They believed if everything broke perfectly and everybody played well and stayed healthy, Burnett could help the rotation.
"We think we should be a better club," Phillies president David Montgomery said in February. "How much better? I think it has really created a situation where we're probably more anxious than I can remember in a long time to just play games and see where it goes."
Players also liked the team's chances.
"We've had a bad couple years and had injuries and all that stuff, but I don't think it's over," Howard said. "People are entitled to their opinions … but it's up to us to go out there and show them otherwise and go out and play our game and do what we do."
But the Phillies finished their season Sunday, missing the postseason for the third consecutive year, finishing in last place in the National League East.
It was the most trying season for the organization in recent memory. The team not only struggled on the field, but players had issues with Ryne Sandberg's managerial style, Ruben Amaro Jr. felt intense heat from a frustrated fan base and Montgomery took a leave of absence in August to recover from jaw bone cancer surgery.
Montgomery's departure hit the organization hard.
Pat Gillick became the team's interim president and finally acknowledged what many in baseball had been saying for some time: The core from the 2008 World Series championship team could no longer be the core to a future World Series team.
"Maybe we pushed them a little too far," Gillick said. "Sometimes you think you've got another shot at it. The old story, you're a year late rather than a year early, something of that nature."
The offense and rotation struggled, other than Hamels, which played a big part in the team's difficulties. But the Phillies had some bright spots. A young group of relievers including Ken Giles, Jake Diekman, Justin De Fratus and Mario Hollands fell behind Papelbon to give the Phillies a potential strength heading into next season.
They had some highlights, too.
Rollins set the franchise's all-time hits record on June 14. Ben Revere hit his first career home run on May 27. The Phillies inducted Charlie Manuel into their Wall of Fame in a memorable ceremony Aug. 9. The Phillies also had their share of walk-off wins and highlight-reel catches, but those developments and moments were not enough to overcome the disappointment from a second consecutive losing season.
It is the first time the Phillies have had consecutive losing seasons since a seven-season run from 1994-2000.
They hope for better next year.
Record: 73-89, last place in the NL East.
Defining moment: Dodgers right-hander Josh Beckett no-hit the Phillies on May 25 at Citizens Bank Park, becoming the first pitcher to no-hit the Phillies since St. Louis' Bob Forsch in 1978. For years, Philadelphia had the most dominant offense in the National League, if not baseball. The Phillies still held onto the belief they would be productive offensively with everybody healthy, but the best days were behind them as they struggled to score runs. Beckett's no-hitter drove home that point in a major way.
What went right: The Phillies should enter next season with their bullpen a strength, especially if they hold onto Papelbon. The Phillies established Diekman, Giles and Papelbon as an effective 1-2-3 combination in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings, respectively. De Fratus and Hollands also progressed as relievers, which should give the organization one less thing to worry about in the offseason.
What went wrong: Oh, the offense. Utley hit the ball incredibly well the first two months of the season before cooling immensely the final four months. Howard had his share of RBIs, but his OPS was not where it should have been for a No. 4 hitter. Domonic Brown took a big step back. Revere needed a torrid stretch late in the season just to get his OPS close to .700. Byrd and Rollins had relatively productive seasons. Byrd supplied the team's power, and Rollins finished among the top third of shortstops in baseball.
Biggest surprise: After a slow start, Revere made a run at the National League batting title before falling short in September. That surprised some, but the biggest surprise is Revere hit not one, but two home runs. He hit his first May 28 in the 1,466th at-bat of his five-year career. It was the longest homerless stretch to start a career since Frank Taveras went 1,594 at-bats without a home run from 1972-77. Revere hit his second Sept. 5 in Washington, which tied the game with two outs in the top of the ninth inning.
Hitter of the Year: The Phillies signed Byrd to a two-year, $16 million contract in the offseason, and he delivered. He was the team's most consistent hitter from the beginning to the end of the year, leading the team in home runs and keeping pace with Howard and Utley in RBIs. Not to be lost, Byrd also played very solid defense in right field.
Pitcher of the Year: An argument could be made for Hamels or Papelbon. Both would have garnered more attention had they played for a contending team. But the edge goes to Hamels, because he put up numbers that competed with Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw. Hamels had one of the best seasons of his career (9-9, 2.46 ERA in 30 starts), but few seemed to notice outside Philadelphia, because he didn't get the run support to pick up enough wins.
Rookie of the Year: Giles impressed the Phillies almost as soon as they promoted him to the big leagues on June 8. He threw fastballs that touched 101 mph, and he commanded his slider for strikes. It proved to be a deadly combination. He quickly established himself as the setup man to Papelbon, and word quickly spread through the league that Giles is somebody to watch in the future. That is the highest compliment about Giles' rookie season: hitters muttering in opposing clubhouses about how they know they will have to face him many more times in the years to come.