Hump Day Report: It Happens Every Spring
Rants and raves about burning topics that have caught my attention midweek, be it greedy corporate shenanigans, frustration or joy in regards to the Philly sports teams, a movie, show or DVD that has fired up my imagination, an intriguing personality, or what’s happening in the region. — Lori Hoffman, Associate Editor, Atlantic City Weekly.
Hope arrives in the late winter for baseball fanatics. The Phillies pitchers and catchers officially arrived for spring training this week with most of the other players arriving ahead of schedule. After years of frustration at the dismal state of Phillies baseball, the last few years have been a golden era with the team winning five straight National League titles, a 2008 World Series championship, a second trip to the big dance in 2009 and five straight years of post-season play. That success of course was tainted by a return to the bad old days in 2012 when injuries, a weak bench and a terrible bullpen combined to bring the Phightin’ Phils tumbling back to the middle of pack and headed to the golf course when the regular season ended.
The team that looked like it could win more than one World Series is no more. That young, vibrant core of Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins is not only older but weakened by devastating injuries. The Phillies are now an updated version of the 1983 Wheeze Kids. Considering that the aging 1983 squad with Michael Schmidt and Pete Rose made it to the World Series should be encouraging to fans.
Besides, hope blooms in the spring. We can dream that Utley’s shot knees aren’t really that bad and he will bounce back as a great hitter. Ryan Howard still managed to knock in a lot of runs despite still recovering from his injured Achilles tendon last year and Jimmy Rollins is still Jimmy Rollins, if a bit slower.
Fans can hope that the exciting glimpse late last season of power hitting Darin Ruf will translate into a budding star this season, and that his converted-from-first-base outfield play won’t be too bad. We can hope that 24-year-old Phillies newbie Ben Revere will hit well enough to make use of his blazing speed. We can hope that Delmon Young can still play outfield as well as hit (he is the reigning American League Championship Series MVP as a DH for Detroit) and hasn’t played right field regularly since 2007. We can also hope he keeps his mouth shut off the field (he was fined for making anti-Semitic remarks).
We can hope that Domonic Brown finally shows us he is a prospect and not a suspect, and that multiple all-star Michael Young, at age 36, can still hit the ball and that he can play third base adequately.
On paper the bullpen looks much improved with Mike Adams as the lock down eighth inning specialist setting up Jonathan Papelbon, the return of Chad Dubin, and a lot of young talented arms to mix and match, including lefties Antonio Bastardo, Jeremy Horst, Raul Valdes, Jake Diekman and Cesar Jimenez and righties Phillippe Aumont, Justin De Fratus, B.J. Rosenberg, Mike Stutes, Juan Cruz and Michael Schwimer.
Then there is the biggest pitching question: can Doc Halladay bounce back from an injury-plagued 2012? If he can, the Phillies’ starting rotation will be dangerous with Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee, and in lesser roles, Kyle Kendrick and Washington reject John Lannan.
After years of expecting great baseball, the 2012 Phillies season is overloaded with big questions and no obvious answers. Spring training should begin to answer a few of those questions.