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January 26 2007

Two schools of thought have apparently emerged among the Phillies players these days, sometimes making themselves heard in the same article.  On one hand there seems to be a group of players eager to call the team the front-runners in the NL East -- the other camp is either quiet or represented solely by Aaron Rowand.  Rowand says that talk is cheap.

A brief review.  The Phillies last won the NL East in 1993.  In the 13 seasons since, they haven't won the division or sniffed the playoffs and have finished an average of more than 19 games behind the division-leader.


Year Games Behind
1994 20 1/2
1995 21
1996 29
1997 33
1998 31
1999 26
2000 30
2001 2
2002 21 1/2
2003 15
2004 10
2005 2
2006 12

Last season the Mets won the NL East by 12 games, which was the largest margin for any division-winner in baseball.  In every division except the AL West, the third place team was closer than 12 games to the division-winner.  In the AL West the Rangers finished third, 13 games out.

The Phillies had a share of the lead in the NL East a total of zero days last year.  The last time that any team other than the Mets had a share of the lead in the NL East was April 5, 2006, and it was the Braves.

The Phillies were a much improved team by the end of the season in 2006, playing with much of the same group that will see action this season.  And they came up short.  With ten games left for the Phillies to play, they were basically tied with the Padres and the Dodgers and the team who played the worst was going to be left out of the playoffs.  The Phillies finished three full games behind both of those teams.  It wasn't the starting pitching that was the problem for the Phillies in those last ten games in '06 -- the starters threw to a 3.99 ERA.  The Dodgers and Padres combined to go 17-3 to end the season and the Phils just couldn't keep pace.

But no matter how it happened, you didn't see the Phillies make the playoffs last year.  You haven't for a long time.  You saw them get close and lose.  Those other teams in their division?  I've seen those guys win a lot.

As a fan, you would certainly much rather have the players on the team thinking they were the favorites to win the division than the favorites to finish third or whatever.  I think it would bother me if I was a Mets fan, though, after blowing away the rest of the league last season.  Or a Braves fan that has just seen their team's record of 14-straight division titles in a row snapped.  If you include their time as the Blue Jays and the Quakers, the Phillies have made the playoffs nine times in 123 years.  The Braves have made the playoffs nine times since 1996.  Not sure if the Marlins have any fans, but if they did they might point out that the Fish have won the World Series twice since the last time the Phillies made the playoffs.

Virtually everyone would agree that the Phillies are better in 2007 than they were in 2006.  They're going to need to show everyone how much better on the field, though, and it's going to take a long time.  When they make their push it won't matter even a tiny bit what anyone thought three months before the season started.

I can't wait to watch.

But if the only choices are to call the Phils front-runners or to say that talk is cheap, I'm with Aaron Rowand.

Cole Hamels is ready to re-focus on what he loves and that may involve not going out drinking until three o'clock in the morning.  I'm pretty sure, but not positive, that he didn't mean leaving to start drinking at 3 AM.

A book about Chris Coste's '06 season was sold to Random House but "the movie thing is going slow." 

This article talks about the lighter Jimmy Rollins and the importance of a quick start for the Phillies.  I would prefer 9-15 to a third straight 10-14 April.  Really I would.

Arthur Rhodes will join the Seattle Mariners in a minor league deal and try to make the team in spring training.  I know it's not a popular opinion among Phillies fans, but I would have liked to have seen the Phillies bring back Fultz or Rhodes given their lack of left-handed options and experience in the pen.

Does it make you feel real comfortable that a year ago at this time Cole Hamels' back problems were so bad he could barely get out of bed?  Me neither.

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