It's finally here. It seems hard to believe that it was only 5 months ago that our hearts were broken as we watched Chase Utley's long drive fall a few feet short of the fence and then Ryan Howard crumble in pain as he grounded out weakly to end the season.
But to us diehards, the age-old saying "wait till next year" is the mantra we live by, and the best news is that next year is finally here! It's great news even though our two best everyday players are injured and the date of their return is uncertain.
A few weeks ago, I wrote that we Phillies fans should be at ease and that despite Howard's injury, we would win the division and easily rack up 96 wins in doing so. I'd be lying if I said that the combination of images of Howard's infected Achilles' and the depressing tone of Chase's news conference haven't tempered my enthusiasm a bit.
Well, the good news (to some) is that I'm not yet committed to taking a leap off the Ben Franklin Bridge, but for those of you who are considering it, my advice is to "keep hope alive!"
We can still win and here's how. Play small ball until Howard and Utley return (if at all). I know it's something that we have been hoping would happen for a while now, and although most fans will believe it when they see it, the circumstances we face this season make it an absolute must. Charlie Manuel has to realize that no matter how he juggles our lineup, we are not going to hit a lot of home runs or score a lot of runs. This is not to say that Manuel shouldn't make a lot of strategic moves with the lineup, and his failure to do so has certainly appeared to have cost him games at times over the past few seasons. With more than a few players who were brought in to spend most of their time on the bench now being forced into more regular action, Manuel certainly will have to be more calculated each game.
Most important, though, players such as Shane Victorino and Jimmy Rollins cannot attempt to replace the power we lost in Howard and Utley by swinging for the fences at every at-bat. Even with Howard and Utley in the lineup, Victorino and Rollins seemed to have wanted nothing more than to match their power output. If they take that approach this year, we are dead in the water.
Once and for all, these guys need to see as many pitches as possible, and to stop letting their impatience at the plate lead to unforced errors (i.e., groundout after groundout . . . after groundout).
If we stick to some semblance of a small-ball approach, we can still win with our great pitching and by making sure that our opponents score even fewer runs. But even if our pitchers play up to their abilities, we still have to give our staff the best defensive support we can. And that means no Jim Thome at first, no Laynce Nix in left, and no Ty Wigginton at second or third. What do they all have in common? They all can hit some home runs (Thome most of all), but, to be kind, they are not great defensively. We need to be as close to airtight as we can be, which means John Mayberry at first, Freddy Galvis at second, and Scott Podsednik or Juan Pierre in left. Now, neither Pierre nor Podsednik is a great outfielder, but they both have enough speed to outrun their mistakes. And best of all, either one would be key to a small-ball offense that could manufacture enough runs to eke out wins until the return of our big guns. They're both good leadoff batters who can bunt very well, make contact, and although they are not as fast as they once were, they can steal a base when needed.
If I were Charlie, my lineup would be . . .
Well, that's my two cents. I hope you're listening, Charlie! And just for fun, here are my picks for the season:
NL East: Phillies
NL Central: Brewers
NL West: Giants
Wild cards: Braves and
AL East: Rays
AL Central: Tigers
AL West: Angels
Wild cards: Rangers and Yankees
NL pennant: Phillies
AL pennant: Tigers
Phillies in six!
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