Spring training is underway and with that comes the sign of warm weather and outdoor fun ahead for all. That crack of the bat and pop of the glove means much more than just the beginning of a new season. It symbolizes the changing of the seasons, the end of the cold winter weather, and a fresh new life for all major league baseball fans around the globe. Every fan of every team has a positive outlook this time of year and it’s a sight for sore eyes to see the fresh cut grass on baseball diamonds all over Florida and Arizona as Grapefruit and Cactus League play commences.

Spring training is a time for players to work off the rust from the long winter off season as well as a time for fans to regain familiarity with their favorite squads. Our hometown Phillies are once again holding spring training in Clearwater Florida and if you haven’t had a chance to go for spring training it’s a trip all fans should embark on. I in fact haven’t had a chance yet to experience Spring Training but from the people I’ve spoken to who have attended it’s a one of a kind experience. Players interact with fans on a daily basis and the atmosphere is a lot more casual then the typical business as usual regular season games. Without a doubt heading to Clearwater for Spring training is on my sports bucket list and hopefully it’s something I can do in the next few years.

The Phillies without a doubt enter 2013 with many question marks than ever before. Will Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Roy Halladay get back to playing up to their potential? Will Dominic Brown and Darin Ruf show enough in Spring Training to solidify an outfield spot and give management and fans of level of comfort that they can get the job done? Will the bullpen rebound from an awful 2012 season? Will the suspension of Carlos Ruiz affect the Phillies start to the season? All of these and more are valid questions and the time is now for some answers to start developing.

I believe the Phillies will have a nice bounce back season in 2013. Clearly this team lacked leadership and focus in 2012 without Utley and Howard in the lineup the majority of the season. The loss of Roy Halladay was huge as the pitching staff couldn’t make up for the loss. Utley and Halladay are both going into a contract season and if they want to return to the Phillies after this season they’ll need to produce and I think they will. They both are coming into Spring Training at 100% health wise and it’s good to see they are hungry and determined.

It was clear Ryan Howard wasn’t fully recovered from his torn achilles which he suffered in the final at bat of the 2011 season. Even when he came back he just didn’t have the power to pushup that heel like he normal would have. He’s definitely in a much better place healthwise coming into 2013 and I believe he’ll have a huge impact on the team this season. I look for the old Ryan Howard to come back this season with 30-40 homeruns and 100 RBI’s. So far he’s looking great in Spring Training and once the big man is warmed up he’ll be showing that old form up here at CBP.

I like the moves the Phillies made this offseason with the bullpen. Mike Adams might have been the most important signing of the offseason for this team and received little recognition. Adams will be the key player in the bullpen which will allow him to setup the 9th for Jonathon Papelbon. The return of Chad Durbin to the Phillies also will provide much needed experience and leadership in the bullpen. Durbin was a key part of the 2008 Phillies bullpen that helped capture the teams second World Series Championship.

My prediction for the 2013 Phillies might disappoint some but I have to be realistic based on what I see at the current moment. I do see the Phillies returning to the post-season as long as Utley/Howard/Halladay all stay healthy in 2013. But I don’t see them capturing the division.

The Washington Nationals are for real and I think their playoff experience last year will make them even more dominant in 2013. If you recall back in 07 the first year the Phillies went to the playoff during their recent span of playoff appearances they were swept out of the first round just like the Nationals did last season. The Phillies then bounced back in 08 and went on to win the World Series. I’m not saying the Nationals will in the World Series but I think they will be the class of the NL East in 2013 and make it very difficult for the Phillies to regain the NL East crown. I see the Phillies making it into the playoffs as a wildcard team this year and make winning a round. As far as reaching the World Series though I just don’t think they’ll have enough in the tank to go all the way but hopefully I’m wrong.

Only time will tell how all these questions pan out for the Phillies but regardless Baseball is back. The crack of the bat, and pop of the glove are here to stay for a while. The warm weather is just around the corner and before you know it we’ll all be down at the ball park enjoying some great baseball. Lets go Phillies in 2013.