The NLCS: Pre-game 3 notes and whatnot

image from So how is this for the weather sampler: last week at this time we were watching the coldest playoff baseball in history in snowy and chilly Denver, only to be watching a workout in Los Angeles two days later as temperatures pushed into the 90s.

Now we’re back in Philadelphia where it actually feels colder than it did in Denver simply because we were teased with that dry, hot Southern California air. Plus, it feels windier here in Philly because the put the ballpark down in an area devoid of buildings or large structures and near a geographical anomaly where two major rivers converge.

Yep, it’s chilly.

For Cliff Lee, it will be two straight chilly nights on the mound. Certainly it wouldn’t seem ideal for a guy from Arkansas, but according to Southern California guy Randy Wolf, a pitcher who actually likes to pitch in the chilly weather, the pitcher is always the warmest guy on the field.

“I’ve always had a tough time pitching in Atlanta and Florida and I sometimes I turn about three shades pink and I overheat,” Wolf said. “In the cold I feel more alert, I feel like my energy level is always there and the fact that you can blow on your hands when you’re on the mound in cold weather, your hands are only affected. As a pitcher you’re the only guy that’s moving on every pitch. The pitcher has probably the easiest job of keeping warm.”

Here are your pre-game factoids and whatnot:

• Sunday night’s game is the 21st time a NLCS has been tied at 1-1. Of the previous 20 Game 3s played in a 1-1 series, the home team won 13 of them. More notably, the winner of Game 3 in those instances went on to win the series 12 times.

• The Phillies are 2-5 in Game 3 of the NLCS. Both of the Phillies’ wins in Game 3s are against the Dodgers (1978 and 1983).

• Coming into Sunday night’s game, the Phillies are 6-for-60 against Dodgers’ starter Hiroki Kuroda. That does not include Game 3 of the 2008 NLCS where Kuroda gave up five hits in six innings of a 7-2 victory. Counting that, the Phillies are 11-for-83 (.133).

• Finally, Ryan Howard can break the all-time single season record for playoff games with an RBI on Sunday night. He is currently tied with Carlton Fisk with six straight games in the playoffs with an RBI, which Fisk did during the 1975 World Series. The amount of RBIs Fisk had in those six games? Try six.

The all-time record for consecutive games with an RBI in the playoffs is eight by Lou Gehrig in the 1928 and 1932 World Series.

Mother Nature 1, Everyone else 0

Brett FavreThe weather has a tendency to get a little chilly in the month of January as folks may have noticed from walking outdoors, watching football on television or from watching the little soft-shoe routine those suspenders-and-sports coat frocked slicksters pull off every night on the evening news. The weather is big business on local TV news. In fact, it is such big business that there are song lyrics that go:

“Murder and weather is our only news…”

If those lyrics don’t exist, they should.

Anyway, the middle part – the part about football, the outdoors and that nip, nip, nip at your nose – is the intriguing part. The truth is I tuned in to last Sunday’s Giants-Packers just to see how cold it was. Oh sure, I had a sneaking suspicion that Packers’ quarterback Brett Favre just might do something crazy enough to sabotage the game for his team, and in that regard I suppose no one was disappointed. But really, the outcome of the game was pretty meaningless. All I wanted to see what Favre’s breath turn from a plume of carbon dioxide and crystallize into a free-floating diamond-shaped ball of ice.

My guess is that it was something that other folks wanted to see, too. Actually, it appeared as if the only story of the game wasn’t Favre trying to get back to the Super Bowl one last time or Eli Manning attempting to copy his big brother and make it to the big game, but instead it was the coffee-sicle that formed in Terry Bradshaw’s mug during the pre-game show. Because, as it is, if it’s negative-three degrees without the wind chill in Green Bay, Wisconsin, the smart thing to do is hold the pre-game show out of doors. That way the frostbite that forms on Howie Long’s exposed extremities can be used as a tax write-off because technically it was a live experiment kind of like the stuff they do on Nova.

What, do you really think people cared if Howie broke down the Cover-2? Hell, the viewers at home wanted permanent scarring. It makes the frozen coffee go down smoother.

Now I don’t know where the idea that meteorology is a pseudo-science came from. It didn’t come from me, I can tell you that much. But what they don’t tell you during football games and TV weather reports is that cold weather hurts. It actually causes pain to a person more than a muggy scorcher in August ever could. No, cold temperatures don’t make one wake up screaming in the middle of the night and running off to find a doorway with your sleeping cap slouched to the side. That’s the move for an earthquake. But cold weather can freeze pipes and cause them to burst making floods or fires or both. Certainly that’s no picnic.

