Life in the National League East isn’t nearly as comfortable as it used to be for the Philadelphia Phillies. One look at last season’s standings would tell you as much, as they finished a disappointing third behind their 81-81 record and watched on as the Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves punched their tickets to the postseason.
With an aging roster and both of those division foes seemingly better off than they were five months ago, the climb back to the top of the heap will only prove more difficult in 2013. That reality appears to have settled in with veteran pitchers Roy Halladay and Jonathan Papelbon, and neither have been hesitant to acknowledge it or express concerns over what they feel the team is lacking heading into the new year.
First, here are the comments Halladay made to Mandy Housenick of the Allentown Morning Call on Wednesday:
"The big thing for me is when I first came over, we always had such good teams that there wasn't a real sense of urgency because they always felt like it was a matter of time before they took over the division," Halladay told The Morning Call on Wednesday. "Now the division's getting better and I just think there needs to be more of a sense of urgency at the start of the year and especially in spring training. We've got to try and win games in spring training. It's hard to flip the switch. We've had guys that have been talented enough and could always just flip the switch when they had to. That's got to change."
Given the lack of drama inside the Phillies clubhouse in recent seasons, Halladay’s comments would probably be considered just as much shocking as they were honest. But they actually pale in comparison to the bluntness of what Papelbon added in the same article.
"Since I've been here I haven't seen any leadership,” Papelbon said.
"Every good team that I've been a part of has had a good core group of veterans and an influx of a good group of young guys and I think that's a recipe for success. But at the same time, that doesn't mean we're going to have success. In my opinion, this team has way more to lose than to prove. I think a lot of guys on this team have proved a lot. But I think this year if we don't go out and do what we're capable of and supposed to do, then we have a lot more to lose.”
Considering the run of success Philadelphia enjoyed from 2007-2011 and the talent gap between them and the rest of the division, it would only be natural for some complacency to settle in over that period. But one would think there should be just as much left to prove as there is to lose for several Phillies.
Among those would be Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and even Halladay, who all enter camp healthier and poised to resume their leadership roles. And let's not forget Jimmy Rollins, who weighed in on Papelbon's leadership comments on Friday.
“Identity might be the word,” Rollins said. “We had a lot of moving parts last year. Parts coming in, a lot of new parts coming in. Regulars not being around, not being together, you know that bond that forms from being together.
“The bond was broken. We’re back together now. The glue is back together. You can have a lead singer, but without the man playing the guitar and drums it’s a different band.”
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End of the day, this could very well end up being one of those early spring stories that is a blip on the radar by Opening Day and long forgotten before summer rolls around. Still, it shows a different side to the Phillies than we're used to seeing and it gives us a clearer perspective of how the roles and mindsets have changed within the division. Right now, Philadelphia is clearly in survival mode, and there's no telling how they'll react if they don't get off to a better start in 2013.
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