With the start of spring training comes the thoughts of nice weather, cook outs, and going to the beach.  It also is a time when baseball's spring training begins and all major league baseball teams have hope of getting to the World Series and of course winning it.  The Philadelphia Phillies pitchers and catchers reported to the Phillies spring training facility in Clearwater, Florida on Sunday and the rest of the squad reports early this week.  The 2012 Philadelphia Phillies have very high expectations and hopes for this upcoming season.  They are predicted by many publications and baseball experts to be the odds on favorites in the National League to make it to the World Series and even win it.  The Phillies really hope they can change how the last two seasons have ended for them and want to get rid of that bitter taste in their mouths.

     A new season also brings the questions to be asked about this team and if age has finally hit them.  The Philadelphia Phillies are hearing this and it is a very legitimate question.  Last season some of the players looked like that they hit that end of the road but look to come back this year and prove everyone wrong.  Could this be the last shot for this current group of players.  Players did show some signs of beginning to break down.  Chase Utley, Placido Polanco, and Jimmy Rollins all saw time on the disabled list last season.

     Coming into the 2012 season the Philadelphia Phillies will be without their first baseman and slugger Ryan Howard for the first couple of months of the season. He should be back sometime in the middle of May if everything goes well in his rehab.  He injured his achilles tendon on the last at bat in Game 5 of the National Divisional Series against the St. Louis Cardinal when Howard hit into the final out and as he was running out of the batters box he went down due to him injuring his achilles tendon.

     The Phillies and general manager Reuben Amaro Jr. did make some off season moves to try to improve the club and keep them on top of the National League.  The Phillies finally decided after thinking long and hard to keep shortstop and the leader of this group of players Jimmy Rollins and signed him to an extension and it appears that Jimmy will retire in a Philadelphia Phillies uniform which was news received well by most Phillies fans out there.  The Phillies also knew that they needed to improve their bench play and needed to have productivity from this part of the team.  The Phillies signed free agent and former Washington Nationals Ty Wigginton who can play first, second, and third base.  He can also even play any spot in the outfield as well.  The Phillies than went out and brought back a player to Philadelphia who was a fan favorite his first time here.  Amaro Jr. went out and signed Jim Thome, the guy who opened the way for players wanting to play baseball in Philadelphia.  He will play first base until Ryan Howard is ready and then he will be a left handed bat off the bench and he can also fill the role as a DH in interleague play.

     The Phillies also went out and signed two former teammates who were together with the Marlins to minor league contracts and invites to the teams spring training. Juan Pierre and Dontrelle Willis were signed by the Phillies.  Juan in his prime was a very good leadoff hitter and base stealer.  He will provide more depth on the bench and if he can steal some bases than he will really help. He will also fill in at center field and give Shane Victorino some rest especially in night to day games.  Willis if he can give the Phillies anything it would be an added bonus for the club.  The biggest signing the Philadelphia Phillies made during the offseason was going after the top free agent closer, Jonathan Papelbon.  He was signed to the largest contract ever given to a closer in baseball history.  He is a proven closer who won two World Series Titles with the Boston Red Sox.  He just blew three saves the entire 2011 season and two of them came in the final week of the season.  The Phillies were totally lacking a true closer in the bullpen, so Amaro Jr went out and got the best one available in the free agent market.

     The key to success for the Philadelphia Phillies this season will of course be their starting pitching rotation which no doubt is the best again in baseball.  Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, and Vance Worley are an excellent one through four staff.  They can get to the sixth and seventh innings where they can turn the game over to the set up men in the bullpen and than to Papelbon.  The Phillies will no doubt try to ship or at least try to find out what they can possibly get for right handed pitcher Joe Blanton.  They could go with a younger pitcher as the number five starter when they have to have one.  They could also decide that they want to keep Blanton because in 2008 he was very successful for the Phillies and he did help them win the World Series.

     Another key component for the Philadelphia Phillies in 2012 will be the fact they will have rightfielder Hunter Pence, who they acquired in a trade last season right before the trade deadline, for the entire season.  He could have a very good year and I expect him to.  He has become a true fan favorite and he totally fits right into the Phillies lineup.  He is the right handed bat that they really need in this lineup.  Another position which could help with another right handed bat in the lineup is in left field.  John Mayberry Jr will most likely be the starter and he will now have every opportunity to show he is really an everyday player.

     There are a lot of expectations like they have been for the past five seasons with this 2012 Philadelphia Phillies team and why should there not be.  This team has the best starting pitching in all of baseball.  They are also very talented.  The Phillies of course will have to stay away from injuries as well.  Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley need to have better seasons than they did last season.  If they do than this team should be in position to again win another World Series Title.  This very could be the last season with this group of players and they certainly would love nothing better than going out with another ring on their finger.  This group has won the NL East every year since 2007 and is one of the best Phillies teams of all-time.  They win another World Series then there will be no doubt about it where they stand.