Right now the team to beat in the NL East is New York. They have the best overall combination of offense and pitching. The latter depends on the continued health of Pedro Martinez and Billy Wagner, but should they remain formidable the Mets will be tough.
After them, the rest of the division members have big problems. In Atlanta, the Braves biggest hurdle to overcome will be the health of Mike Hampton and the departure of Leo Mazzone. The Marlins are mere shadows of their former selves and the Nationals haven’t improved themselves significantly from last season’s over-achievers. Indeed, their most important off-season acquisition, Alfonso Soriano, is already unhappy and pitchers and catchers haven’t even reported yet.
What could change the situation for the Phillies? Several things:
- Gavin Floyd could fulfill all the promise and hype, but don’t count on it.
- Brett Myers could grow up but not out. The comment he made about getting winded whenever he climbed a flight of stairs last season was either disingenuous or pathetic. He was fat and out of shape.
- The change in the left-field wall dimensions could make a difference. My recollection of the number of fly balls landing in the petunias suggests this could indeed be the most significant ten feet in recent Phillies history.
- Randy Wolf, the forgotten man on the Phillies staff, could come back stronger and better. Though he won’t be available before mid to late season under the best of circumstances, Wolf’s recovery of form could dramatically alter the picture for the Phillies, giving them a veteran left-handed presence they sorely lack as of now.
- Aaron Rowand could rediscover his batting stroke and avoid running through the very outfield walls his predecessor, Kenny Lofton, studiously avoided.
- Hopefully, Chase Utley will avoid getting too tired in the late season. Anyone who plays as hard as Utley does is bound to wear down. It wouldn’t hurt to give him a few days off every now and then.
- Ryan Howard could pick up where he left off last season. There is no secret that Howard’s continued emergence is critical to the Phils’ success. He seems to have the temperament and ability to come through.
- Jimmy Rollins could also pick up where he left off. Frankly, this must be his breakout year as a leadoff batter.
- Cory Lidle could pitch effectively for an entire season, not just stretches. This is another one of those “don’t hold your breath” situations. Lidle is a career .500 pitcher.
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The Phillies have joined several other major league clubs in announcing they now have a special pricing schedule for mid-season and/or prime games. The rise in ticket prices as the temperature warms is deplorable but irreversible. Other teams are doing it and once underway these sort of trends are unstoppable. So, get ready to fork over more money just when a weeknight game in, say, July is scheduled and the kids don’t have school the next day. The variable rates affect games scheduled for between May 19 and August 20 and naturally cover the period of interleague play. This year the Red Sox and Yankees are scheduled to visit Citizens Bank Park. Lower prices should be available to watch Colorado and Cincinnati.
Among other notable dates the Phils released is Fan Appreciation Day, Sept. 24, vs. Florida, the final regular-season home game. Lord knows the Marlins will need some fan appreciation, too, even if it is in someone else’s ballpark. Fewer, if any, fans should show up in Miami to watch the locals than in the recent past.