Thursday, March 03, 2005

Hot Links

Looking for a new-age sign that the seasons really do turn? Take a glance at the list of hot links to the various sports that resides on the left side of ESPN’s opening splash page. Sure enough, MLB has moved up to the number three slot, right behind the NBA and College Basketball.

In Philadelphia, however, MLB would only rank number four. The locals can’t or won’t let go of the Eagles. As Grapefruit League play gets underway, most of the talk-show junkies -- hosts, guests and callers alike -- are far more preoccupied with whom the Eagles have signed, re-signed, declined to sign, tendered offers to, or not tendered offers to. The Phillies? Oh, yeah, the Phillies. Camp has opened, right?

The Inquirer’s Jim Salisbury devotes his entire column today to the region’s lack of enthusiasm for the Phillies. “This winter, you needed a high-powered stethoscope to detect a Phillies buzz,” Salisbury writes.

What is it going to take to turn a few more heads? How about winning? The Eagles have been to four straight NFC championship games and one Super Bowl. True, they lost all four of them, but they have routinely advanced deep into the playoffs. The Phils last made a playoff appearance in 1993. Since then, they have had seven losing seasons. Five managers have come and gone. Great players have been signed and lost. The one constant has been disappointment and mediocrity.

Will this be the year things change? Few if any observers are predicting an end to the futility. A lot of good things must happen, especially among the starting rotation, and already one on whom much hope is riding, Vicente Padilla, has been shut down for the remainder of spring training with recurring tendonitis.

The bright spot may be their offense. Much of its success will depend on two players, Pat Burrell and Mike Lieberthal. If the left fielder can regain his confidence and hit between .270 and .280, the heart of the order – Abreu, Thome and Burrell – will be potent. If Lieberthal can start as fast as he finished last season, the Phils won’t strand so many runners in scoring position. And with Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and (I predict) Placido Polanco surrounding those three, the Phils should score runs.

Admittedly those are a lot of “ifs”, but, allowing for this big one, if the offense produces heads will surely turn and by the time the Eagles open training camp in July and the hot link to the NFL begins to rise over at ESPN, the locals will be too engrossed in a pennant race to be distracted.

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