If you haven’t erased the images of the Phillies’ heartbreaking 1-0 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 5 of the 2011 NLDS, you can finally move on. The Phillies opened spring training on Saturday, Feb. 18, in Clearwater, Fla., as they prepare for another season of baseball.
Once again, the Phillies have a division title to defend. After winning their fifth straight NL East crown last September and setting a new franchise record in wins with 102, the Phillies are now set to make many more memories and break records in their 2012 campaign.
That doesn’t come without some new faces. Gone are closer Ryan Madson, 2008 World Series hero Brad Lidge, left fielder Raul Ibanez and ace Roy Oswalt. New to the fold are closer Jonathan Papelbon, outfielders Ty Wigginton and Laynce Nix, first baseman Jim Thome and veteran pitchers Chad Qualls and Dontrelle Willis.
While these players departed, plenty of familiar faces still remain. Roy Halladay (pictured above), Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, the three aces of the pitching staff, still remain and the offense will still be powered by Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and many more.
As you may painfully recall, Howard ruptured his Achilles tendon as he made the final out of Game 5. Despite facing a long recovery, several members of the Phillies, including manager Charlie Manuel, feel that Howard’s time out of the lineup will be brief.
It is expected that Thome, Wigginton and John Mayberry Jr. will likely split time at first base in Howard’s absence. Mayberry, however, is working toward the vacant left field job. He’ll battle Wigginton and Nix in challenging for the spot.
Additionally, there will likely be another battle for the final spots in the starting rotation. With Halladay, Lee and Hamels secure at the top, players like Vance Worley, Kyle Kendrick, Joe Blanton and Willis will be fighting for the remaining two spots. Worley’s impressive rookie season will likely give him a place in the rotation, leaving three players with significant major league experience fighting for one spot.
After five straight division titles, it would be easy to say that the biggest threat to winning a sixth straight division title would be the Phillies themselves. The Atlanta Braves remain a close rival to the Phillies, and with additions like Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell, the newly-named Miami Marlins appear ready for a fresh start.
Perhaps the most impressive number upon pitchers and catchers day at spring training came courtesy of the fans, 3.1 million of them. Upon entering spring training, the Phillies had sold 3.1 million tickets to home games in 2012. After selling out over 200 consecutive games in the past two seasons, the Phillies are well on their way to another season playing in front of a packed house at Citizens Bank Park.
Still, the Phillies’ goals rest on the games that come after their 162-game regular season schedule is complete. The Phillies have continued to fall much shorter of expectations after winning the 2008 World Series. After making a first-round exit last season, the Phillies and their fans still have the highest of expectations.
It’s hard to imagine anything other than a World Series title being acceptable. It is those expectations that brought guys like Halladay, Lee and, most recently, Thome here. It is those expectations that keep guys like Rollins, Utley, Howard and Hamels around. This team is loaded with players that embrace the pressure and big stage.
The Phillies are back and working toward standing on that big stage with another World Series trophy this October.