Ladies and gentlemen, your 2013 NL Cy Young winner. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Phillies Opening Day Is Here; Let's All Remember To Breathe

Does Howard have one more big season left in him? Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Hey guys, guess what? The Phillies play a real, live baseball game that actually counts in the standings tonight!

Alert the media! Wait. They probably already know.

No, this is not a cruel April Fool’s joke. The Phils and Braves will play actual Major League hardball tonight starting at 7:10pm ET in Atlanta, with Cole Hamels taking the mound against Tim Hudson.

Unfortunately, Charlie Manuel will likely be forced to submit a lineup that features Laynce Nix in it, so you would be forgiven if you thought this was still another fake preseason game. But no, this time, it’s real, Laynce Nix or not.

So, what do we make of these Phillies? What do these guys have left? Is there one more run left in this aged group?

Are the Phils a fine wine? Or are they a fine milk?

If the spring is any indication (and often times, it isn’t), then the offense actually looks to be much better than it has the last few years.

Ben Revere looked terrific this spring. The new center fielder was everywhere, lining base hits, taking the occasional walk, stealing bases and scoring runs. Jimmy Rollins in the number two hole could provide a nice mix of speed and power at the top of the lineup, without the pressure of being the on-base machine/table setter that a good Major League lead-off man should be. Chase Utley appears healthy and his bat started to heat up in a big way towards the end of spring training.

Ryan Howard‘s power appears back, even though he now hobbles around the bases like Wilford Brimley in his senior care facility. Domonic Brown‘s performance this spring opened a lot of eyes and stirred a lot of hope that he may become the player most experts thought he would be two years ago. Carlos Ruiz, while suspended for the first 25 games, will be back in May and should provide a big boost at the bottom of the order once he returns. Until then, Erik Kratz will do just fine. Michael Young, no matter what happens, will provide more offensive support at third base than Miami’s clean-up hitter Placido Polanco provided the last two years. Just close your eyes when he’s playing defense and you’ll be fine.

And yes, we’re going to have to deal with a Mayberry/Nix platoon until Delmon Young comes off the disabled list. And then, we’re going to have to deal with Delmon Young, although hopefully only until the trade deadline, when another outfielder, ANY OUTFIELDER, will emerge as a possible target.

The top two pitchers in the rotation, Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee, had great springs and look healthy and ready to go. Of chief concern is Roy Halladay, who is re-learning how to pitch with diminished stuff. There is hope he can be a good #3 starter, with flashes of his old self, but the results in Clearwater were not promising. He holds the key to the pitching staff. Kyle Kendrick and John Lannan make up the back of a sketchy rotation, although I think Lannan will be better than most people think.

The bullpen has a chance to be outstanding. It also has a chance to be pretty mediocre. Jonathan Papelbon is still one of the best closers in the game, and new set-up man Mike Adams has looked dominant so far this year. The Adams signing could turn out to be one of the best of the winter. Antonio Bastardo remains an enigma, but his strikeout stuff cannot be questioned. Chad Durbin will hopefully not implode, while Phillippe Aumont, Jeremy Horst and Raul Valdes round out the rest of the ‘pen as young-ish arms with good stuff.

When you compare the Phillies to the other top teams in the National League (Washington, Atlanta, Cincinnati, St. Louis, San Francisco, and Los Angeles) it’s obvious they have a tough road ahead. They enter the season clearly behind the Nationals and Braves in the NL East, and likely behind the other teams mentioned above as well.

If Halladay can figure things out and the bullpen is better than it was last year, then the Phils have a shot at getting back into the postseason dance.

If not, they’ll be watching October baseball from their mansions again.

There may be nothing the Phillies can do to catch the Nats. They may be better than any of the Phillies teams during their five-year NL East run. But Atlanta, while looking really good on paper and hitting the ball a ton this spring, does have some vulnerabilities, specifically in the rotation. They also boast a number of high strikeout guys in the lineup, although, that’s not as huge a deal as some would have you believe.

At the end of the day, it feels like the Phillies have one more run left in them. The clock has just about run out on this group, and they know it. But Halladay aside, this team appears healthier than they’ve been in years, which goes a long way.

While I don’t think they’ll finish ahead of the Braves, I do think they’ll manage to win that second wild card in the National League, beat Atlanta in the one-game playoff, and win one playoff round, the NLDS, against either the Giants or Reds.

The magic will end in an NLCS match-up against the Nationals in five games. But it’ll be a nice run which will likely close out the most successful chapter in Phillies history.

And it all begins tonight in Atlanta.

Predicted Standings:

NL EAST:

Washington            99-63

*Atlanta                   93-69

*Philadelphia         91-71

New York                78-84

Miami                       60-102

NL CENTRAL:

Cincinnati               97-65

St. Louis                  90-72

Milwaukee              87-75

Pittsburgh              75-87

Chicago                   70-92

NL WEST:

San Francisco       92-70

Los Angeles           84-78

Arizona                   84-78

San Diego               77-85

Colorado                69-93

AL EAST:

Boston                     94-68

*Tampa                   93-69

Toronto                  89-73

Baltimore               81-81

New York               75-87

AL CENTRAL:

Detroit                     95-69

Cleveland               88-74

Kansas City            83-75

Chicago                   74-88

Minnesota              71-91

AL WEST:

Anaheim                  97-67

*Texas                      92-70

Oakland                    82-80

Seattle                       76-86

Houston                   59-103

Tags: Philadelphia Phillies

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