Interestingly though, the pain of cold temperatures in this part of the world only lasts a little while. At least that’s the way it worked out for me on Sunday and Monday when I decided to go out for a run. Hey, if they’re playing football all the way out there in Wisconsin, which is close to Canada and very near outer space where it gets as nippy as your Aunt Tilly’s gazpacho, I figured I ought to get out there and get my work in.

So out I went during the coldest part of the day, which, according to the Accuweather web site, was a raw negative-1 degree on the ol’ real feel index. Apparently such numbers are deduced when one accounts for the temperature, wind speed and direction, the time of day and on-base percentage. In other words it’s the Moneyball of weather. But the thing I learned about running around in ultra-cold weather was that it’s all about the wind. When the wind blows at one’s face it’s bad. When it blows at your back, it ain’t all that.

But you get used to it. At least that’s the way it went down on Sunday thanks to some effort and creative rambling. During a 60-minute effort the first few moments are the key. That’s when one decides whether to keep at it, thus proving oneself as an evolved life being that continuously takes strides at improvement. Or, it’s when one says out loud to no one, “This is stupid. I’m going back home so I can strip down, flop on the couch, order up a mushroom ‘boli and watch Rachel Ray… or whatever.”

beerClearly I’m evolved, but during the first couple of minutes as I negotiated through the neighborhood, I thought, “Wow! It’s cold! It’s really, really cold! Oh well, I guess it will be OK when I warm up.”

The notion of personal evolvement disappeared approximately five minutes into the run when I passed by a friend’s house, turned to look to spy someone moving around inside and realized that I couldn’t feel my face. Oh, I could touch it, but I couldn’t feel it.

“Is this dangerous?” I thought. “This feels like it could be dangerous. This isn’t dangerous is it?”

I realized I made a mistake when I put a gloved hand to my face and it felt like a bee sting. That sensation soon went away when my toes felt as though I had just dropped a canned ham on them. But oddly enough – after just 15 minutes of running – everything was back to normal. The wind had shifted, the swarm of bees that peppered my face had rubbed it with aloe and everything was back in order. The strut around the ‘hood was no longer dangerous. Instead, it was fun… as long as the wind remained where it was.

It looked as if the football players were out there having fun in Green Bay, too. Better yet, it didn’t look as if the cold temperatures changed much about the performances at all. Plaxico Burress made Al Harris look like his personal hand puppet, Tom Coughlin was typical full bore jackassery, and Brett Favre caught a late case of the crazies when his passes suddenly began to behave as if they were punts.

More than the Giants, the Super Bowl, or the Fox network, the weather was the winner last weekend. It showed that it will always be the topic of discussion in ways beyond the banality of, “Some weather we’re having, huh?” Yep, it got cold and none of that silliness about “Global Warming” reared its un-ironic head as the great misnomer of the past decade.

You know, global warming… kind of like jumbo shrimp.

All we need is one more…

Here’s the amazing thing about the Phillies sitting on the verge of 10,000 all-time losses, and it’s not the fact that the Phillies have lost many more games than teams older than them. Certainly the fact that the Phillies are a good seven years older than the Cubs, Braves and Reds and have completely lapped the field in lifetime losses.

No, the remarkable part isn’t the 10,000 losses, a milestone the Phillies can reach with just one more defeat. The remarkable part is that in 124 years the Phillies have won the World Series just one time.

That’s 1-for-124.

Hard to believe, Harry.

More than any other regular old Saturday, London appeared to be the most happening place on earth yesterday. Aside from the Wimbledon finals won by Venus Williams or the men’s semis in which Nadal and Federer advanced to today’s title match, there was the Live Earth show at Wembley that featured the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Metallica, the Foo Fighters and the Beastie Boys.

London, apparently, was a better alternative than taking the private plane (and large carbon footprint) to the Meadowlands. Let’s see – London or North Jersey? Yeah, tough call.

Of course while all of that was going on, Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland and the CSC team carved up the streets on his way to a dominant victory in the prologue of the Tour de France.

Needless to say, the Tour de France is an interesting idea. Perhaps a Tour de France that starts in California and finishes in Times Square would be just as interesting an idea. Get together the best riders in the world and get them across the United States – how cool would that be?

Maybe they can even do it Cannonball Run style?

