Braves skipper says watch out for 2013 Phillies

St. Louis Cardinals v Atlanta Braves Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez thinks the Phillies — if at full-strength — could be a very, very tough team to beat this season.

The vibe around Bright House Field is different this spring. For the first time since the early days of the Charlie Manuel era, the Phillies aren’t the favorites to win the division or make the playoffs.

When ESPN’s John Kruk and Tim Kurkjian held court in the Phillies’ clubhouse last week, the talk was about the Washington Nationals and the Atlanta Braves.

“We don’t care about any of that stuff,” Ryan Howard said. “Just because they make their predictions, that doesn’t mean it’s going to come true.”

Howard’s correct. If that were the case, the Phillies would have played the Boston Red Sox in the 2011 World Series, a trendy pick among many pundits.

“We don’t mind being below the radar,” Howard said. “I kind of like it. If you want to underestimate us, go ahead at your own risk, because watch out, if we’re healthy, we’re going to do a lot of damage.”

It’s early and the Phillies are healthy. Howard is batting .367 with three home runs and has a team-leading 11 RBIs. Domonic Brown, a one-time top prospect, is hitting .385 with three home runs and a ridiculous 1.323 OPS. Ben Revere is covering ground in center and hitting 310.

Roy Halladay, who blanked the Nationals Wednesday over four innings, looks like he has bounced back from an injury-plagued season. Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels are ahead of where they should be, and set-up man Mike Adams looks tremendous.

“Don’t kid yourself, the Phillies are going to be very tough this season,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “I see a very talented team that a lot of people are selling short. Howard and [Chase] Utley look good. The Phillies didn’t have them for most of last season. If they have those two near or at full-strength, and if Halladay returns to form, they’re going to be very, very tough.

“I don’t care what anyone predicts when it comes to the Phillies. They are going to be really good. The lineup is going to be solid. The starting staff looks like it’ll be exceptional and their bullpen with Mike Adams and Chad Durbin is going to be very good. I’m not taking them lightly.”
Predictions are worthless
Not one major publication predicted the Phillies would win the World Series in 2008. The Sporting News, which predicted a Red Sox victory, had the Phillies as a wild card. Sports Illustrated had the Tigers winning it all and ESPN the Magazine had the Indians as champs. All three magazines had the Cubs winning the NL pennant. The following year, nine of 13 Sports Illustrated pundits predicted that the Mets would take the NL East title.

“You never know what will happen,” Ryan Dempster said. “That’s why predictions are worthless. I was part of that 2008 Cubs team. Expectations were high, but it didn’t work out. I don’t know why anyone makes predictions before the season anyway.”