It is Sunday February 13th. Tomorrow is my favorite Hallmark holiday, Valentine's Day. Did I remember to buy flowers or a box of chocolates for my wife? I did not; I was distracted today by a new beginning. Today pitchers and catchers reported to Clearwater, Florida! Today begins the Phillies quest for another NL Championship and another World Series ring! Although my wife does not harbor the same excitement as me for this joyous day, she is very understanding about the lack of a gift for tomorrow...she hates flowers anyway.
In my eyes the very first thing we need to talk about regarding the 2011 Phillies is the starting rotation. That may be a "duh" statement, but with these four names, Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt; where would anyone else start? To read and hear those names creates the most excitement in the most exciting era of baseball in Philadelphia. Playoffs in 2007, World Series champs in 2008 (or as Chase Utley would say "World @*&!ing champions!"), World Series runner ups in 2009 and NLCS runner ups in 2010. With these four horses in our stable and the expectations of the Phillies bats, there is no discussion; the Phillies are the team to beat.
Let's begin with the pitcher that was on the roster for every one of those seasons I mentioned above, Cole Hamels. There was some worry when the Phillies traded Cliff Lee to Seattle that Cole was not going to be able to regain his 2008 form. Those worries were soon put to bed and Hamels elevated himself to a better version of 2008. He finished the season with only 12 wins, but any Phillies fan knows that number should have been much higher. With a 3.06 era, if the bats had done their job Cole would have been in the 17-19 win range.
Roy Halladay was acquired in the 2010 offseason. Phillies fans were upset after the front office traded Cliff Lee to Seattle but having the best pitcher in baseball on your roster helped. Halladay came here with high expectations and he lived up to every one of them. With 21 wins, 219 strikeouts and a 2.44 era the Phillies and their fans could not ask for anymore; Halladay provided it anyway with a perfect game during the regular season and a no hitter in the postseason. The acquistion of Roy Halladay may be the single greatest move in Philadelphia sports history...and it only gets better.
With Halladay and Hamels in place and both playing up to and beyond expectations, the Phillies went out and traded for Roy Oswalt. He proceeded to go 7-1 in 12 starts with an era of 1.74. Oswalt was the final piece to the Phillies pitching puzzle last season and the fans thought that was the icing on the cake.
Cliff Lee finished off a great season in Texas with a World Series appearance. He again was the Yankees kryptonite in the ALCS, and everyone thought for sure he would be in blue pinstripes in 2011. The Yankees and the Rangers seemed to be in a bidding war when the media began to talk of a third team. A secret team that no one knew, never did I expect that team to be the Phillies. When the Phillies went out and spent the money and brought back the guy they never really wanted to let go they made the second greatest move in Philadelphia sports history. Phillies fans were upset about not having Cliff Lee and Halladay together last season (rightfully so), now we may be the most spoiled fans in baseball.
The expectations are there, and rightfully so. There is a lot to live up to, most would say World Series or bust and I would have to agree. It is only February 13th and only pitchers and catchers have reported to Clearwater for spring training. But, when it is these pitchers, it is very difficult to not go into baseball overload. Yes my wife will read this post, one of maybe four or five people, but she will somehow be able to contain her excitement...maybe a card and a heart shaped box of chocolates will help when I get home from work tomorrow.