Digressing, Cancellara, the world champion time trialist and classics specialist, obliterated the field by 13 seconds and will be in Yellow when the first stage goes the 126 miles from London to Canterbury. My guess is that he won’t have it for very long. In fact, I doubt CSC will try too hard to defend it during Stage 1.

However, during the flat 126 miles (like riding from Lancaster to Philadelphia and back) the sprinters like Cancellara lined up and shadowboxed for the long straightaway rush to the finish. But the Versus coverage was touting Aussie veteran Robbie McEwen throughout the stage as one he could/should contend for even when he fell off the back of the peloton and seemed as if he had been dropped.

Dramatically, though, McEwen made it very interesting.

McEwen, according to Phil Liggett, took an “incredible risk” to get back to the front. In fact, McEwen was nowhere to be found as the sprint began with a kilometer to go. He had to go from the back of the pack, all the around to make his final surge for the win.

Easy like Sunday morning.

Tomorrow the Tour de France goes to France and then leaves again in another flat stage from Dunkirk to Ghent, Belgium covering 104.7 miles.

Prologue Top 12:
1) Fabian Cancellara, Team CSC, Switzerland, 8:50.74
2) Andreas Klöden, Astana, Germany, 9:03.29
3) George Hincapie, Discovery Channel, USA, 9:13.75
4) Brad Wiggins, Cofidis, Great Britain, 9:13.92
5) Vladimir Gusev, Discovery Channel, Russia, 9:15.99
6) Vladimir Karpets, Caisse d’Epargne, Russia
7) Alexandre Vinokourov, Astana, Kazakhstan, 9:20
8) Thomas Dekker, Rabobank, Netherlands, 9:21
9) Manuel Quinziato, Liquigas, Italy, 9:23
10) Benoit Vaugrenard, Française des Jeux, France, 9:23
11) Dave Zabriskie, Team CSC, USA, 9:23
12) José Ivan Gutierrez, Caisse d’Epargne, Spain, 9:23

Stage 1Final
1) Robbie McEwen, Predictor-Lotto, Australia, 4:39:01
2) Thor Hushovd, Crédit Agricole, Norway
3) Tom Boonen, Quick Step, Belgium
4) Sébastien Chavanel, Française des Jeux, France
5) Romain Feillu, Agritubel, France

Overall after two days
1) Cancellara
2) Klöden
3) David Millar, Saunier Duval-Prodir, United Kingdom
4) Hincapie
5) Bradley Wiggins, Cofidis, United Kingdom

Note: McEwen was among the riders caught in the big bottleneck which was caused by a flat tire in a narrow pass of the road. According to reports, McEwen went down and injured his wrist — it kind makes his rally a little more spectacular.

Here it is:

I never understood why local TV news gave the weather report so much air time. After all, it’s just wind they’re talking about. Really, all those maps and dopplers and hype just to talk about the wind.

All it is is wind, people!

But after watching this, I know why:

Wet and wild

Ask any well-trained athlete what the biggest concern is on the day of competition and the answer will be the same every time.

The weather.

Baseball, of course, cannot be played in even the slightest of poor conditions, while football is stripped down to its bare essence when the weather turns sloppy. On days like we had today – where a nasty Nor’easter barreled through and dropped about four inches of rain on us, the Phillies, Mets and Red Sox decided to stay indoors.

Smart thinking.

Knowing how athletes fret about the weather it’s safe to say that there are a lot of people struggling to get to sleep tonight in Boston. Tomorrow, of course, is Patriot’s Day in New England which means it is Boston Marathon Day. And judging from the forecast for Monday it seems like the reward for those weekly 20-milers and months of training will be the sloppiest day in the 111 years of the race.

Maybe the anticipated wet and windy weather is a bit of poetic justice of sorts. After all, after 110 years of holding the race at 12 noon on the dot on Patriot’s Day Monday, the Boston Marathon will start at 10 a.m. Logistically, it makes sense to get everyone from Hopkinton, Mass. To Boston’s Back Bay sooner, but maybe it was a tradition that should be messed with. Perhaps that’s the case?

Actually, there are bigger forces are at play than silly superstition. However, having run a marathon in windy and wet conditions just a few months ago, I don’t envy the folks preparing to take the trip from Hopkinton to Boston. Unless the wind (predicted to gust up to 50 m.p.h.) is at the runner’s backs, then they can forget about any time goals. So that means a lot of hard work and training is lost like spores of a dandelion lost in a Nor’easter.

