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Phillies camp report: World Series title or bust in 2012

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With Ryan Howard likely out to start 2012, Jim Thome could be counted on more. (AP)  
With Ryan Howard likely out to start 2012, Jim Thome could be counted on more. (AP)  

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Nine winters ago, the Phillies' free-agent sales pitch to Jim Thome included the boldest of goals.

"They said they wanted to win multiple World Series," Thome remembered this spring. "That was the plan."

They said multiple World Series. They didn't say 102-win seasons.

That was the plan.

Forget for a moment how that must have sounded at the time, at a point when the Phillies still hadn't won multiple World Series in their more than 100 years of history. They had won one.

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Nine years later, they've added one more.

Not multiple. Not yet. And that's the issue.

By any other standard, the Phillies of the past five years have been a smashing success. By any other standard, the Phillies of the past two years have been spectacular, putting together the best record in baseball for the first two times in franchise history.

Five straight years, they've won the National League East. Five straight years, they've won more games than they did the year before.

But since winning the World Series in 2008, the Phillies have taken a step back during each October.

 2008: 92 wins, won the World Series.

 2009: 93 wins, lost in the World Series.

 2010: 97 wins, lost in the National League Championship Series.

 2011: 102 wins, lost in the National League Division Series.

Now we can pretty much guarantee that the strange streak won't go on, since it would require winning 103-plus games and not making the playoffs.

But we can also pretty much guarantee this: Years from now, when the Phillies are picking which team to honor with a reunion, it's not going to be the 102-win 2011 team that lost to the Cardinals.

Fantasy Writer
Bust ... Hunter Pence, OF: The average Fantasy owner is all-in on Hunter Pence, targeting him as a top-10 outfielder in the fourth or fifth round. But before you hop aboard the hype train and ride it all the way to crazy town, you might want to remind yourself that the only aspect of his game that changed for the better last year was his batting average. He didn't gain any power. He didn't walk more or strike out less. He didn't fundamentally change as a player. He simply got better results, putting together a .361 BABIP instead of his usual .305 or so. It wouldn't be the first time. He had a .377 BABIP as a rookie in 2007 when he hit .322. But the peripherals suggested it was too good to be true then, and they do now as well. Pence is an asset in Fantasy because of his job security and 20-homer power, but he's a .280 hitter who can't take a walk. That, to me, isn't worth the price tag.
Sleeper ... John Mayberry, OF: General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has made the comparison. Manager Charlie Manuel has made the comparison. It's John Mayberry's identity now: the next Jayson Werth. For the Fantasy owners who have played long enough to remember when Werth rose from obscurity to put together a 20-20 season in 2008, that's cause for celebration. But is it a reasonable expectation? Hey, Mayberry is more of a certainty now than Werth was then, having hit 15 homers in 267 at-bats last year. Like Werth, he's a former first-round pick who, like Werth, didn't begin to meet his potential until his late 20s. And like Werth, he happens to be in the right place at the right time to take advantage. The Phillies are committed to starting Mayberry in left field this year, so as long as he hits righties well enough to keep Domonic Brown's bat in the minors (where the Phillies want it), 20-plus homers is the reasonable expectation. You won't find a more projectable player in the late rounds of mixed-league drafts.. -- Scott White
Depth Chart | Phillies outlook | 2012 Draft Prep

It's going to be that 92-win team that beat the Rays.

"And 2012," Jimmy Rollins said, helpfully (and hopefully).

That would be nice for Thome, who was traded to the White Sox after the 2005 season, meaning he missed out on World Series titles in both places (Philadelphia and Chicago). He's back with the Phillies now, at age 41, still hoping to win his first ring and knowing that the Phillies go into the season with that expectation.

Rollins, Thome and many of their teammates don't shy away from the idea that for a team like the Phillies, winning the World Series is the only thing that matters, the only thing that can make a season a success.

"It is," Rollins said. "It's fine and dandy that we won 102. But let's win the World Series. That didn't happen. You can win 90 games, and win the World Series [as the 2012 Cardinals did]. And you've had a better season than a team that won 150 games.

"That has to be the attitude. You build to win championships."

And when you don't?

That's kind of the issue with the Phillies. When you win 102 games in a 162-game season, it's not like there's a lot to fix. But when you have a second straight October end in disappointment, your first question is whether there's anything you can do to keep it from happening again.

"We don't feel comfortable because we won 102 games," Carlos Ruiz said. "We definitely have to figure out what happened the last two years."

The Phillies have asked themselves that question, but the answer they came up with -- satisfying or not -- is that things like that can happen in a short postseason series.

"When I calmed down and thought about it, I looked at our winning percentage during the season," manager Charlie Manuel said. "And I thought, 'Sooner or later, you're going to lose a series.'

"You're going to lose some series.' "

And that's why general manager Ruben Amaro pushes the idea that the goal is to be consistently good, to "be a contender every year."

It's not that much different from what John Schuerholz said all those years with the Braves.

"I was satisfied with how the [2011] season went," Amaro said. "I don't by any stretch of the imagination view our season as a failure.

"People say it's World Series or bust. I think that's a bunch of BS. Whether the ball rolls the right way [in the playoffs], that's karma, luck and being hot at the right time."

Amaro has taken to quoting Mike Schmidt, who said that the Phillies "won the season, but didn't win the tournament."

Fair enough, and that's fine in European soccer, where separate trophies are awarded for regular-season crowns and for Cup tournaments. But in our sports, we name one champion, and players, fans and everyone else knows it.

The Cardinals are the team getting rings this spring, even though the Phillies won more games, even including October.

The Phillies, in fact, have won more games than the Cardinals each of the last six years. But it's the Cardinals who have won "multiple World Series."

That was the plan here, remember?

"At the end of the day, the only club that gets remembered is the one that wins the trophy and gets the rings," said Ed Wade, the Phillies general manager who made that pitch to Thome nine winters ago. "A year from now, no one will remember how many games the Cardinals won last year."

It's about the World Series. It's about more than one World Series.

Speaking of which, how in the world could Wade have made that statement in 2002, working for a team that had won one World Series in more than a century?

"The goal was to get good and stay good," he said. "But there is a fine line between being optimistic and competitive, and being delusional."

It turns out he wasn't delusional about multiple World Series, but he also wasn't right.

Not yet.

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