There seems to be a different vibe around the Phillies right now and it’s a good vibe. There’s an air of confidence, but the cockiness that marked this team in the past is no longer there.
Humility will do that to you and there’s no question the Phillies were forced to eat a big slice of humble pie last season – just one year removed from winning the most games in franchise history the Phils didn’t even make the playoffs. This is a team that has taken a step in the wrong direction every year since winning the World Series in 2008, as the Phillies have gone from World Series champions to World Series runners-up to National League runners-up to losing in the first round of the playoffs to not making the playoffs at all. There’s a definite trend there.
Regardless, in the past the Phillies and their fans approached a new season with a certain smugness. Making the playoffs was a given and the only question was how far this team would go once the postseason began. Well, last year wiped that smugness away.
And the players finally seem to realize that their window of opportunity is closing and, in fact, it might already be closed and locked with the shade pulled down. Almost nobody outside of the Delaware Valley believes the Phillies are legitimate contenders and there are a lot of people inside the Delaware Valley who have their doubts. The general consensus is that the Phils aren’t even the best team in their division, much less the best team in the league or all of baseball.
In fact, the Phiilies aren’t even considered to be the second best team in NL East. Look at any preseason forecast and almost all of them have the Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves ahead of the Phils, and those two teams certainly made splashier moves in the offseason.
That’s another sign that the Phillies aren’t the team they used to be, or at least aren’t perceived in the same way. Not long ago, big-time stars like Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee took less money to play for the Phillies because they wanted to win. Now, players that want to win look elsewhere and the Phillies failed to make the big off-season moves that marked the reign of general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. the last several years.
But that doesn’t really matter, because this team is going to go as far as its established stars take it and no free agent, not even Josh Hamilton, would have made a difference if guys like Halladay and Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley don’t bounce back and have big seasons.
Nobody knows how that will pan out, of course, but just listening to players like Howard and Utley and Halladay and you get the feeling this team has a quiet resolve it might have lacked in the past. Certainly, they have a lot to prove and improve, as individuals and as a team. The big stars didn’t shine very brightly last season and, just like the team as a whole, their individual statistics have been steadily declining in recent seasons.
At the same time, these guys have had a lot of success in the past and they know what it takes to succeed again. And the No. 1 thing is good health, something the Phillies certainly didn’t have last season when Howard, Utley and Halladay all missed big chunks of the season with injuries.
Now, they all seem to be in fine fettle and ready to start the season instead of having to be nursed along. Of course, that could change in a heartbeat and it’s just a fact of life that the older you get, the more perceptible you become to the nagging little injuries that can reduce a player’s effectiveness in a game as precise as baseball. But for now, everybody seems happy and healthy and that’s been the best news of all from spring training so far.
The second best news has been the Phillies’ attitude. They seem to have a chip on their shoulder now. They have something to prove to their fans and to the baseball world in general, but mostly to themselves. And that is powerful motivation.
So, if nothing else, it will be interesting to see how far that new attitude carries this team in 2013. Plus nobody expects the Phillies to have a great season and think how much fun it will be to watch them prove everybody wrong.
Contact Kevin Noonan at firstname.lastname@example.org.