Good evening, fans, respected colleagues and officials. I would like to begin tonight by saying the state of the Phillies Nation is strong. Well, actually, strong to an extent, like a tire without its capacity in air. You know it’ll ride, and probably ride the whole way, but there’s always that feeling the tire will blow completely, stalling you on the road, wondering why you didn’t just fill that damn tire previously.
Of course, we must recognize the feats of our 2007 brand, a team that defied expectation (or did they?) and captured the hearts and minds of Philadelphia, and the United States of America. Standout players such as Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Cole Hamels, Aaron Rowand and National League Most Valuable Player Jimmy Rollins stood side-by-side with sturdy role players such as Jayson Werth, Greg Dobbs, Tadahito Iguchi, Kyle Lohse and JC Romero.
Together, the 2007 Phillies were able to dethrone the New York Mets in the National League East, and bring solidarity back to our wary division.
We must remember our 2007 Phillies, but we must also look ahead to 2008, a year that we believe could be a special year. Not just a year in which the team can win the division, but a year in which they can go all the way to the World Series and win the World Championship.
This offseason, the Phillies lost a few cogs of that 2007 team. Aaron Rowand has left for San Francisco. Abraham Nunez is now in Milwaukee. Tadahito Iguchi will man the fields for San Diego. Michael Bourn and Geoff Geary will be in Houston. Rod Barajas will play in Toronto, God Bless Him. But for what they lost, they stepped up and matched it with men such as Geoff Jenkins, So Taguchi, Eric Bruntlett, Chad Durbin and most of all, Brad Lidge.
So as we look into 2008, we must see that the Phillies look stronger than in 2007, and seem poised to defend their National League Eastern Division championship.
And now, the dissenters will give their rebuttal:
We must remember, however, that the Phillies received career seasons from Jimmy Rollins, Aaron Rowand, maybe even Pat Burrell, and JC Romero. They also got very lucky with Kyle Kendrick, who got out of enough jams to win 10 games for the team. And the luck continued with re-treads such as Dobbs, Werth, Iguchi and Lohse. To be blunt, the Phillies of 2008 were a lot like the Phillies of 1993: They caught fire at the right time.
Lest we forget, the Phillies took advantage of the greatest collapse in modern sports history. The Mets lost the division. They’re still the better team. They have a potent offense, a strong bench with veteran role players, a formidable rotation and bullpen, and guess what – they may have Johan Santana leading the whole wagon in 2008. How can the Phillies compete with that? You think a Wild Card would be in order? Wait until the Phillies tussle with Los Angeles, Colorado, Chicago and Atlanta. This team is destined for a downfall of epic proportions.
Heck, it’s not as if the offseason moves made the Phillies an instant contender for the World Series. Geoff Jenkins should change his middle name to Tappan with the amount of cold air he blows forth. Eric Bruntlett can’t hit. Brad Lidge is a gigantic question mark. And Chad Durbin? Vic Darensbourg? What is this – the 2010 panel for “Baseball Tonight?”
Do we really think we’re going to get another big year from that offense, along with improvements from a static pitching staff? Did they improve? They got Brad Lidge, but they gave up Geoff Geary (a serviceable sixth inning guy) and Kyle Lohse (a No. 4 starter). Tom Gordon is a year older. Jamie Moyer is almost 50. JC Romero isn’t completely consistent. Heck, what do we know about Kyle Kendrick? Can we really be positive about the pitching staff going into 2008?
We can laud the 2007 Phillies all we want, but the fact remains: If the 2008 Phillies want to win 100 games, the National League East – whatever – they’ll need a gigantic improvement from the mound while remaining a top-five offense. I can’t see that happening.
And now, the assenters will give their rebuttal:
Ah, but this is the National League! Last year not one team eclipsed 90 wins, so all is not lost. Does any National League team look like a runaway to lock up a division? Arizona’s offense is – ahem – snakebitten, the Dodgers’ youth could bite them far more than the Phillies, the Padres can’t hit worth a lick, the Cubs are a time bomb every time they take the field, the Brewers lack any real force outside of Ben Sheets, the Braves are starting Project Youth, and the Mets actually regressed from last year’s choking team.
To put this bluntly: When comparing the Phils to the NL, “favorite” is definitely an option.
Even if the Phillies offense regresses a bit (which it may), they’ll still remain one of the league’s best. And yes, the pitching has to get better. It can’t get worse. Adam Eaton- if he’s not healthy- will not infect the team 30 times like he did last season. We don’t have bad options such as Freddy Garcia and Jon Lieber. We know what we’re getting from Cole Hamels, Brett Myers, even Jamie Moyer. And the bullpen is much more improved from the start of last season. Now we have a full back end with Brad Lidge, Tom Gordon, Ryan Madson and JC Romero. Statistically, that’s one of the best in all of baseball!
Sure there are some unknowns – such as Durbin, the final bullpen spot and Eaton – but no team, absolutely no team is without unknowns. Look at the 2007 Red Sox. JD Drew was a disaster for them, but they found hope in Jacoby Ellsbury. Manny Ramirez had an off year, heck, Daisuke Matsuzaka wasn’t all he was cracked up to be. But they found positivity in spare parts, and they were the best team in baseball all season.
Baseball is a marathon, not a sprint. Having the best team on January 27 doesn’t make you World Champions. Every team will change its roster between March 31 and September 1, and multiple times. The Phillies will find their spare parts, whether it’s through the arm of Carlos Carrasco, the bat or Jason Jaramillo or the glove of Brandon Watson. Give this team time. And right now, as we stand, the top-20 players on the 2008 Phillies surpass the top-20 players of possibly every National League team.
The state of the Phillies is strong. Give them time.
So, where do you fall?