Last week our friend, Buster Olney, over at ESPN recently ranked every team’s April strength of schedule. According to Buster, the Phillies should “sprint out of the gate” with the easiest slate of games to start the season. I can only surmise that this is some sort of trap, or jinx meant to lure us fans into a false sense of security. The ESPN hype machine can paint a pretty picture for the Phillies, but this cynical fan knows better.
The Phillies open the season against the Pittsburgh Pirates, before coming home to face division rivals in the Marlins and Mets. The team will then take its west coast road trip early, traveling to San Francisco, San Diego, and Arizona. The end of the month is rounded out by a 4-game set against the Cubs. Any one of these teams can give the Phillies headaches on a particular night, but collectively they offer more of an opportunity to get the season off on a winning track. Kudos Buster.
The winning percentage of all the Phillies’ April opponents was a measly .478 in 2011. Last season’s win totals are never a perfect indicator of how these teams will fare, but they each had a lot of work to do to improve their records from a year ago.
Of the contenders, the Marlins did the most to improve their fortunes. They snagged Jose Reyes from the Mets, as well as pitchers Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell in free agency. The Fish will be a good measuring stick for the Phillies early on, but the excitement of the home opener should be enough to get the Phils up for the challenge.
The west coast road trip is usually a notorious obstacle for any kind of winning streak, but last season the Phils posted a 9-1 record out west. For some reason their bats wake up on the left coast. It must have something to do with the Cali natives of Rollins, Utley, and Hamels who always seem to step their games up when playing close to home. The Giants and D-backs do offer up formidable pitching staffs, but nothing compared to what the Phillies will throw back at them.
The staff should also dispense with the bottom dwellers of the NL Central when they face the Pirates and Cubbies. Granted, the Pirates do have some exciting young players in Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez, but youth at the plate tends to get exposed by experience on the mound. The Pirates have their own Roy Halladay clone in Charlie Morton, but don’t be fooled. He may look and throw like Doc, but that’s where the comparison ends. The Cubs are even further away but are finally on the right track after hiring Theo Epstein; however the early stages of rebuilding never look pretty on the field.
Sure, there are plenty of logical arguments against the Phillies having an easy time to begin the year. They’re missing their big power bat for at least the month of April, if not more. Most of the lineup tends to get off to a slow start, leaving very little margin of error for the staff. To top it all off, the season is still so far away we really don’t have a complete picture about how any of these teams will look yet come opening day.
I for one have chosen to throw my cynicism out the window and look on the bright side. The Phillies are better on paper than every team they face in April. After all, if last season is any kind of indicator, the forecast looks nothing but sunny for the Phillies for the opening month of season.