It’s not fair.

That’s the way it goes sometimes. As a runner, you can complain and feel bad about your fortune it or you can take off when the gun sounds and try to kick ass. There will be approximately 23,000 athletes ready to do just that tomorrow at 10 a.m.

What to look for
After a few days of feeling pretty pleased about skipping Boston this year, I have to admit that I wish I were there. How could anyone not want to run in the craziest and most extreme Boston Marathon ever? Nevertheless, I’ll be there in 2008.

As far as the fast elite runners go, don’t expect any Americans to sprinkle in to the top 10 like last year. That’s when Meb Keflezighi, Brian Sell, Alan Culpepper, Pete Gilmore and Clint Verran made the ’06 Boston Marathon the best showing by American runners in two decades. Don’t count on that tomorrow. For one thing Gilmore is the only runner of that group returning this year, since most of the elite Americans are focusing on the Olympic Trials to be run in New York City in early November, while Keflezighi, Khalid Khannouchi and Ryan Hall are slated to run the London Marathon (with another ridiculously deep field) next week.

On the men’s side, defending champ and course-record holder Robert Cheruiyot is back after his infamous spill at the finish line at last October’s Chicago Marathon. Cheruiyot is tough as nails which will come in handy in Monday’s conditions, but he should expect a challenge from countryman Benjamin Maiyo (second last year) and Robert Cheboror, who ran a 2:06 in Amsterdam in 2004.

The women’s race is doubling as the American national championship, which adds to the depth of the field. Defending champ Rita Jeptoo is back, along with defending New York City Marathon champion Jelena Prokopcuka, and Mexican stalwart Madai Perez.

But Monday is Deena’s day.

Readers of these pages know that Deena Kastor is No. 1a amongst the greatest American women runners in history (Joan Samuelson, of course, is No. 1, too). A victory in Boston would be the perfect complement to a great resume. And based on Kastor’s showing in the USATF Cross Country Championships, she very well could be the best runner in the world right now.

One last bit of advice
Typically, my advice to anyone running Boston is to resist the urge to go too fast on all of the downhills through the first half of the race because, inevitably, you’ll pay for it later. That happened to me in ’97. But as soon as you get to the top of a small hill around the 14-mile mark, run like hell. Better yet, from 14 miles on surge on every downhill and maintain your pace on the inclines – including Heartbreak Hill.

Boston, like a few other marathons, is like a tricky golf course. Every mile has its idiosyncrasies and nuances that make the race unlike any other in the world just the way Augusta and Pine Valley offer challenges.

Late Sunday night, however, I came across this on the Boston Athletic Association web site:

The Boston Athletic Association’s medical team recommends the following precautions and advice for participants in Monday’s Boston Marathon:

FORECAST: The most up-to-date weather forecast calls for a predicted Spring storm on Monday, including heavy rains (potentially 3 to 5 inches), with the start temperatures in the mid to upper 30’s. Wind will likely be East (in the face of the participants for most of the race) in the 20 to 25 mile per hour range, with gusts to as much as 50 miles per hour. This will produce a wind chill index of 25 to 30-degrees Fahrenheit.

RISKS AND RECOMMENDATIONS FOR RUNNERS PARTICIPATING IN COLD AND WET CONDITIONS: Combined with the rain, we are concerned that predicted weather conditions will increase the runners’ risks for a condition called hypothermia. As with any athletic competition, as a runner you are assuming the risks inherent with participation. It is your responsibility to be informed about the risks associated with running in the aforementioned conditions, and the risks of injury or illness will increase with these predicted conditions.

While exercising in cold weather, our bodies attempt to maintain core temperature by shunting blood away from the periphery, thus minimizing heat loss. Hypothermia sets in when the body’s temperature drops below normal, starting when the body loses heat faster than heat can be generated. Heat is produced by muscle action and shivering. Very low body temperatures can be life threatening.

In other words, all bets are off.

The big thaw

I finally got my car out of the driveway this morning and as soon as I did, I drove it straight to the Starbucks and the local Whole Foods wannabe store to load up on coffee and Clif Bars.

So yes, the snow is starting to melt, which means the roads are slowly turning into small streams. Even though the roads were relatively clear of snow and ice, my feet were soaked and the back of my shorts were covered with flecks of muddy spray during today’s 13-miler.

It was fun though. It definitely feels good to get back out there without worrying about the wind chill.

