The Philadelphia Phillies are the reigning five-time National League Eastern Division champions. The Washington Nationals, or the Atlanta Braves, will have ended that streak by the first week of October, at the latest.
Despite a devastating season, signs for a bounce back year in 2013 can clearly be seen in my crystal ball. No, that fortune telling device isn't cracked and my vision is also fine.
On the mound
People can certainly nitpick general manager Ruben Amaro, Junior's past decisions. I want to review the recent past, while also looking ahead.
The decision to extend Cole Hamels' contract signaled that the Phillies want to rebound and that no 'rebuilding' process was going to begin.
It was great to see that Cliff Lee wasn't traded to the Dodgers after they had claimed him on waivers. That choice should allow him to remain with the team into next season. Hamels, Lee and Roy Halladay can provide a strong starting pitching foundation next season, as long as all three men remain healthy.
If Josh Lindblom finds another middle-inning mate, the bullpen as a whole could turn around. Many young relievers were tested this season, so it seems possible that at least one of them will assume a more prominent role next season.
In the field and at the plate
Let's assume that Chase Utley has found a way to manage his knee condition indefinitely, or at least through the final guaranteed year of his contract. He should be able to man his position adequately and continue to offer a decent offensive effort.
Rounding out the infield: Ryan Howard should be able to return to form as a productive clean-up hitter because he will be fully healthy. Rollins still provides sound defense, but shouldn't be the leadoff hitter. Third base is an open question that must be answered in the offseason.
Domonic Brown's early efforts at the plate and in the field have been encouraging. Unless he moves completely backwards, he will be a starter on the team.
Center field and right field (in lieu of Brown returning to that spot) are open questions that must be answered in the offseason.
Erik Kratz has played so well that he just might become Ruiz' partner next season. Let's not forget that this 32-year-old has been in professional baseball since 2002, when the Toronto Blue Jays drafted him.
As far as the bench, players like Laynce Nix, Freddy Galvis and possibly Nate Schierholtz could be part of it. But, some work needs to be done here as well.
Obviously, there are no guarantees regarding next season.
The currency of a fourteen-year Philadelphia baseball playoff void, that ended in 2007, and the reality of this season have combined to create digital indigestion. Everyone who has accessed a continuous stream of negative Phillies' news surely understands what I mean.
Beyond pure hope, real facts also exist. We need to let them ruminate in our minds as this season plays out, focus on whatever offseason upgrades are made and then await the dawn of a new spring. Choosing to do otherwise wastes energy and isn't the outlook that should be embraced by most seasoned fans.
Sean O'Brien's professional writing career began in 1990, when he first began working in the Philadelphia Phillies farm system. He was a freelance sports writer for five years and is currently a Featured Contributor for Yahoo! Sports. You can follow him on Twitter @SeanyOB and read his daily Sports Blog: Insight.
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