I am confident the Phillies are going to be pretty bad this season. Coming off a 73 win season, their big off-season moves were adding two guys closer to 40 than 30 whose upside is an additional 4 wins.
The rest of the 2014 plan seems to be all about hoping and praying. First, that guys with significant injury histories (including their "youngsters") can stay healthy. Second, that 5/8 of their starting lineup and 3/5 of their starting rotation can stay strong or improve despite being on the wrong side, many on the far wrong side, of the aging curve. And third, that the other 3/8 of the starting lineup and 2/5 of the starting rotation can overcome their mid-level (at best) ceilings.
Beyond what happens on the field, I'm still 100% convinced that the man in charge of the team doesn't understand baseball in the 21st century. Ruben Amaro's public comments indicate that he values the same statistics that a casual fan in the 1970s valued and that he has no understanding of basic sports injury risk. The steadily dwindling production his teams have put forth on the field proves that these public comments are not just a smoke screen for advanced baseball knowledge. He has taken a championship team and returned them to being a laughing stock franchise. It doesn't help that he's apparently resorted to turning in college kids for violating the NCAA equivalent of jaywalking in New York City.
In other words, I completely agree with this CBS writer who, in assessing the Phillies after the Wetzler situation, concluded that "[t]his is a pretty pitiful organization top to bottom these days."
And yet, I'm totally excited about Phillies baseball coming around the corner. I'm not at all wallowing in self-pity, succumbing to depression about my fandom and my place in the world, or being tempted to start firing off angry missives at those who disagree with me. Phillies baseball is approaching, and I can't wait.
How can I hold these two views? How can I think the Phillies are a poorly run franchise with little chance of winning this year yet be thoroughly excited about the upcoming season? Easy:
1) There's still a chance! It doesn't matter how confident I might be, there's still always a chance that lightning strikes or that I'm completely wrong (it's happened before and it'll happen again, a lot). Everyone could stay healthy. Ryan Howard could re-discover how to hit lefties. Jimmy Rollins' 2013 might be just a blip. Cody Asche could become a phenom. Carlos Ruiz could return to his 2012 form now that he can lawfully take his meds. Ben Revere will be a singles-hitting machine. Marlon Byrd won't get caught on PEDs and will continue his late-career power surge. Domonic Brown's May 2013 will become his norm for the entire season. The front-three of Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, and A.J. Burnett will be dominant. Kyle Kendrick will figure out how to be consistent. Miguel Gonzalez, Jonathan Pettibone, and Roberto Hernandez will provide quality innings every fifth start and from the bullpen. Jonathan Papelbon could gain back 1 or 2 mph on his fastball and become dominant again. The young guns in the bullpen will keep improving.
Sure, this is all possible. Not likely at all, but it's possible. And if it happens, I'll be there cheering every step of the way. And certainly, until the first pitch of the season, I'll be counting on all of this happening . . . even though I wouldn't bet a penny on it.
2) Individual performances. Even if all of these things don't happen (they won't), I'm still excited to watch many of the individual players. I love Chooch. I'll root for a Ryan Howard blast every at bat even if I know he couldn't hit my son's 34mph fastball (if my son were lefty). Chase Utley at the end of his career is still better than 99% of the second basemen who have ever played, and it's an honor to watch it. Jimmy Rollins is just fun. Ben Revere is fast. Dom Brown can hit titanic home runs. When they're on (and they often are), games pitched by Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee are masterpieces. And I may even get to see my second-favorite Phillie ever, Bobby Abreu, don the uniform once again.
How can I not be excited about all of that?
3) CBP. This is the 10 year anniversary of Citizens Bank Park, and it's still as good as ever. I was never someone who complained about the Vet. I love watching live baseball, and I loved watching games at the Vet. But, CBP is a special place. Watching games there, from almost any seat, is a joy. Phillies management got this right, and I'll always praise them for that.
4) The youngsters/future. The Phillies have one of the oldest teams in baseball, but they still have some youngsters who are exciting to watch already on the team as well as others who are in the wings who we'll all be interested in seeing perform. Asche, Brown, and Revere are young and have potential. It'll be exciting to see how they play out. Add in the unknown of Gonzalez, the power/patience combo of Darin Ruf, and the high ceilings of Jesse Biddle and Maikel Franco -- there are question marks and potential that we get to have fun watching.
5) My kids. My sons are getting old enough that they are starting to really enjoy watching and talking about the Phillies. They enjoyed games before, but it was mostly so they could be with their family and eat junk food. But now they watch the games closely, follow what's happening, and are invested in the outcome. When they wake up in the morning, they ask who won the night before and keep track of who has the most home runs. Whether the team is good or bad, it's fun to them, so it's fun for me.
6) Phillies. For whatever psychological reason, I root for the laundry that has the Philadelphia Phillies logo on it. I've been doing it for about 35 years now, and I'm not going to stop. If I didn't get excited about the team when I knew it was going to be bad, there would have been way too many years in the 80s and 90s when I would have been apathetic before the season began. But I wasn't then and I won't be now. This is my team. This is my passion. The Phillies' franchise is what gets me most excited as a sports fan. Regardless of management's faults and regardless of the team's chances.
7) BASEBALL. I love baseball. It's as simple as that. As a fan, as a player, as a father, as a TV watcher, as a radio listener, as a CBP-goer, as a newspaper reader, as a fantasy baseball player/commissioner, as a blogger, as a stat analyzer -- I devote so many hours of my life to following this game because I love it. When the season starts, it's a wonderful thing.
In other words, when the first pitch of the Phillies season is thrown at 2:05pm, March 31, in Arlington, Texas, after I get over the bizarreness of the Phillies opening their season against the Rangers, I'll be a giddy little kid rooting for my team, hoping for the best, and enjoying everything I can about the season . . . while cursing management at every turn and being confident that the team is going to be terrible in 2014.