GENE MAUCH is laughing at you people.
So is Johnny Podres.
Not all of you. Just the skittish ones, the ones vacating their predictions of a Phillies championship because of a few missing bats and a closer's balky shoulder.
The late, great Phillies manager wishes he had half your starting staff in 1964. Pods, the late and beloved pitching coach, would have enjoyed watching them work in 1993, too.
Call me psychic, but I'll bet both are still picking the Phillies to win it all this season.
And so am I.
The way I look at it, it was going to be boring the other way. If Chase Utley has a healthy year, Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino have healthy rebound years, Ryan Howard has a full, healthy season, Raul Ibanez puts together a solid year . . . the Phillies are 20 games up at the All-Star break and the most intriguing thing about coming to the yard is the new, three-times-larger than larger-than-life scoreboard.
This will be much more interesting.
Maybe not more fun, but much more interesting.
The Phillies still will win it all because they have that Bentley pitching staff and a solid bullpen, even without Brad Lidge, and because they still have enough offensive pieces to scratch out runs. They will win between 97 and 100 games and they will finish first, and in a short series you surely still like their chances to survive and advance and win the whole damn thing.
No doubt there are reasons to be pessimistic in 2011 - beyond your birthplace, I mean. Despite one of the National League's higher run totals, the lineup struggled at times to push runners across the plate last year, and two of the better producers will not start the season.
There are harrowing unknowns beyond Utley's knee and Lidge's shoulder. Will Placido Polanco's elbow hold up? Who will pitch the seventh inning? Is Ben Francisco a backup or a starter? Will Domonic Brown be able to contribute?
But as the manager has so often pointed out on his better days this spring, these are half-full questions too. Is it ridiculous to expect a more representative season from either Ibanez, Rollins or Victorino? Or even two of the three?
Last year's world champions, the San Francisco Giants, scored 697 runs in the regular season. Their Opening Day centerfielder, Aaron Rowand, on fire in the first month of the season, finished it on the bench. Their World Series MVP, Cody Ross, was claimed off waivers by the Giants so the Padres and Phillies couldn't get him. They picked up Pat Burrell when most of us thought he was finished.
The Giants received great pitching and timely hitting.
This Phillies team is certainly capable of that.
As for the closer, Jose Contreras allowed one earned run in his first 18 relief appearances last season.
Try to remember: The Phillies were underdogs to both the Dodgers and the Rays in 2008, despite their offense, because their pitching didn't match up. There was absolutely no reason to believe Jamie Moyer was going to last past the fourth inning in that rain-delayed Saturday night Game 3, especially when it was revealed later that he had battled a vicious stomach flu all day and was still throwing up just hours before he took the hill. Moyer, after all, had been rocked by both the Brewers and Dodgers, the only games the Phils had lost in reaching the World Series.
Try to remember: The great Phillies lineup of that season, the one that scored 799 runs, was abysmal with runners in scoring position over the first three World Series games, winning Game 3 when Carlos Ruiz topped a ball into dead-man's land along the third-base line.
No question, it's more fun on those warm summer nights to watch the ball sail over the fence or runners sprint from first to third than it is to check the pitch count after every inning and fret over whether your starter can hold them off for nine. We got a taste of that last summer when the bats started going down, one by one, and it wasn't as fun.
But they still won 97 games. They still won 97 games with Utley missing the bulk of the summer, and Howard missing August, and Polanco playing with chips in his elbow. They still won 97 with Rollins battling through an assortment of leg injuries and playing in only 88 games, and Jayson Werth spending July and a part of August lost in space.
They won 97 games last year despite Moyer going down in June and Cole Hamels not returning to 2008 form until August, despite Joe Blanton's bouts of ineffectiveness and Kyle Kendrick's, too. They won 97 games last year despite starting the season without their closer, despite those blown saves by Ryan Madson, despite a trial-and-error bullpen for parts of the season.
We all have selective memories. Everyone remembers the 1993 regular season as a big joyride, at least until the end. I remember the Montreal Expos cutting the lead to four and Alfred E. Neuman appearing on our front page with the headline "What Me Worry?" That team didn't have this pitching staff. Very, very few teams have. If it wasn't banned in heaven, Mauch and Pods might even feel a little envy.
So yeah, bring it on. This team will need the Roys and the boys to live up to the hype. There will be games where you actually will see the grass grow, where a walk and a single will bring you to your feet.
Will it still be fun? Sure.
Just a different kind of fun.
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