One of the most anticipated seasons in their long and mostly tortuous history gets underway this afternoon when the Phillies take on the NY Yankees in the first Spring Training game against a major league opponent. (The Phils played Florida State last week.)
For the phaithful that long history has been far less tortuous of late. The Phils have won the NL East title four years running and have advanced to two World Series, winning one, and one NLCS in the process.
As the pundits are quick to point out, today's game is largely meaningless other than to give some prime players live competition and some fringe players a chance to show they belong. It is interesting to look over the announced starting lineups and note the Yankees will send out what is expected to be their starting day lineup while the Phils will be without several certain starters including most of their infield.
Last season the Phils faltered when their vaunted offense could not keep pace with their pitching, which was supposed to play the supporting role. True, the offense was beset by injuries to all of the starting infield, but the overall feeling was the Phils did not perform well at the plate, taking too passive an approach. Hitting coach Milt Thompson was the sacrificial lamb at mid-season, the usual response when "something must be done", but his replacement, Greg Gross, didn't have any better success convincing players to go up their hacking.
It isn't exactly comforting to read Chase Utley won't be in the lineup today because of "body soreness". Utley missed 49 games last year and never looked sharp at the plate or in the field. The Phils are counting on him to rebound this season. Jimmy Rollins, who was excused for a few days, is also out of the lineup, apparently running late getting back to camp. Rollins missed a huge amount of last season due to injury (and was the center of a mild controversy the year before for arriving late for a game). Both players must come back if the Phils expect to contend.
In truth the Phils are clearly built to win now. Many of their starters are advancing in years (Utley, Howard, Rollins, Oswalt, Ibanez, Lidge, Polanco) and more importantly many are being counted on to bounce back from sub-par seasons in 2010. If a few of them fail to rebound, there won't be any parades in the Fall of 2011 nor will there be one in 2012, when even more holes will have to be filled.
So, this year has to be it. Everything gets underway this afternoon.