CLEARWATER—The Phillies are considered prohibitive favorites to win the National League pennant this season and advance to their third World Series in four years. That doesn't bother Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard in some ways, but in other ways it does.
"There should be high expectations," Howard said Thursday after the Phillies blanked Florida State 8-0 in an exhibition game at Bright House Networks Field. "We've got a pretty darn good team."
The Phillies, of course, have their "Four Aces" rotation with Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels. They also have a lineup in which six of the eight regulars have played in an at least one All-Star Game and a bullpen that includes closer Brad Lidge and hard-throwing set-up man Ryan Madson at the back end.
Seemingly, nobody in the NL can match the Phillies' talent. In fact, a case can be made that the Red Sox are the only team in the major leagues who have a better club than the Phillies. Some pundits are already predicting that a Phillies-Red Sox matchup in the World Series would be one of the greatest baseball heavyweight fights ever.
Yet the talk about playing deep into October seems a little premature to Howard considering we're still in February and the only team the Phillies haven't beaten so far play in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
"It's like everyone is just handing us the pennant," Howard said. "It's a compliment but it's also not as easy as people are making it out to be. We've got 162 games to play in the regular season. We're playing major-league teams with major-league players, the best talent in the world. And we've got a big target on our backs. Everybody is going to try extra hard to beat us because we're the favorites. We've got a good veteran group here that understands how the game works but I just hope people outside this clubhouse understand the challenge in front of us."