For two teams in MLB, the theme of spring training can be summed up in one word: urgency.
The Philadelphia Phillies and New York Yankees know that this might be their last shot to win a World Series championship.
Prior to last season, the Phillies won five straight NL East titles. During that time period, they appeared in two World Series, winning one championship.
Last year, everything changed.
The Phillies missed the playoffs for the first time since 2006. The Washington Nationals won the division, proving that the road to the playoffs no longer runs through Philadelphia.
Ryan Howard and Chase Utley both missed over a third of the season. By the time they got back, neither one was very effective. The Phillies were also in last place in the division, making it nearly impossible to stage a second half comeback.
The biggest downfall of this team was the loss of Roy Halladay. The former Cy Young winner wasn’t himself all year. He only made 25 starts, and his ERA skyrocketed to 4.49, numbers that are hardly near his career average. It was the first time he pitched under 200 innings since 2005.
For the Phillies’ 2013 spring training, so far so good. This is the first time Chase Utley has played in a spring training game since 2010.
Maybe he’s going to be ready to start Opening Day. The Phillies are a much better team with Utley on the field, even if he isn’t the same player he once was.
Halladay also appears to be himself again. He made one spring training start so far with no discomfort. During two innings of work, he struck out two and gave up one run.
The Yankees also have one last chance to get it done with their currently assembled roster. This is uncharted territory for the Yankees. During the Jeter era, the Yankees have won five World Series championships.
The Yankees played almost all of last season without Mariano Rivera. He tore his ACL in the early parts of last season. After much speculation of retirement, Mo decided to return for one last run with the Yanks.
It’s only fitting that the greatest closer of all-time gets to go out on his own terms.
Derek Jeter broke his ankle this past fall against the Detroit Tigers in the playoffs. Albeit a gruesome injury, Jeter is returning for the Yankees and expected to start Opening Day. Even so, Jeter is 38 and time is running out.
Alex Rodriguez is another issue entirely. He endured an offseason filled with steroid allegations and hip surgery.
He’s not expected to play for an extended period to time. That might actually be a blessing for the Yankees since he’s no longer a serviceable player.
Besides urgent, another word describes this team: old.
Age is these teams’ biggest areas of concern. They aren’t getting any younger, and time is running out.
The Phillies average age is 29.6 years, down from 30.9 a season ago. That being said, they are still an old team.
Look at their infield.
Michael Young is 36, Jimmy Rollins is 34, Chase Utley is 34 and Ryan Howard is 33. The core of this team that for awhile was so successful is running out of time.
According to Elias Sports Bureau, the Yankees are even older. They come in with a staggering average age of 32.8 years. Andy Pettitte is 40, Raul Ibanez is 40, Jeter is 38 and so is Ichiro.
The biggest question is, can their bodies hold up? The baseball season is a grind. One hundred and sixty-two games is a lot of baseball and wear and tear on the body.
The teams in the NL and AL East have improved significantly. For the Phillies, the Nationals and Braves a legitimate challengers. For the Yankees, the Orioles are ready to take the reigns.
These teams can sense the urgency and they know what’s facing them. There may not be a tomorrow for the Phillies and Yankees.
Once they hear “Play ball,” the road to a World Series begins.
Reach the columnist at email@example.com