Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Here Comes the Fun

There’s nothing like two straight division titles to start Phillies fans on a dangerous path; we just might start to become optimistic about the team. “Wait ‘til next year” is out, "Can't wait ‘til next year!” is in.

The back-to-back titles brought references to the great Phillies teams from 1976 to 1981. That’s where the giddy optimism kicks in. This Phillies group could enjoy similar success thanks to a strong, young core group entering their prime.

The teams that reached five playoffs and won a World Series from ’76 to ’81 featured four everyday players who started each of those seasons—Bob Boone, Mike Schmidt, Larry Bowa, and Garry Maddox—and four pitchers who were regularly used: Steve Carlton, Larry Christenson, Ron Reed, and Tug McGraw. (Schmidt, Maddox, and all four pitchers also played on the ’83 World Series team, but those Wheeze Kids were a different group in a fluky season.)

So which Phillies regulars of the last two years figure to anchor the team if there is to be a string of playoff appearances—and which will be hitting the road?

Among everyday players, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins are the only locks. Pat Burrell, Carlos Ruiz and Shane Victorino also started both seasons, but it’s unlikely Burrell will be back, Ruiz hasn’t hit well enough—especially with youngster Lou Marson looming—and Victorino is annual trade-talk fodder.

Jayson Werth, Greg Dobbs and Chris Coste were the other significant contributors in both seasons. Coste, 35, is too old to last too long, though Werth and Dobbs, both 29, could factor in the Phillies’ future.

The pitchers who’ve taken part in the last two and could be around for a five- to seven-year run: Cole Hamels, Brett Myers, Kyle Kendrick, Clay Condrey, Ryan Madson, and J.C. Romero. The others are either too old (we’ll miss you, Jamie), not good enough (adios, Adam), or Johnny-come-latelies (welcome to the fun, Brad).

But perhaps the most significant change that could affect the team’s repeat chances: the expected departure of GM Pat Gillick. His ability to fill in the missing pieces the last two years demonstrates what a successful GM can do for a team with such a talented core group of players.

It’s also worth remembering that things change quickly in pro sports. The 1976 playoff team’s everyday regulars included Dick Allen, Dave Cash, and Jay Johnstone, plus starting pitchers Jim Lonborg, Jim Kaat, and Tommy Underwood—none of whom were around for the 1980 title.

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