Since December I've had this image in my head of Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, a la Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, emerging from their hideout with guns blazing in a last, glorious, suicidal buddy run at the Bolivian Army. Perhaps if you think differently of these two, you might prefer this mental image; your gender politics matter not to me. The idea is pretty much the same: Our grandiose plans got cocked up, the run is over, but we still have each other for one more run, so: Andiamo!
My inner prospect head will delight in what will likely be this season, from the emergence of Dom Brown and the defensive thrills of a Maddoxian Ben Revere, to the well-nigh inevitable rookie debut of Adam Morgan. I think Aumont will have a great season and establish himself as the closer of the future, for whatever that's worth. But the real lump in the throat will come in watching those few games when Howard, Rollins and Utley - oh, and Ruiz too - will get out the bats in the midst of Hittin' Weather (TM) some sultry night as my body processes really good hydrating beer in such a way so as to make my skin and clothing, from the back of my knees to the middle of my back, one with the fold-down blue seat at Citizens Bank Park. My God, I'll think: How I've loved these days.
More often than not, however, I fear that they'll be exposed for the has-beens they most likely are. Structurally, the 2013 team bothers me because it flouts the need for good defense at precisely the point, collectively, when its aging pitchers may need it more than ever. This, in turn, will overtax a bullpen that's decent, but not really built to be overtaxed, and, as last year, force the hands of an impatient offense to be even less patient, making them easy pickings for opposing bullpens. Games over.
While baseball's beauty is that it has no clock, it's probably worth watching the clock as the first few weeks go by to see which team has to spend more time standing around on defense than the other. My hunch is it'll be the Phillies, and nearly all the time, and as a veteran of what happens to you in your 30s, I'll tell you: You appreciate a good sit down more than you used to. So as the errors and base hits go through that other teams convert into outs, the length of the game will skyrocket this year. Bellies will be itched. Men will stand around on the mound and not look at one another directly. And the urge to kill the guy with the faux-Scottish accent pimping lawn care products will be at fever pitch by next Friday. (FEED YER LAWN. FEED IT!!)
This all feels familiar, as it's clear that it's simply not the Phillies' time anymore. I've seen this happen in the mid-80s, as the Mets then, much like the Nationals now, rose to prominence. I've been mulling whether this team is more like 1985 (75-87, 5th) or 1986 (86-75, very distant 2nd), and think it's more like the latter, simply given that it has two top-tier pitchers and, presuming health of the aforementioned core of more than 130 games, better across-the-lineup hitters. So let's be wildly optimistic here and say: 87 wins and thank God for the Marlins. Total coinflip about whether this team gets into the playoffs, but if push comes to shove, I say no. Like: lose the play-in game no. The postmortem seems plain: the team will have needed Roy Halladay, but didn't have him, because he will have melted into a bilious mass of effluvia from his sweat glands. We all realize that Utley's ball needed to go over the fence in game 5 of the 2011 NLDS for Halladay to be anything other than a beautiful desert flower in the desert of those to have never played in the World Series. It's unfair that Base Ba'al decides instead to kiss the asses of clowns like Craig Counsell, Cody Ross, or Hunter Pence, for that matter, but there it is.
For those fans in the New York-Philadelphia area, I again make my prospect pitch to go see the Lakewood BlueClaws (zOMG ROMAN CANDLE QUINN) and, for the first time in what seems like forever, the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, as they'll have bona fide organizational talent there, and not just a collection of Sideshow Bobs.
I am desperately hoping that the 2013 Phillies won't be lost in a boring miasma of mediocre, sloppy baseball, but I'm not terribly confident of this. I'm a bit more hopeful that they might be good dramatic street theater, as I think there are elements within the clubhouse and front office that will, when things to bad, start to tear each other apart and expose some festering seams that will ooze all over the various media. I won't delight in this, particularly, but it will keep me paying attention. From a baseball standpoint, I simply hope this doesn't manifest itself somehow in a blown first-round draft pick. I hope it does manifest itself in a leaked report that Delmon Young didn't hit his weight target clause. Hey, if it can't be good baseball, it might as well be a good soap opera.