By MIKE FEIFEL
Last week, I had the chance to wander through the Disney Spring Training site of the Atlanta Braves with all of the hoopla of ESPN's The Weekend and wall-to-wall celebrities. I looked up and saw pictures of former Braves and settled in to watch "Chipper" Jones play his first game since off-season surgery.
The aging third baseman is the last vestige of a Brave team that had a lot of similarities to this year's Phillies team.
While the 38-year old Jones rounded third and scored off the bat of 21-year old phenom Freddie Freeman, I came to the conclusion that the Phillies will not dominate as people might think.
If you have been hiding under a rock, the Phillies have joined the ranks of the Yankees, Red Sox, and Mets who have paid big money to 'buy' a championship. Welcome aboard folks! I grew up a Yankee fan and have been thrilled and chilled by the results of their shopping sprees.
This season, the Phillies have a great rotation in Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels, and Cliff Lee. With that, the enthusiasm of Phillies fans calling into the radio is followed by high expectations. The talk show hosts and fans alike have posted a World Series win or bust on this 2011 season. One can easily understand why.
So the expectations are the Phils are going to win 105-110 games and run away with it all! Right? That's what I have been told by fans and the hosts on radio and TV.
Yes, the Yankees won a string of championships in the 1990s, but in the last 10 years their efforts yielded just one title. The fact is, buying players through trades and free-agency does not necessarily mean you win titles. Take a look at LeBron James and the trouble that the Miami Heat are having just winning games.
Others have compared this current Phillies rotation (that has yet to throw a pitch) to other World Series winners (who actually pitched). The Braves had the best rotation in baseball in the 1990s and the Orioles had one of the best rotations of all-time. The 1971 O's had four 20-game winners but failed to win it all. Despite those great rotations, both the Braves and the Orioles won just one Championship.
Fans should also shy away from expecting to win 100-games because that mark is not all what it is cracked up to be.
Since 1980, there have been 28 MLB teams to win 100 games, only five teams won the World Series. Only two of those five teams, the 1986 Mets (106) and 2005 Cardinals (100), were in the National League. In 2001, Oakland won 102 in that same season without winning the division. They were second to a Seattle Mariner team that won 116 games but failed to win a post-season series.
One thing about the Phillies staff that has been overlooked is that Halladay, Oswalt, and Lee have been around the block. I know times have changed and players are playing longer, but as pitchers get older, it is easier for them to break down. While Halladay, in his 14th season, is a three time 20-game winner, he is in his 14th season. Oswalt, who like Lee in his 11th season, won 20-games in 2004 and hasn't come close since and Hamels has not won more than 15 games in a season.
To dominate as the fans would like, the rotation needs to have near career years and they need to finish games out. The bullpen has been known to make things interesting with Brad Lidge closing. Who will set up? Will Scott Mathieson with his little experience be the bridge to Lidge?
Not only that, the Phillies lineup experienced a power shortage last season and lost free agent Jayson Werth and Domonic Brown (broken hand) to injury. After a disastrous 2010, Chase Utley's return to his former self is hampered daily by a lingering knee problem.
Ryan Howard, who had a drastic drop in numbers, will have Raul Ibanez for protection. The problem there is that Ibanez is also looking to rebound from a poor 2010.
Talented pitchers with bullpen questions and poor offense equal one thing: Nolan Ryan. Yes, the "Ryan Express" fire-balled his way to great seasons and great numbers that equaled a Hall-of-Fame career but few post-season opportunities. Ryan last won 20 games in 1974 but played 20 more seasons where his numbers (ERA and strikeouts) were great but the wins were hard to come by due to a lack of offense and a weak pen.
Now the Phillies have more talent than those Ryan teams and it is highly improbably they will be watching the post season at home. If you are a Phillies fan you should expect some peaks and valleys. Just try not to be too disappointed if they win the NL East with a mere 97 wins and a margin of just five or six games.