Ah yes, can you sense it?

Not the pollen stuffing your sinuses and causing spring allergies, but the sounds of baseball, becoming audible in the distance. The crack of the bat. The smack of the glove. The ‘thud’ sound of the Phillies’ relievers missing the plate entirely as the ball crashes into the backstop, allowing Ronald Acuna Jr. to come around and score.

Hopefully that’s our last bullpen joke for a long time, because the Phils went out and upgraded this season. They brought in Archie Bradley. Jose Alvarado. Sam Coonrod. Brandon Kintzler. The starting rotation has a solid top three in Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler and Zach Eflin. Matt Klentak is out, Dave Dombrowski is in, and the franchise brought back both J.T. Realmuto and Didi Gregorius. We have a World Series-winning manager in Joe Girardi and the controversial Odubel Herrera topic has been moved to the “alternate site,” at least for now.

If you go back to the winter, the idea of putting together a competitive roster seemed like a foreign concept. We couldn’t really pin down John Middleton’s ambition level following that much-maligned press conference he delivered a few months ago. Would the Phillies attempt to compete, and continue with the positive message they sent when they signed Bryce Harper to a 330 million dollar deal? Or would they cry poor and fizzle out, falling behind the rest of the National League East in the process?

They would not. They actually had a pretty good offseason, in a vacuum. This is a good squad on paper, but the sticking point is the talent in the rest of the division, which includes the Steve Cohen-owned Mets and the defending champion Atlanta Braves. The Nationals have talent and the Marlins went to the playoffs in 2020. They’re no longer a laughingstock.

It’s baseball’s toughest division, and if the Phillies were playing in the NL Central, the season outlook would be different. But that’s no reason to be disappointed, and one thing is for certain – there’s gonna be a lot of great baseball to watch this year. Night in and night out, the Phils are going to be playing great teams, and I give them credit for stepping up to the figurative plate in a bid to challenge the division favorites. They could have rolled over and died, and maybe kicked the can down the road, but instead they’ve got a team that will at least be competitive with the big dogs in the NL East.

For that reason, we should all be intrigued. Let’s play ball!