Monday, March 9, 2009

World Champion Phillies Get No Respect

By Ray Cravetz

One of the joys of the preseason in any sport is trying to guess what team is going to win the championship. In the 2009 MLB season, there are a lot of contenders: the New York Mets with their improved bullpen, the L.A. Angels with their potent offense, the Chicago Cubs if they can ever stop choking, and the Red Sox and Yankees (just because).

Oh, wait, I forgot about the 2008 World Champion Philadelphia Phillies

So did everybody else.

Odds-makers currently have the Philadelphia Phillies as underdogs to win their own division, let alone go for a repeat. Apparently, Vegas thinks that it's more likely that the Chicago Cubs will win their first in a hundred years then a team from (blech) Philadelphia going back to back.

Granted, many of the teams listed ahead of the Phillies have improved, but when you're on top, all you really have to do is maintain, and the starting lineup for this year looks identical to 2008 with the exception of replacing Pat Burrell with Raul Ibanez.

Some fans feel that's an improvement.

Last year, two of the team's three MVP-caliber players—Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley—had to deal with fairly serious injuries. This year they should be 100% or close to it.

Did I mention the the Phillies have three MVP-caliber players? (The other one is Ryan Howard, possible future legitimate home run king and 2006 NL MVP winner )

The achilles' heel of the Phils has always been pitching until last year. Cole Hamels and Brett Myers anchor a reasonably strong rotation, and Brad Lidge is the best closer in the game. K-Rod may have set the record for the most saves last year, but Lidge tied the record for fewest blown saves (with ZERO) and had an opp. BA under .200.

Meanwhile, perennial knee-jerk favorites, the Red Sox and Yankees, lost their division last year to the Tampa Bay Rays. Incidentally, Vegas has the Rays in third place in the AL East this year.

This is symptomatic of a bizarre phenomenon in modern sports coverage. Teams that used to be great are this year's favorites. The Dallas Cowboys a were favored to win the Super Bowl last year without having won a playoff game in the previous decade. All the analysts are wondering how the Yankees are going to overcome A-Rod's scandals and injuries. I'm wondering IF they're going to overcome sucking out loud last year.

Maybe it just has to do with ratings or hits, but please people, the team that sells the most merchandise is not necessarily the best team.

As the rest of the league shuffles and scrambles, the Phillies are standing pat with a strong hand that nobody gives them credit for. I thought I'd never say this, but now I know how New York Giants fans feel.

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