In 2011, Chase Utley missed 59 games. In 2011, Ryan Howard was worth 1.6 wins more than a replacement level player. In 2011, the Philadelphia Phillies were a 102-win team.
In 2012, the Philadelphia Phillies will once again be without Chase Utley to start the season, in addition to not having Ryan Howard. While there might be a tendency to see that and panic, read again the first paragraph. Chase Utley missed a third of the season. Ryan Howard was worth less to the team than Placido Polanco. And yet, in that same season, the Phillies set a franchise record for wins and were without question the best team in baseball in 2011.
That the 2011 Phillies lost in five games in the NLDS does not speak ill of the team, but rather, the unpredictable nature of small sample sizes. A team that wins 102 games in a season still loses 60 times. And in a sport such as baseball where no one player has an overwhelming say in the result of a series, unlike basketball, a five game series can be the death knell of any team, regardless of how good the team is. Which is why the 2011 Phillies should not be looked down upon, and why in 2012, everything is going to be all right.
In 2011, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels formed the most formidable front end of a pitching staff in baseball. Roy, Cliff, and Cole are all returning. In 2011, Vance Worley put up a 3.01 ERA, and while some regression should be expected, he should still find a nice niche as a back of the rotation starter behind three of the best pitchers in baseball today. Put another way, if you compare Vance Worley to other back of the rotation in Major League Baseball, he compares favorably. The same can be said with the other day back of the rotation starter for the Phillies, Joe Blanton.
Watching the Phillies in the late 2000s, it is a bit strange getting used to a team dominant offense to a team dominant with pitching. But that is exactly what they are. And hey, the Phillies offense scored 712 runs last season when they were without Chase Utley for 59 games. And hey, the 2010 San Francisco Giants won the World Series. The key to any season is finding someway, anyway, to get into the playoffs. It does not matter if you flat out dominate the regular season, surge through on an epic September comeback, or back into the playoffs following a poor September. All that matters in baseball is getting into the playoffs, and from there, the only thing that is predictable is unpredictability. It's only baseball's nature.
Panic for 2012 is unwarranted. I prefer not to look too far ahead at 2013 and beyond at the moment because there are a lot of variables that could come into play. It is true that last off-season, the Philadelphia Phillies did not improve. But that is more than okay, that is a good thing. The Phillies' lone faults this off-season were giving Jonathan Papelbon a 4th year and Laynce Nix a 2nd year, and when those are the only missteps of the off-season, that is okay. The Phillies did not mortgage what is left of their farm for David Wright. The Phillies did not panic and sell low on Domonic Brown, like pretty much every WIP caller would have wanted them to do. When you are a 102-win team, there is no need to trade assets for veterans or give out huge contracts to Jose Reyes, Albert Pujols, and Prince Fielder.
But while the Phillies did not improve as a whole over the off-season, there are some positional upgrades. John Mayberry, Jr. is cheaper and better than 2011 opening day starter Raul Ibanez. Hunter Pence is more expensive and better than 2011 opening day starter Ben Francisco. Freddy Galvis, as much as he might struggle offensively, is still better than 2011 opening day starter Wilson Valdez.
It is unlikely the 2012 Phillies will be better than the 2011 Phillies. 102 wins is a lofty expectation for any team, no matter how good. All that is important is the Phillies win the NL East once again, and in spite of the improvements made by the Braves, Marlins, and Nationals, all three still have holes and none of them are quite as good as the Phillies are now.
But there is always the possibility the injury bug bites hard. There is always the possibility that Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and/or Cole Hamels get injured. Should one of these three be injured, it goes without say that would not be good. But, should disaster strike, and should the Phillies not win the NL East, Bud Selig added a Wild Card team to the playoffs. It's an idea worse than the designated hitter, but it could only serve to give an added boost to the Phillies. The idea sucks. The thought behind the idea sucks. But in the end, the Phillies could be the ones reaping the benefits. Think about it. Even if you are five games behind what would normally be the lone wild card team, and you can beat that wild card team in one game, you are in that position. For the 5th place team, it is a life saver. That 5th team could in theory be the Phillies. It is unlikely, but it could be.
The 2012 baseball season is upon us. Another journey has begun. Warm days of spring will slowly transform into hot, humid summer nights, finally concluding with the crisp autumn air. For 29 teams, the season will end in heartbreak. It always does. But for one team that emerges on the other side of the crapshoot, immortality awaits. I will watch, follow, and scream, hoping that team is the Phillies. But chances are, it won't be. Until the World Series begins, no team has a greater than 50% chance of winning the World Series. But even if it is not, the journey the 2012 baseball takes us on will still be an amazing ride.
The Golden Age of a franchise founded in 1883 continues. And everything is going to be all right.