It’s Opening Day!
Look, I’ve used the exclamation point. A journalistic sin. But the start of any new baseball season is cause for excitement and unbridled optimism. So, for one day at least, there will be no morose predictions here. Instead, let’s examine everything that could go right for the Phillies.
1. Dom Brown gets his mojo back.
Hmm, maybe I shouldn’t have started with this item. But it’s not as far-fetched as you may think. Yes, he starts the season on the DL and hasn’t produced since June 2013. But Brown is still just 27 years old, and the physical skills remain in that sometimes-brainless body. It’s Brown’s last chance with the franchise and everyone knows it. We’ll learn if that translates to success.
2. Odubel Herrera becomes Shane Victorino.
There’s a history of Rule 5 success stories: Johan Santana, Joakim Soria, the fallen Josh Hamilton and, of course, the Phils’ last front-line centerfielder. “El Torito” (“The Little Bull”) slashed .343 with seven stolen bases this spring. If the 24-year-old can convert from second base to centerfield, the Phils may have a top-of-the-order hitter for seasons to come.
3. The kids are all right.
Beyond Herrera, the only current roster players with big upsides are Ken Giles and Cody Asche. But 70 miles away, in Reading, there’s hope. Pitchers Aaron Nola and Zach Eflin are making their case, along with Maikel Franco and, soon, shortstop J.P. Crawford. They won’t all make it, of course. Prospect fallout, even at Double-A, tends to be over 50 percent. But there are reinforcements, and some could get here in 2015.
4. One last-hurrah year from Chase Utley.
We all know what happened last season. Utley hit .320 with 29 extra-base hits in his first 50 games, then slumped to .244 with 24 XBHs in his last 105. The old man’s knees can’t make it through an oppressive Delaware Valley summer. Both Utley and manager Ryne Sandberg swear the plan now is to give Utley a day of rest each week. If they stick to it, he’ll make the All-Star team.
5. Ryan Howard finds his power stroke.
OK, forget that. I’m just dreaming.
6. The rebuild begins.
Sounds nuts to say a tear-down would be a positive, but Phils fans are exhausted living in this in-between purgatory. When this week’s opponent, the Red Sox, finally realize they need to trade for an ace, the Phils could receive an asset collection strong enough to make San Hinkie’s eyes glaze. (And, yes, I hear you out there saying, “Not on Amaro’s watch.”)
Even if this entire list comes up positive — well, I can’t tell you the Phils will finish higher than third place. Really, I can’t even promise a single one works out, although my money really is on those kids in Reading.
But it’s Opening Day, so let’s try for the moment to be upbeat. If the Phillies are 2-4 by the time I talk to you next week, we can all return to our normal state of misery.