Team to Get Beat?

With Opening Day (the REAL Opening Day, not that A's-Mariners nonsense) less than a week away, the baseball scribes are out in force with their pre-season predictions, from MVP all the way to World Series Champion.

As has been the case over the last few seasons, the Phillies are predictably the darling pick for the National League. Despite an aging roster and two huge holes in their lineup, their pitching trumps everyone else in the league, and it really isn't close. As N.L. East champs five years running, it's theirs to lose.

However, not everyone is convinced that the Phillies are the team to beat in the division, let alone the National League. If former Phillies beat writer Andy Martino – who now covers the New York Mets for the Daily News – is to be believed, even the industry guys are turning on the Phillies, according to this tweet:

You'll like this. NL scout says on Phillies: "Other than those three pitchers, they're not very good.”

They are harsh words from a guy who gets paid to observe baseball players, but let's think about this for a moment and try to break down what it actually means and it there is any truth to it.  

First, it could mean that Martino is making it up in order to troll the Phillies fans, as he is jealous of the beat writers that get to watch Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels on a nightly basis. (I've no reason to believe this is true. I've just been a fan of busting on Martino ever since he stole Sarge's hat.)

Second, it could be another instance where the nameless scout is going against the Phillies, because that's the sexy pick. Since 2009 or so, when the Phillies started to emerge as a powerhouse, columnists and bloggers have long picked against them, if for no other reason than to be the guy who looks like a genius at year's end should they miss the playoffs. But, given that this guy is a scout, he really has nothing to lose by making a statement like that.

Third, and I feel this one is the most accurate: The scout is correct. Well, not totally correct. It's a stretch to say that “they're not very good,” because they still have enough healthy talent – outside of the rotation - to hold their own in 2012. But he is certainly not wrong in suggesting that the Phillies aren't much without their starting pitching. And he's right about that. They are coming into the year with an offense that has more questions than answers, health concerns about their two greatest offensive contributors, and a farm system that doesn't have any immediate replacements aside from Domonic Brown and perhaps Freddy Galvis.

That's not to say that the Phillies won't win the division – I fully expect them to, provided that the rotation stays healthy and that Chase Utley and Ryan Howard both return for the second half – but it's not out of the question to suggest that they aren't the titans of the National League like they were as recently as last year.

When you field such a talented and dynamic roster, like the Phillies have done over the last five to seven years, you eventually have to face the music and come to terms with the fact that their glory days might be numbered. Is that time upon the Phillies? I don't think so, but unless they make some big changes, it's not too far away.

Personally, I think that pre-season predictions are for the birds, because baseball is not restricted to the laws of nature, physics, and reason, so guessing at who will be playing in October is an exercise in futility. So whether it's a scout, a front office man, or a blogger, I tend to not pay attention and just enjoy the season.

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