Thursday, February 13, 2014

Spring Training brings optimism, but questions

February 13, 2014

By Nick Tricome

February is a special month for all baseball fans.

As pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training, it's a time of optimism, as fans begin to wonder if maybe this is the year for which ever team they follow.

That optimism is still there for the Phillies--the first signs of baseball coming back are hard not to get excited about--but at the same time, there is a lot about this team that makes you think.

Six seasons ago, this club was on top of the world. Their lineup was fearsome, their starting rotation was solid and their bullpen was one of the best in baseball. It all came together at the right time to propel the Phillies to their first World Series title in 28 years and the city of Philadelphia's first championship in a quarter century.

In the three years that followed, the Phillies, while failing to reach the top of the mountain again, continued to experience success with another NL Pennant in 2009 and two more division pennants in 2010 and 2011.

The Phillies won a franchise record 102 games in 2011 and were a favorite to return to the World Series after clinching their fifth consecutive division title. They lost to the Cardinals in five games in the NLDS.

Roy Halladay pitched a phenomenal game, but the offense disappeared as St. Louis' Chris Carpenter shutdown the Phillies' offense. The one run Halladay gave up in the first inning ended up being the difference.

The Phillies run in 2011 came to an end with Ryan Howard grounding out and collapsing under a ruptured Achilles tendon while trying to run down the first base line on the final play. The crowd at Citizens Bank Park was left disappointed, while the Cardinals celebrated and would eventually go on to win the World Series.

The two seasons following that playoff loss were rough. The Phillies went through injury after injury, while the core of the team in Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins was undeniably getting older.

The Phillies missed the playoffs in 2012 and would do the same in 2013. The 2014 season is approaching quickly now, and the questions are being asked?

Do the Phillies, with their aging core, have another postseason run left?

Can they keep up with division rivals like the Braves and the Nationals?

Can Ryan Howard, who missed a big chunk of the 2012 season from his Achilles injury and the latter half of 2013 with a knee injury, get back to being the power-hitter he was a few years ago?

Can returning Phils like Marlon Bryd and Bobby Abreu, who are up there in age themselves (36 and 40 years old respectively), help this team stay competitive?

How well will Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez do in his first year in a Major League rotation? And what can A.J. Burnett bring to the table?

There is a lot about the 2014 Phillies to think about, be it positive, negative, or even the unknown.

But at the end of the day, the beautiful thing about Spring Training is that no one really knows what is going to happen, and the only way to find out is to wait until all 30 teams begin their journeys on Opening Day.

And for whatever happens this season, Phillies fans will have Jamie Moyer and Matt Stairs doing commentary through it all.

(Photo by Muneesh Jain from

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