You’ve been resilient, Phillies fans. Hanging loyal through the demise of Halladay, Utley and Howard. Mothballing those No. 6 Rollins and No. 35 Hamels jerseys when your favorite ballpark apparel became mere nostalgic keepsakes.
You gritted your teeth through Dom Brown and Ben Revere. Attended games knowing Aaron Harang and Jerome Williams would get shellacked. Hey, you survived Jonathan Papelbon.
Your reward is due.
So let me be the first to predict: The Phils will finish .500 this season.
Granted, this doesn’t sound like cause for a parade. But after four years with an average of 70-92, this franchise is ready for respectability. And that’s one step away from contending.
The Phils didn’t have a noisy off-season. The free agents they added are solid journeymen, not stars. Even at that, corner OFs Michael Saunders and Howie Kendrick will resemble Mantle and Maris compared with last year’s sad lot of Peter Bourjos, Cody Asche and Tyler Goodell. Plus, they’ll give Maikel Franco lineup protection so that (presumably) he stops flailing at those low, outside curveballs.
Veteran Clay Buchholz and the returning Jeremy Hellickson should combine for 60 credible starts. Bullpen additions Joaquin Benoit and Pat Neshek will provide sanity in late innings – or perhaps become closers if Jeanmar Gomez can’t hack it.
Most importantly, those players provide a bridge. There is impressive potential among the Baby Phils already on the team or moving up the system. But, of course, potential mostly means you’ve not yet proven it.
So Buchholz and Hellickson toe the rubber while manager Pete Mackanin sifts through his other candidates. Jerad Eickhoff has already shown himself as a mid-rotation workhorse. Will youngsters Aaron Nola and Vince Velasquez stay healthy? Will any of the prospects – Jake Thompson, Alec Asher or Zach Eflin – announce their presence with authority?
It’s the same on offense. Saunders and Kendrick aren’t here for the long term. Rather, they’re transition players as talent percolates up the system. And they’re far better complimentary pieces than the slop you’ve watched in recent years.
Yes, there are question marks throughout the lineup. Franco has to rebound. Odubel Herrera has to produce from April through September. Tommy Joseph was productive as a platoon player who aims to show he deserves to play every day. Cesar Hernandez has to put his head in gear with the rest of his talented tools.
Mostly, I’m eager to see CF Roman Quinn become the next Shane Victorino. To watch rocket-armed catcher Jorge Alfaro blast homers over the LF wall. To see J.P. Crawford and Nick Williams come up this summer – and stay up.
It won’t all work out, of course. It never does. But we’ve seen the convergence of rising talent twice in this city – the mid-70s Schmidt-Bowa-Luzinski group and the more recent Rollins-Utley-Howard generation. Both won World Series.
That’s a long way away – if, in fact, it happens with this group. But for 2017, a .500 record is a fine achievement. And it’s doable, whatever the bloviating windbag Chris Christie may think.