As a Philadelphia sports fan, I experienced something new last October: I watched one of my teams win a championship.
As a new baseball season approaches, I find myself experiencing something else new. How do I approach a season when my team is the defending champion?
When every season began for the first 22 years of my life, I always hoped I’d get to see my first championship. If they didn’t win, it was disappointing, but nothing new.
But now, I have that feeling. I’ll never forget Brad Lidge striking out Eric Hinske in game five of the 2008 World Series and the celebration that ensued for me and millions of fans.
But is it ok for them to fall short this year? It is hard to expect perfection every year. I don’t expect Lidge to not blow a save all year. I don’t expect the whole bullpen to be as lights out as it was last season. There are only so many clutch hits that a team can muster up in one season, right?
Maybe not. Maybe they can do it again. But is it right to expect that now?
If that time comes this year when the season comes to an end for the Phillies and they are not celebrating on the pitcher’s mound, I have no idea how I am going to feel. I know I will be a little disappointed at first, but I feel like there is a good chance I will be better equipped to accept the loss.
I heard about a petition to “ban the boo” at Citizen’s Bank Park this season. People say they earned it after last season’s championship. But as a Philly fan, I can’t be naïve enough to think that the first time someone strikes out with the two outs and the bases loaded, that guy is getting booed. But when Lidge blows that first save, how much can fans really boo? You can’t expect him to never blow a save. Fans still have to be somewhat “it’s a new year,” but they can’t instantly discount everything the players did last season. Overall, it is a novel idea, but I know that it just won’t work for Philly fans.
Overall, the Phillies do have some flaws that may keep them from repeating as World Series champions. The one that sticks out to me is the lack of a solid right-handed hitter. Pat Burrell’s departure made this a high priority in the off-season to me. General Manager Ruben Amaro Jr. chose to replace Burrell in left field with Raul Ibanez. I like what Ibanez has done so far this spring, but he’s another left-handed bat. Add Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins (who is a switch hitter but is better from the left side), and you have the potential for disaster when the team comes up against a dominant lefty.
I also think the team is really going to miss J.C. Romero, who was suspended for the first 50 games of the season for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. One can only hope that Chad Durbin and Ryan Madson repeat last year’s performances.
The starting rotation is also a question mark. The Phillies’ potential success is based on the assumption that Brett Myers can be the player he was after he was recalled from the minors and that Joe Blanton and 46-year-old Jamie Moyer can be better than average. Cole Hamels’ elbow issues are also somewhat of a concern. Without Hamels, the Phillies don’t have much of a chance.
But there are plenty of reasons to believe they will return to the World Series. Their offense might be the best in baseball. Utley is healthy and should contend for the MVP trophy again this year.
Most importantly, they are experienced now. They know what it takes to win. That is something that can’t be measured in statistics.
So now comes the hard part. No National League team has repeated as World Series champions since the Cincinnati Reds in 1976. So I’m hoping the Phillies can break through and end that streak just like they did by winning their first championship since 1980.
But if they don’t, it will be okay. Last year’s win was enough to hold me over. I think…