Hope springs eternal for all 30 MLB teams this time of year. Spring is a time of rebirth, renewal and new beginnings. At the first crack of the bat, anything is possible.
For the Phillies, 2011 could be all that and more. The potential of this team is unlimited. But potential does not guarantee success, as execution and a little bit of luck will play a major role in the outcome.
However, the Phillies do have plenty of reasons to be hopeful. Here are five good omens for the Phillies as they begin spring training.
If you have not heard all about the Phillies starting rotation, you are probably living in a cave. The media frenzy in Clearwater, Florida is in full swing but luckily, the players are not buying all the hype.
In a press conference on Monday, all five starters, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels and Joe Blanton, looked very relaxed. They were so laid back that if one of them had dozed off, it would not have been surprising.
And it would be hard to blame any of these guys for taking a cat nap while reporters asked Lee all the same questions he has been answering repeatedly since signing in December. It became so redundant that a media member actually asked him if he liked the food in Philadelphia. Lee responded with, “I like Philly cheese steaks, but that had nothing to do with me coming back to Philadelphia.”
The fact that none of these pitchers take the attention too seriously is a very good omen for the Phillies. This rotation understands what it takes to win and how to avoid distractions, like ridiculous questions from baseball-starved reporters.
Their nonchalance in the face of all the hype is even more impressive when you add in the overwhelming talent and potential of this group which includes three Cy Young awards, 13 All-Star selections and three postseason MVP awards.
In short, things look very good for the 2011 Phillies pitching staff.
Jimmy Rollins Becomes An Early Bird
Known almost as much for his consistent lateness as his batting average, Jimmy Rollins has never been a timely guy. He is normally the last player to report to camp every year. But for the first time in his Phillies career, Rollins arrived early.
Not only did Rollins show up a full week early but he arrived in excellent physical condition as a result of a more disciplined off-season routine. At 32-years of age and entering a contract year, Rollins obviously realizes the importance of the 2011 season.
It is important for Rollins as an individual and also for the team as a whole. After a very bad, injury plagued 2010, J-Roll needs to get back to being the engine that makes this Phillies offense go.
Arriving early to camp is a good sign that he is ready to do just that.
Brad Lidge Is Healthy
In his first year with the Phillies in 2008, Brad Lidge threw just one pitch off the mound in Spring Training and just like that, he tore the meniscus in his right knee. Lidge recovered well from surgery and went on to pitch the best season of his career and help the Phillies win a World Championship.
But in 2009, Lidge had a complete reversal of fortune. By the end of June, Lidge had blown six saves and landed on the disabled list again with a sprained right knee. Lidge finished the year with season with an 0-8 record, an ERA of 7.21 and he converted 31 saves in 42 opportunities.
Lidge then spent most of the first half of 2010 on the DL after elbow surgery. And although he finished the season much improved from 2009, questions about his healthy still lingered.
This year, Lidge reported to camp healthy and raring to go. When asked about the upcoming 2011 season, Lidge responded, ” Fans should be pumped up. I know I am.”
And if Lidge can channel his 2008 form while avoiding injury, the Phillies will have the anchor they need at the end of the bullpen to help propel them to another post-season.
Versatility And Depth
The Phillies have a handful of players in camp that they feel can fill multiple roles. Last year, Wilson Valdez was a lifesaver filling in for injured players and short stop, second base and third base.
This spring, the Phillies have decided to try him out in centerfield as well, in case Shane Victorino goes down. With Jayson Werth off to the Nationals, options in center are slim and Valdez has a rocket for an arm.
John Mayberry Jr. is another player who could fill other roles. Normally an outfielder, Mayberry played first base in college and will see time there this spring to add to his versatility.
Delwyn Young, a non-roster invitee, might be another possibility. He has played infield and outfield, although the odds of him making the team are not very good.
Still, the fact that the Phillies have a number of viable options for their bench is a good thing. And their willingness to experiment, moving players around, means they have confidence in this group they have assembled.
Competition In Right Field
Competition is good. It breeds motivation. Players like Domonic Brown, Ben Francisco, John Mayberry Jr. and Ross Gload have plenty of motivation since the departure of Jayson Werth.
The huge, gaping hole in right field is theirs for the taking. It will be a matter of whoever plays the best wins. The starting spot could go to one player or maybe two in a platoon situation.
Brown is especially anxious to show what he is made of. After a less than inspiring major league stint at the end of 2010 and then a bad showing in the Dominican Winter League which he left early, Brown has something to prove.
Only three days after leaving the Dominican Winter League, Brown went straight to Clearwater to work on his swing. With the help of hitting coach Greg Gross, Brown found the flaw in his swing and has spent the last two months fixing it.
There is nothing like a little competition to bring out the best in a ball player. Each of the right field-hopefuls have their work cut out for them.
Photos by Jenn Zambri Photography