The page can now officially turn. With the culmination of the NFL season, capped by one of the more entertaining Super Bowl games that saw the Baltimore Ravens prevent San Francisco from celebrating a second major world championship in a matter of months, all eyes can now move on to baseball. Sorry NBA and NHL. It is time for spring training.
In just eight more days the Philadelphia Phillies will have pitchers and catchers report to Clearwater, Florida. Three days later the rest of the team will assemble for the spring. For the first time in a while a strong case can be made that the Phillies will enter the 2013 season as a clear underdog in the NL East. The Washington Nationals are coming off their first division championship and should be a strong contender once again with a full year of Bryce Harper and (hopefully) Stephen Strasburg and a solid off-season. The Atlanta Braves ended their 2013 season with a one-game playoff loss to the St. Louis Cardinals. There is no more Chipper Jones but the Braves welcome the Upton brothers, Justin and B.J., to their lineup and once again appear to be a legitimate threat in the division.
For the first time in a number of years it seems the Phillies are either being overlooked or not being recognized as a viable contender in the NL East. Is the window closing on this nucleus? Perhaps it is. Maybe having something to prove will fuel the Phillies this year though. After the way last season played out there may be a number of Phillies who have something to prove in 2013.
Roy Halladay got smacked around more often than we have been accustomed to seeing last season. Hitters attacked early and piled up the base hits. Last season marked just the third time in his career Halladay ended the season with an ERA over four and it was the first time since 2005 he failed to pitch 200 innings. Halladay may be on the downside of his career, but part of me thinks he is a smart enough pitcher to find a way to adjust his game where needed.
Cliff Lee ended the year with a losing record. Of course, there were some games when Lee was not getting run support, but there were a number of times when Lee coughed up a lead or made a costly mistake on the mound so there was enough blame to go around.
Ryan Howard may have rushed back to join the Phillies last season. Now with an entire off-season to continue rehabbing and healing, the hope is that he has regained whatever mobility he previously had before rupturing his Achilles heal at the very end of the 2011 NLDS. The same may be true for Chase Utley, who has seen his batting average decline each season since 2007. The optimistic hope is that Howard and Utley provide the surge in the lineup over the course of an entire season to help the Phillies avoid a slow start that was painfully existent last season.
Then there is the outfield, perhaps the biggest concern for the team in 2013. The addition of Ben Revere in centerfield could pay off in terms of run production and defense, but the free agent signing of Delmon Young has done little initially to solve the issue of defense in the corner, and the team is hoping his bat from the postseason carries over to the regular season. The combo of John Mayberry Jr. and Dominic Brown is either ready to break out or continue to disappoint, and Darin Ruf's expectations are high but still unproven.
We'll see what happens soon enough. The fact that the Phillies are getting ready to get started on their 2013 season is enough to give me some chills just thinking about it. There will be plenty to discuss, and now that football is behind us, that is just what we will be doing.
Do you have Goosebumps yet?