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Phillies fans — and the players themselves — are quickly becoming spoiled. The Fightins clinched the division for the fourth consecutive year, this time on the road in front of a mostly-Phillies-friendly, rain-drenched crowd in the nation’s capitol.
The celebrations have become more and more subdued. This team, now veteran-laden, has — for the most part — been there and done that. They know how to quickly uncork the champagne bottles. Ryan Howard brought his own special pair of goggles to protect his eyes in the mayhem. They know to meet up with the media to relate the experience to their legions of fans.
Business as usual for the Phillies. The team, once given odds lower than 30 percent to make the playoffs earlier this season, is now the heavyweight in the National League. Opposing teams will have to run the gauntlet of Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, and Roy Oswalt if they want any shot at advancing. Their pitchers must pass through Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Jayson Werth.
Other contenders have blatant flaws. For the Giants and Padres, it’s offense; the Reds, starting pitching; the Braves — well, the Braves have a bunch of issues. The Rays and Yankees have starting pitching issues after their aces (David Price and C.C. Sabathia, respectively). The Twins and Rangers have huge injury issues (namely Justin Morneau and Josh Hamilton, respectively).
The Phillies, for all of the problems they dealt with for much of the regular season, do not have obvious flaws in their armor. Their roster will include two former National League MVP award winners (Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins), a former World Series MVP (Cole Hamels), a former and future Cy Young award winner (Roy Halladay), and a closer who once was perfect for the duration of an entire year (Brad Lidge). Add in the best second baseman in baseball (Chase Utley), the best right fielder in baseball (Jayson Werth, if you label Jose Bautista‘s season a fluke), one of the best relievers in baseball (Ryan Madson) and a host of complimentary parts and you have an extremely potent team stampeding into October baseball.
And that’s why it’s hard to temper the expectations. Anything less than a World Series victory is a disappointment. We heard that line for years from the Steinbrenner administration in New York and scoffed at the arrogance. The Braves had an historic run of success from 1991 through 2005, but only won the World Series once in those 14 seasons (they reached the Fall Classic on five occasions).
In 2007, simply reaching the post-season at all was an accomplishment for the Phils. In 2008, fans felt blessed to see their team in the World Series. Now, as the Phillies try to become the first National League team to reach three consecutive World Series since the 1942-44 St. Louis Cardinals, it’s all or nothing.
We are enjoying the golden age of Phillies baseball. With great teams come great expectations. Still, take the time to step back, take this all in and appreciate it.