Welcome back, Phillies fans!
But brace yourselves, because this season is going to be a bumpy one.
This year could be the most uncertain in recent memory since this glorious run started (I’m thinking sometime in that glorious 2008 season).
The biggest positive this year is the health and effectiveness of the team’s starting rotation.
Starting pitchers Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels look to pick up where they left off last season as three of the top pitchers in baseball.
They’ll be joined by Vance Worley — who is looking to avoid a sophomore slump after a stellar rookie campaign — and Joe Blanton — who is looking to regain his pre-2011 form after suffering arm problems last season.
That is essentially where the similarities to last season end, though.
The bullpen has a few of the same faces, but relief pitching is notorious for its up-and-down performance from year to year.
Closer Ryan Madson no longer is on the roster, replaced by former Boston stopper Jonathan Papelbon.
Madson, who signed with the Cincinnati Reds this offseason, will miss all of the 2012 season because of a torn elbow ligament.
Seems like the Phillies dodged a bullet there.
Brad Lidge and Danys Baez are also gone, replaced by newcomer Chad Qualls, but the remainder of the bullpen will most likely be names you already know — Kyle Kendrick, Mike Stutes, Antonio Bastardo and Jose Contreras.
There are a lot of ifs involved in this group, but if Stutes and Bastardo can replicate last season’s success, and if Contreras can rebound from an injury-riddled 2011, then the Phillies’ pitching could carry them far into the post-season.
The biggest worry, however, is the patchwork that manager Charlie Manuel is going to have to do for at least a few weeks to cover the glaring absences of both second baseman Chase Utley and first baseman Ryan Howard from his starting lineup.
Howard is officially listed as “day-to-day” but is still recovering from Achilles surgery this offseason, and many believe he will miss at least the first two months of the season.
Utley is officially listed as “out indefinitely.” He could miss a similar amount of time this year as he did last year (46 games) to start the season.
The team will also be without primary backup Michael Martinez for six to eight weeks; he broke a bone in his foot during spring training.
It’s not all doom and gloom however, because the other half of the Phillies infield is seemingly healthy.
Shortstop Jimmy Rollins and third-baseman Placido Polanco will most likely be joined on opening day by rookie Freddy Galvis at second and returning veteran Jim Thome at first.
Thome will most likely split playing time with John Mayberry Jr. and Ty Wigginton, who signed with the Phillies this offseason.
Mayberry should also see some time in leftfield along with veterans Laynce Nix and Juan Pierre.
Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence will be in center and right-field, respectively, with Carlos Ruiz returning behind home plate.
Not having a designated starting leftfielder or missing the whole right side of your infield could be huge issues and derail the Phillies’ run of success.
But keep in mind that the season is a marathon. Galvis is the only rookie that is being asked to fill a void.
Wigginton, Nix, Thome and Pierre have all been at it for a while.
We will know the outcome in a mere six months but from now, but with no games in the books just yet, it seems like this season is more like the pre-2008 campaign than any of the others since that championship season. ••
Matt Godfrey, former Phillies columnist for the Star, offers this preview of the team’s new season.