama of baseball is set to start! The regular season is a marathon, not a sprint. The Phillies of today will not be the same Phillies after 162 games, when Spring Training is a distant memory. In fact, more moves are expected soon. Pat Gillick is not done. Not by a long shot. Rookies will grow up before our very eyes. Young guns Joe Bisenius, J.A. Happ, Zach Segovia, Clay Condrey, Eude Brito, Fabio Castro and a handful of others may have an impact before it's all said and done.
Behind their pitching, Philly should stay in the mix for the playoffs down to the last few games of the season. But to win it all takes something extraordinary. First you have to get in. Last season the St. Louis Cardinals proved that anything can happen once you make it to the post-season.
Come October the Phillies may not be hoisting the Commissioner's Trophy, but it's going to take an excellent team playing at the top of their game to knock them out. And even if they do fall short again, a few Phillies could collect hardware for individual honors as consolation.
Individual prizes are team honors in disguise, and since the Phillies should make another exciting run, expect some Phillies to be honored. As Ryan Howard found out last season, if you keep your mind and bat in the right place at the right time, head, heart and hands on the ball, patient, selective, explosive and sure, you might just get some hardware of your own. So much for the sophomore slump many predicted at the start of last season.
The MVP, Cy Young, Silver Sluggers and Golden Gloves, the Rookie of the Year--these are the top individual prizes, loved, honored and richly rewarded.
Which Phillies stand to take home some hardware in 2007?
To answer this question, let's lead off with Jimmy Rollins. Of all the Phillies this season, Rollins may be the key to the team's overall success. Rollins is a proven talent who continues to raise the level of his game. While he may never take enough pitches in the leadoff hole, still he has a quick bat and makes excellent contact. If he sets the table and sets the tone, reaches base and keeps the troops ready and loose, the Phillies are going to win a lot of games. Batting first, second, or third makes sense, or anywhere in the lineup.
This season, look for Rollins to maintain consistency and win the Silver Slugger award for shortstop. Standing in his way will be last year's winner, the Mets' Joes Reyes, but if Rollins finally hits over .300 he will most surely collect his first Silver bat.
Speaking of Silver bats, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard collected their first Silver Sluggers last season. Both have an excellent chance to collect their hardware again.
Will Howard also repeat as NL MVP? The odds are steep, but don't be surprised if he does. The less he thinks about it, the better his chances. Ryan should just go out and have some fun, same as he did last season. If he feels he has to carry the team every night, he'll likely see the NL MVP award go to someone else. Of course, that someone else might just be Chase Utley, who scares pitchers across the league just as much as Howard does.
Who else might win some Phillies hardware?
Dark-horse Candidates for the Cy Young award include Brett Myers, Cole Hamels and Freddy Garcia. Barring health issues, this trio may become a "Big Three" capable of leading the Phillies to a title. Look for Myers especially to have a big year, the ace of a deep starting staff.
How about a Gold Glove?
Rollins can field with the best of them, and if he manages to maintain consistency, his first Gold Glove is a real possibility. Shane Victorino may snare a Gold Glove in right field unless he winds up playing center. Andruw Jones of the Braves is the favorite there. Aaron Rowand has an outside shot to upset Jones in center, but Rowand might not be long in Philly. Chase Utley has a legitimate shot at a Gold Glove for second base, and if Michael Bourn becomes a regular right fielder, he just might win a Gold Glove and Rookie of the Year.
Don't count on it, but stranger things have happened.