High Hopes: For the Phillies, Anything but a World Series Title Is a Failure

January 17, 2011 by  
Filed under Fan News

Despite reaching the National League Championship Series for the third consecutive year in 2010, the Phillies had one of the most disappointing seasons in recent memory.

After appearing in two consecutive World Series, Lady Luck turned on the Philadelphia Phillies in a big way. Throughout the duration of the regular season, they battled with the rest of the National League’s competition with a battered, injury-torn offense, and persevered on the strength of a fantastic trio of starting pitchers. Even those three, however, were not enough, as the Phillies’ offense limped through the first round of the postseason, and was no match for the pitching of the San Francisco Giants in the League Championship Series. For the second straight season, the Phillies went home empty-handed.

Before Spring Training even began in 2010, the Phillies were still recovering from a long 2009 season. The team’s top reliever, closer, Brad Lidge, went under the knife in January of 2010, as doctors repaired several injuries in both his right knee and elbow. He missed a majority of the team’s training in Clearwater, Florida, and despite a return to his 2008 form at the end of the season, saw his fair share of struggles.

Spring Training was not good to the Phillies, either. In the time that spans the months of February, March and April, the Phillies saw injuries to several key players. Left handed reliever, JC Romero, saw more than one setback as he recovered from offseason surgery. The biggest Spring Training injury, however, occurred to big right handed starting pitcher, Joe Blanton, who strained an oblique muscle during an outing, and spent the entire first month of the season, and time in May, on the Disabled List.

The Phillies hoped that their injury bug stayed in warm, comfortable Florida as the team migrated north to Philadelphia, but that simply was not the case. During the month of April, the Phillies saw three huge contributors hit the Disabled List: Jimmy Rollins, JA Happ and Ryan Madson. After the first few games of the season, Rollins had fans believing in a return to his MVP caliber form. Over the first six games, he got off to an incredible start, posting a slash line of .391 / .516 / .739. Of course, he’d hit the Disabled List with a hamstring injury, and never get back on track during the regular season.

Happ, who broke camp in the Phillies’ rotation for the first time after a breakout 2008 season, strained his left forerarm, and missed several months. On the other hand, Madson gave himself a self-inflicted injury. After blowing a save while covering for Lidge, who was not available, Madson entered the dugout in a rage, kicking a steel chair and breaking the big toe on his right foot. After surgery, he would miss eight weeks as well.

It was all downhill from there.

After April, the Phillies had a plethora of injuries to nearly their entire team, the four most prominent of which could have crippled their season. In a division that seemingly needed the Phillies to stay healthy, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Shane Victorino and Jamie Moyer all took some time on the Disabled List. Victorino strained his oblique muscle, and would return after a stint on the 15-Day Disabled List. On the other hand, Moyer, Howard and Utley would all miss extended periods of time. Moyer, who last pitched on July 21 in St. Louis, would miss the remainder of the season with several injuries to his pitching arm, and has since had Tommy John Surgery. Though he hopes to pitch again, his career may still be in jeopardy. Howard and Utley would both have freak injuries that lingered over the course of the season. Howard missed significant time in August with several ligament injuries in his right ankle, and, after missing about two months with an injury to his thumb received while sliding into second base, Utley never got back on track.

That was far from the last, however. Though not all spent time on the Disabled List, Placido Polanco, Domonic Brown, Scott Mathieson, Ross Gload, Danys Baez, Carlos Ruiz, Roy Oswalt, Wilson Valdez, Brian Schneider, Chad Durbin and Antoinio Bastardo would all appear in the Phillies’ injury report in some way, shape or form.

In short, it’s simply a miracle that the Phillies, with a record of 97-65, were able to finish with baseball’s best record. All things considered, they turned in a respectable seasons, and the best regular season in baseball. However, for both the Phillies and their fans, the 2010 season was a complete failure.

After acquiring Roy Halladay in the offseason, the Phillies were favorites to win their division for the fourth consecutive season, and to most people, appear in the World Series for their third consecutive year. With all of the injuries the team sustained, at some points during the regular season, the future seemed bland. The Phillies’ most productive hitter, by most measures, was being shopped by the trade deadline, and the city of Philadelphia seriously doubted their team’s chances. By the end of June, and moving into July, the outlook seemed bleak.

However, instead of moving his healthiest hitter, General Manager Ruben Amaro Jr. dialed up an old friend, Houston Astros’ General Manager, Ed Wade, on the phone, and the teams agreed to a deadline deal that sent longtime face of the Astros’ franchise and ace, Roy Oswalt, to the Phillies for a healing Happ and prospects Anthony Gose and Jonathan Villar. On the day after he arrived in Washington to join his new teammates, Oswalt lost his first decision against the Nationals. That would be the last decision he would lose in a Phillies’ uniform. Oswalt would go on an absolute tear, posting a record of 7-1 with the Phillies, and an ERA of just 1.74. The revitalized ace gave a Phillies’ rotation that was looking awfully overworked a necessary boost.