Partially motivated by the release of the American Hardcore DVD (a tad disappointing, I must say), I took my iPod out on today’s run and hit shuffle. Here’s what registered as a “play:”

1.) Trial – Verbal Assault
2.) Sometimes – Pearl Jam
3.) Hateful – The Clash
4.) Hope There – Antony & The Johnsons
5.) Shameless – Ani DiFranco
6.) A New England – Billy Bragg
7.) Attitude – Bad Brains
8.) Cut-Out – John Frusciante
9.) Institutionalized – Suicidal Tendencies
10.) Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana
11.) Cut From the Cloth – The Evens
12.) Everybody Knows – The Evens
13.) Cache is Empty – The Evens
14.) You Fell Down – The Evens
15.) Pushed Against a Wall – The Evens
16.) The Past Recedes – John Frusciante

Normally I’d annotate the tracks, but I’m not in the mood today. Besides, some of those songs speak for themselves.

As far as running stuff goes, I stumbled across an interview of Todd Williams on Let’s Run this afternoon. Williams, as some remember, was the top American 10,000-meter runner during most of the 1990s. He made it to the Olympics twice and often challenged Bob Kennedy as America’s top distance hope. Eventually Williams moved up to the marathon though his best events were the shorter races – he still holds the U.S. record in the 15k (42:22).

Suck it up

All this means is that I’m no expert on Michigan or its climate, but I bet it gets a lot colder there than it does here in Lancaster, Pa. We’re pretty close to the Mason-Dixon Line, after all. Once, for kicks, I rode my bike to the Pennsylvania-Maryland border near where the Susquehanna pours into the Chesapeake Bay. I’ll have to dig up the essay I wrote about that…

Anyway, it tends to be warmer here in the winter than in Michigan. When it snows it’s a bona fide event. Schools close, the mail stops, people lose their minds and fight over bread and milk at the grocery store, and chairs grow out of the ground to hold shoveled out parking spaces. Then, around 4 p.m., it all melts away and we go back to our normally scheduled lives.

But this time is was different. My car is still stuck in the driveway because somehow ice settled underneath the front tires. The glacier still covers the landscape and runners like me curse Mother Nature as their fitness wanes.

In Michigan where the runners in the Hansons-Brooks Distance Project train, it snows a lot. Nearly every day, I bet. It gets really cold, too. Much colder than here where I wore shorts when I went out to run until Jan. 10.

Still, rain, sleet, snow and cold weather, the Hansons get out there to run. In this interview with Brian Sell from the New York Road Runners web site, the 2:10 marathoner with a good shot at finishing in the top three at the Olympic Trials in November reveals that he goes out to run every day.


No treadmill.

In Michigan.

The point: guys like me should suck it up and run. So it snowed and iced… big deal.

Ice, ice baby

I’d been planning to write about how the local government folks in Lancaster City really blew it with the snow and ice storm that turned the roads and sidewalks into glaciers. How come they could clean up the streets in Harrisburg and other nearby cities, but not Lancaster? Was it because our city was laid out in the 18th Century? Maybe they’re just smarter than we are?

Whatever the reason, we’re really bad at moving snow off the streets here in Lancaster. But then again, no one had an easy time this past week. And the funny (ironical not ha-ha) part is that it’s just as bad now is it was the day after it happened. For instance, it’s been seven days and I still can’t get my car out of my driveway because the front tires are resting on top of a sheet of ice. Oh I shoveled quite a bit last Wednesday. In fact, I was out there for about four hours – more if Tuesday night’s preliminary shoveling is thrown in. But this stuff just ain’t going anywhere.

Needless to say, running was pretty difficult last week as evidenced by the picture of one of my routes (upper right). Though the roads in my neighborhood were passable, there still was some ice here and there, plus most people who drive cars aren’t too keen on sharing them with anyone.

But the worst part about last week’s runs came when I crossed into the Lancaster city limits. Oddly, the worst spots were on sidewalks on city property. They appeared to be untouched, while it seemed as if the residents at least gave an effort to get some of the sheets of ice off the sidewalks. Not the city though.

That’s the weird part, too. Politicians don’t seem to understand that quality of life issues are what people (voters) remember. If the mayor, the city council or the county commissioners (whoever the hell decides to do something) can get the snow of the sidewalks and the trash off the streets, people will remember. Better yet, businesses will be attracted to the town because everything is clean and safe.

