In a few hours, it starts. All over again. First off, let’s tell ourselves right now: This is not 2008. No longer are the Phillies the world champions (technically they are until October, at least). Really, it’s a clean slate. A new season. Goodbye old, hello new.
That doesn’t, of course, mean we should openly trash and berate the Phillies all over again. No, when you’re blessed with a champion, you lend your team some leeway. You be courteous. You be nice. Remember your manners, guys: This is a good team. And remember, too, that old adage: it is a marathon, not a sprint. The season is long. It is painful. It is trying. It starts when the weather is just turning beautiful. It ends when the weater is about to turn frightful. It’s an entire half year. So please, please don’t trash these guys on April 5. Or on April 25. Wait at least a little while.
What the new season means is it’s again time to set the goals. The goal this year is as simple as ever: Win the World Series. No more can the Phillies be satisifed — with this current group — with second place in any version. If Cole Hamels is ace, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard are megastars and Jimmy Rollins is legendary, this team cannot swallow its pride.
How good is this current group? Good enough to win one World Series, of course, which means it’s good enough to win a second World Series. There is no boundaries. There is no limit. If the Phillies want to be a dynasty, good lord, they could do it. Potentially, it’s the best collection of baseball talent in a long time — in Philadelphia and otherwise. Big Red Pinstripe Machine? Absolutely possible.
I think the Phillies will win 94 games. I can see them winning 100, as Rollins so observed. I can also, of course, see them winning 86 — you know, that old number. But that’s baseball. One bad injury or one lost swing can turn an entire season on its axis. The 2008 Phillies were blessed: They had a few small injuries and a few small hiccups, but once September rolled around, the team was fully intact, the play was superb, the luck turned their way. You need talent to get the superb play and luck, and you even need talent to survive injury. So 2008 was that: A good dose of talent and a little luck.
But 2008 is no more. Now it’s 2009, and the Phillies are suddenly the most-targeted team in baseball. Everyone will want to beat the Phils. Everyone will want to show them who really is the Team to Beat.
So gear up, friends. Get your hearts and minds ready. Put on your classiest pinstripes and get your head in the game. Now you follow the best team in baseball; now you follow the Team to Beat. It’ll be a hell of a season, this one, so stay strong.