The rotation would get a second boost, from within. After the All-Star break, the best homegrown Phillies’ pitcher in recent memory managed to rediscover himself. After, at the suggestion of league veterans Halladay and Moyer, adding a cutter, left hander Cole Hamels took the National League by storm. From mid-July onward, Hamels, who received little run support, posted a record of 5-4 with an ERA of 2.23.

Overcoming their injuries, the Phillies would win their division with a six-game cushion over the Atlanta Braves. Entering the playoffs, the Phillies’ featured a trio of “aces” that were feared in a short seriesHalladay, Oswalt, and Hamels. With the latter two having proved themselves with World Series experience, the only “question mark” in the rotation was Halladay’s playoff presence, which would shortly be answered, as the Phillies took on the Cincinnati Reds in the first round. Though just about everyone with knowledge of the game of baseball expected postseason rookie, Halladay, to do well, no one foresaw the history he would make coming. In Game 1 of the National League Divisional Series, Halladay threw just the second no-hitter in the history of postseason baseball.

Though the Phillies’ offense would limp through the first round of the playoffs against an inferior Reds’ staff, Oswalt and Hamels dialed up excellent performances of their own, and the Phillies cruised through the divisional series, and awaited their next opponent, the San Francisco Giants, in Philadelphia for Game 1 of the NLCS.

The series featured the National League’s two most fearsome rotations. Even with their struggling offense, the Phillies were heavy favorites to win the series against the Giants’ staff, anchored by two-time reigning NL Cy Young Award winner, Tim Lincecum. The series was easily the most exciting of 2010. One of the most anticipated pitching matchups ever saw Halladay and Lincecum each best each other once, while Oswalt, Hamels, Blanton, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez, and rookie Madison Bumgarner each traded blows.

In the end, the battered, injury-riddled offense was simply no match for the Giants’ pitching. Even though the Giants’ offense was lackluster over the course of the regular season, they were at least one thing that the Phillies simply were nothealthy. The series would reach an entertaining six games, and the Giants would go on to defeat the Texas Rangers in the World Series.

For Phillies’ fans, the series loss was simply devastating. The roster featured the league’s best pitcher in Halladay, who would go on to unanimously win the Cy Young award, ending Lincecum’s reign, and career years from Oswalt and Hamels. That didn’t soften the blow, however. After the season-ending Game 6, Phillies’ manager, Charlie Manuel, summed it up best by saying, “We had injuries, and stuff like that, but in this game, that don’t hold up. It just didn’t happen for us. We had a great season, but we didn’t generate the offense that I know we’re capable of.”

That sentiment was echoed through the Phillies clubhouse. “I felt like we had the best team in baseball this year, and everything doesn’t always work out. We seemed to run into a team that is doing everything right right now,” said Lidge. That thought was heard around the city of Philadelphia. With huge names like Halladay, Oswalt, Howard, Rollins and Utley, the Phillies, and their fans, expected to bring another World Series title back to Philadelphia. For both the team and the fans, anything less than a World Series championship is a failure.

That thought will move straight into the 2011 season. Despite losing their top right-handed slugger, Jayson Werth, to the division rival Washington Nationals, the Phillies made their own gigantic splash this offseason, throwing down the red carpet, and $125 million, to welcome left-handed ace, Cliff Lee, the man who pitching himself into Philadelphia lore in the 2009 postseason, back into the rotation. Now, with Halladay, Oswalt, Hamels and Lee under contract, expectations in Philadelphia have never been higher. Though there has been much ado about the strength of the Phillies’ rotation, the fact remains that each of their top four starters have the potential to win 20 games, and Blanton, who will drop all the way to fifth, isn’t too shabby in his own right.

One of the most positive outcomes of Lee’s return has been the diversion of attention from the bullpen and offense, whose prides are slowly recovering. Two of the most damaging memories from the 2010 postseason, in the minds of Philadelphians and Phillies’ fans everywhere, are Juan Uribe taking the dominant set-up man, Madson, deep, and Phillies’ slugger, Howard, left at the plate looking.

In a lot of ways, both areas of the team have actually improved. By adding Lee, the Phillies have allowed themselves to max out their greatest relievers, Romero, Madson, Lidge and Jose Contreras. The offense, on the other hand, has literally been recovering. When the team arrives in Florida for Spring Training, Lidge, Howard, Utley, Rollins and the lot will all be healthy, a statement that wasn’t heard much in 2010. Though no one expects an aging Phillies’ core to have career years, or some combination of Brown, Ross Gload and Ben Francisco to create a super outfielder in Werth’s absence, a healthy Phillies offense is an improved Phillies’ offense, and one that can provide the league’s best rotation with a bit of run support. As with any team, health will be key.

So, as we look forward to the 2011 season, fans of the Phillies and baseball fans alike wonder what we can expect out of this loaded rotation, a healthy offense, and an NL East that has improved largely in general. While most of us are hoping for a Phillies-Giants rematch down the road, anything less than a World Series title will be, once again, a failure for the Philadelphia Phillies.

Read more Philadelphia Phillies news on BleacherReport.com

Article Source: Bleacher Report - Philadelphia Phillies

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