Taking care of the quality of life stuff means the politicians and special-interest business folks can build their convention centers and hotels without much resistance. After all, wo wants to hold a convention in a town where the streets are covered with snow and trash and the only downtown business open after 5 p.m. on a Friday is the pawn shop?

Not anyone who has any self respect – and not anyone who might want to go out for a run.

Anyway, I put in 49 miles for the week in six runs. That’s definitely not where I want to be this late in the year. However, the upcoming week looks good. Temperatures should climb into the 40s and my normal routines should come off without a hitch. Maybe a 60-mile week is in the offing?

Then 70?

Then 80?

And so on and so on …

Monday — 11.6 miles in 1:19:11
Felt pretty good, but I’m still not there. I’m not as strong as I was a couple of weeks ago and I can really tell. My legs — especially my calves — were tired about an hour into the run.

Tuesday — 6.8 miles in 47:11
Ran in the snow. The conditions were a little slippery, but not bad. Y legs felt kind of tight, though.

Wednesday — nothing
Spent the day shoveling. After that I ate pizza. I guess that makes me a lacto vegetarian for those into labels.

Thursday — 6.8 miles in 48:02
The roads were pretty icy and really tough to run on. I really, really, really hate this weather.

Friday — 6.8 miles in 47:22
Not as icy as yesterday, but I cut out the bad parts. Wasn’t as cold either. Still, I’m going crazy — I’m out of my routine and it sucks.

Saturday — 8.5 in 60:55
My mistake was running into the city… the sidewalks were so icy that it ruined the run. Otherwise, I felt pretty good and showed a little bit of strength.

Sunday — 8.5 miles
The roads are still really bad and the wind made the conditions tough, but I got it in. I ran the last 63 minutes with John May, which was fun. I like to run.

Go figure… it’s warm in Florida

Let’s start with what you are going to see in the first dispatches from the Phillies’ training camp in sunny Clearwater, Florida. They pitchers will be doing the requisite calisthenics and running along the outfield grass. They will be images of them smiling and laughing while playing catch – maybe even a whoop or holler from a hitter as the crack of the bat gives off the aurality of a shotgun report as a line drive rockets toward US-19.

It’s fun just imaging it.

But then it happens. Some TV reporter – or maybe even a coach or player – will come on the screen with a Cheshire-cat grin as they inform viewers that the current temperature is 68 degrees and the weekly forecast is only calling for temps in the mid-60s.

“Getting a little chilly down here,” someone will condescendingly spit through that grin.

Frankly, those moves are nothing more than the refuge of an ultimate hack, so get ready for it. Just resist the urge to shout back at the TV, “Hey Hack, I guess you’re trying to point out that it gets warm in Florida. Right? Gee, I didn’t know that. Guess what? It snows in Pennsylvania during the middle of February. Sometimes it even gets cold and I didn’t even have to get the meteorological society stamp of approval to figure that one out. Now get back to your 30-second ‘report’ while I sit here and wait for the 17 minutes of weather in a 22-minute ‘news’ report.”

Thanks for indulging that little rant. I do it so you don’t have to.

Anyway, here are the other stories you can expect to read (and then hear) about this week from Clearwater:

  • Pat Burrell’s health, outlook for 2007, whether he can “protect” Ryan Howard and his thoughts on Mike Schmidt’s assessment of his game. No, there will be no shortage of Pat Burrell reports this spring/season.
  • The bullpen – specifically, who is the set-up man. Will Antonio Alfonseca or Ryan Madson be able to fill that role or will the Phillies have to make a trade to get that much-coveted reliever?
  • Who is the odd man out in the rotation? Is Jon Lieber on the block or is Adam Eaton going to the ‘pen? To a lesser degree, can 44-year old Jamie Moyer continue to rack up the innings and be an effective fifth starter?

    Better yet, can 23-year old Cole Hamels continue to pitch as well as he did to close the 2006 season or is he doomed to suffer another injury? Has Brett Myers really “matured” or will he resort to his old habits when the new contract and season settles in?

  • Ryan Howard and the long-term contract issue… Let’s see if he turns out to be more like Willies Stargell and McCovey than Joe Charboneau or Bob Horner.
  • Charlie Manuel’s contract. In the last season of a three-year deal most fans would be content to let the skipper walk away. However, most fans don’t go into the Phillies’ clubhouse.
  • Who is going to be the every day catcher?
  • Who is going to be the every day third baseman?
  • Most importantly, are the Phillies really ready to challenge the Mets and the Braves in the NL East?

    So many questions and a lot of fun trying to figure out the answers.