Don't overlook Phillies

Positive vibe has Phillies focused on playoffs

Phillies closer Tom Gordon didn't flinch when mentioning the grind of a 182-game season.

Excuse me, Flash, did you say 182?

"Plus the playoffs," he added. "We need to stay focused for the long haul. As long as we stick together for 182 ballgames, good things can happen."

Having spent the past two seasons with the Yankees, and 1998-99 with Boston, Gordon knows something about postseasons and understands what it takes for sustained excellence, which is way more than contributions from a few players.

Gordon joined the Phillies after agreeing to a three-year contract this winter. He said this year's Spring Training has been fun and reminded him of those with New York.

This has been one of the quieter camps in Phillies land. With hardly any position battles, players are relaxed and ready to start the season. The starting lineup is set, with only David Bell's back injury a concern. If that prevents him from starting the season, Alex Gonzalez and Abraham Nunez are capable replacements.

Jon Lieber heads the starting rotation, and he will be followed by Brett Myers, Cory Lidle, Ryan Madson and Gavin Floyd, who has reclaimed his status as one of the team's top prospects. With Floyd in the starting five, Ryan Franklin is now a member of the bullpen.

Speaking of the bullpen, Gordon replaces Billy Wagner as the closer, and Arthur Rhodes inherits the setup job from Ugueth Urbina.

This spring, the Phillies posted their first Grapefruit League record above .500 since 1998. While it might not seem like much, it's never too early to start winning. Lackluster springs have led to lackluster Aprils over the past few seasons.

"Sometimes you're lucky, sometimes you make your own luck," said center fielder Aaron Rowand, who also knows something about winning. "You can learn from losing, as in what mistakes you made. I believe winning is an attitude. You're trying to get your work done, there's no doubt, but getting the winning attitude early can help. Winning helps the mental side of the game."

That mental side is where players like Gordon and Rowand can help, and Chase Utley is viewed as a player who will take a step forward on the leadership side.

"Even though Chase has only been here a short time, I think he feels comfortable," general manager Pat Gillick said. "Of the new guys that have come in, I think Rowand isn't afraid to speak his mind."

Added Rowand: "I'm just concerned about the other 24 guys and what I can do to help us win ballgames, whether it's on the field, in the dugout or in the clubhouse."

Despite the positive vibe in the clubhouse and the overall feeling that this team will contend all season, the Phillies have been picked to finish no higher than third in the National League East.

There's no doubt the Phillies will score runs, but most question whether the rotation is as good as other teams.

"I beg to differ," said Atlanta pitcher John Smoltz. "One through five, they're as good as most people. I don't know if there's going to be a better division in baseball in terms of playing these guys 18 times."

Gordon had an interesting take when asked if the Phillies are being overlooked.

"Because Atlanta has won every single year, you have to give them credit," he said. "In order for us to be considered, we have to win. Then, people will talk about us. You can't ask for credit if you haven't done anything. We're having a good Spring Training, [and] now we have to make the season mean something."

All 182 games of it.

Ken Mandel is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.