The Phillies open the 2012 regular season in Pittsburgh with Roy Halladay on the mound Thursday afternoon.
Looking to win the National League East for the sixth straight year, they'll start off without Ryan Howard and Chase Utley.
Below is a summary of what the national media think about the Phillies and the NL East.
Tim Kurkjian of ESPN.com has the Phillies winning the NL East. His concern is the health of the right side of the infield, but Kurkjian thinks the starting rotation can carry the Phillies to another division crown:
Best-case scenario: Ryan Howard returns May 1 fully recovered from Achilles surgery, and Chase Utley is back soon after. Pence's first full season in Philly is as good as his two-month debut. The big three win 60 games, Hamels signs a long-term deal and Papelbon saves the NLCS clincher.
Worst-case scenario: Howard returns June 1 and still can't hit lefties, Utley's three-year offensive slide continues and the improvement of the Nationals and Marlins prevents the Phillies from winning their sixth straight division title, despite the best efforts of Hamels, Halladay and Lee.
Also over at ESPN.com, you can see all 49 predictions from their baseball analysts, including Curt Schilling, who predicts a Phillies World Series win over the Angels.
Meanwhile, Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com sees the Phillies taking the NL East on muscle memory alone, but predicts the Giants will eliminate the Phillies in the NLDS:
They’re going to do this on muscle memory, once first baseman Ryan Howard and second baseman Chase Utley are healthy enough to use their muscles again. The start of the season will be a struggle without those two offensive pillars, but manager Charlie Manuel will patch together first. Utley’s replacement, Freddy Galvis, looks like a better player than even the Phillies thought. I’m not ready to pick against Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels just yet.
Paul Hagen of MLB.com expects a slugfest in the NL East, but says pitching and defense will lead the Phillies to another division crown:
After five straight division titles, the Phillies are clearly the team to beat. And as long as the Big Three at the top of the rotation remains healthy, they can't be counted out. General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. also invested $50 million over the next four years on free-agent closer Jonathan Papelbon. The question is how much run support the pitching will get.
SI.com posted its predictions for the season. Of the eight panelists, five predict the Phillies will take the NL East, but no one sees another parade down Broad Street. The most eye-opening season forecast goes to Mel Antonen, who has the Phillies missing the playoffs.
Over at Yahoo! Sports, two of the three baseball writers have the Phillies winning the NL East. However, in their eyes, a trip to the Fall Classic isn't in the cards. Jeff Passan has a particularly bold World Series matchup: The Tampa Bay Rays defeating the Washington Nationals. No insight at this time whether Phillies fans will be able to buy World Series tickets for Nationals home games.
NBCSports.com's Tony DeMarco predicts a 12-win dropoff from 2011 for the Phillies, but he thinks a 90-72 record will still be good enough to win the NL East:
Let's face it, as good as the Phils' top three starting pitchers are, this is an aging team heading in the wrong direction. 2008: World Series winners; 2009: World Series losers; 2010: NLCS losers; 2011: Division series losers. If the injuries continue, the Phils might find themselves out of the playoffs entirely, as everybody except the Mets is capable of winning a wildcard spot out of this division.
Scott Miller of CBSSports.com thinks the rest of the NL East is close to knocking off the Phillies, but the pitching staff will extend their reign atop the division for another year.
Three reasons: Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels. But the gap between the Phillies and Everybody Else is narrowing quickly. Contrary to rumors, with Ryan Howard (Achilles) and Chase Utley (knees) out, the Phillies actually do intend to man the right side of their infield in April. But let me tell you, Jim Thome's back was groaning loudly simply at the thought of oiling up his first baseman's glove. John Mayberry Jr. and Ty Wigginton will get most of the time there, and rookie Freddy Galvis will start at second. Margin for error: Thin, and getting thinner.
Chris Bahr of The Sporting News sees the Phillies earning the top seed in the National League, but he predicts they will fall to the Reds in the NLDS:
Ryan Howard’s return from Achilles’ surgery is uncertain, and Chase Utley might never be as good as he was before his knee injury (he will begin the season on the D.L. again in 2012). But as long as Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels are healthy, the Phillies should continue to rule the NL East.
Paul White of USA Today thinks the Phillies can secure another NL East crown, but he says the margin for error is slimming:
The Phillies were offensively challenged last season. Can they retain superiority in the division, especially if Howard and Utley are out? It's a contract year for left-hander Cole Hamels, but the Phillies might have bigger concerns with Roy Halladay's velocity.
The Phillies are the unanimous pick to win the NL East over at Hardball Talk. Drew Silva was the only one brave enough to make a World Series pick, a rematch of the 2008 Fall Classic that ends with a trip down Broad Street.
In my search for predictions, I stumbled upon the MLB Fan Cave, which will house nine fans in Greenwich Village, New York to watch all 2,430 regular season games and the postseason. The nine consist of one fan each of the Phillies, Twins, Yankees, Giants, Angels, Cardinals, Athletics and two Braves fans. Among the eight dwellers who posted predictions, four have the Phillies winning the NL East, and the other four have them earning a wild card berth. The cave dweller who didn't post predictions: a Braves fan. I think we can guess what that prediction would have looked like. Some notable predictions:
Cardinals fan Kyle Thompson's pick for the NL East:
Philadelphia Phillies. The NL East will be extremely competitive this year with the Braves, Marlins and Nationals all having good teams, but I expect Philly’s dominant rotation to help them come out on top of this east coast slugfest.
Phillies fan Gordon Mack's NL Cy Young pick:
Roy HamLee #three20winpitchers
Angels fan Ricardo Marquez's NL East pick:
Phillies. Only because Gordon Mack is watching me write this out and I think he would flip out if I didn't pick them.
Gordon Mack representing Philadelphia perfectly.
Jerry Gaul is a sports producer at philly.com You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @jerry_gaul.