Beyond the Bison: “Ain’t never gonna be what it was”

Julian Dorey

Columnist

The first pitch has hit the glove, and the 2012 MLB season is officially underway. 

Every year there are big storylines going into the season. Players have new homes (Albert Pujols), teams have new looks (the Miami Marlins), and legends are replaced (Tony LaRussa). But this year, one story is staying under the radar.

The Philadelphia Phillies—one of the game’s great forces for the last five years—could be on the wrong side of a high incline hill. Even with the game’s best pitching rotation (highlighted by Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels), the Phillies enter this season with much lower expectations. Perhaps some of it has to do with the free-agency splash the Miami Marlins made and the young players entering the Majors for the Nationals (both teams in the NL East with the Phils). But most of it has to do with the one power no man can fight: father time.

The Phillies once “young-gun” core isn’t so young anymore. Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz are all 33, Ryan Howard is 32 and recovering from one of the most devastating injuries in sports (ruptured Achilles) and Shane Victorino is 31. The staples of the 2008 World Series Championship team and the 2009 runners-up are “up there.”

None of them have the same pop they once had. Many of their stats have declined in the last three seasons. Utley has cartilage damage in both knees which will cost him the beginning portion of his season. Howard’s Achilles injury may never allow him to hit the ball like he once did. Aging is a sad thing in sports, but it’s a reality.

Maybe the Phils have another fight or two left in them. Whenever you have pitching like they do, you always have a shot. But the name of the game is runs, and the Phillies don’t have a lot of forces to help them in that department. This year, they will need to rely on last year’s trade deadline pick-up, Hunter Pence, heavily. Without Howard for the first few months of the season, Pence (a career 20-25 HR hitter) will need to provide a little more power than usual in the cleanup spot. Role players like John Mayberry Jr., Juan Pierre, Laynce Nix and Ty Wigginton will need to put up some inflated numbers as well.

It’s a lot to ask of a team that simply lacks the edge it once had. Frankly, it’s sad that Philadelphia and America may have to say goodbye to a truly exciting team that gave the league a great thrill ride year in and year out.

But this is the reality of sports.

Everything comes to an end.

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