This was going to be the year. Everything seemed in place. Roy Halladay adorned the cover of Sports Illustrated and everyone who ever saw a baseball game was predicting a third-straight trip to the World Series for the Phillies–and the franchise’s second world championship in three years.
Now here they sit in July, six games behind what is a good Atlanta Braves team, while the Phillies tread frantically trying to gulp for air. Unless Phils’ GM Ruben Amaro suddenly becomes Houdini, this team will continue to struggle. It’s starting to look more and more like the Phils won’t even make the playoffs–turning this into one of the most disappointing seasons in Philadelphia sports history (again, think 1979, I thank you).
Wasn’t this the same team the spouting pundits were saying was going to win 100 games? Some had them over 100 games. Wasn’t this the team that was going to smoothly glide to a third-straight World Series and win the second world championship in the last three years without a hitch?
The injury excuse will no doubt be bandied about, and, yes, the Phillies have had more than their share this year, with Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Carlos Ruiz and Placido Polanco all losing considerable time. But aren’t the Boston Red Sox hurting a little here and there? Don’t teams in every sport go through battles like this? The Eagles certainly faced a few–and survived to make the playoffs.
After 81 games, the Phillies were 43-38, as they were after 81 games in 2009, and as they were after 81 games in 2008. The one glaring difference between this season of despair and each of those previous years is that no one was any good in the NL East. The Braves and Marlins would hang around and eventually collapse, and you could always count on the Mets to self-implode.
It looks like this version of the Phils have an extension on the rip cord. A world championship from two years ago still fresh in the minds of the Phillies faithful can give you a prolonged grace period–even in this hardscrabble town. But a white-hot angst is beginning to rise. The airwaves, the papers, the internet are lighting up with complaints by fans that aren’t afraid to turn away from the reality of this mess.
The true believers are out there, too, though their numbers are dwindling fast. The diehards aren’t convinced that this is really a third-place team with a lineup that features Greg Dobbs, Wilson Valdez and Dane Sardinha. Maybe they see something else. But on July 8th, the Phils are 43-40 and if the playoffs began today, they’d be three games behind the wildcard Mets. The Phillies are a team that has problems with situational scoring. Waiting for the three-run homer in the eighth isn’t working anymore. They’re 19th in the majors in batting average (.257), they’re 22nd in hits (727) as of July 8th.
Something else, the Fightins’ are 19-27 since holding first place and carrying a 24-13 mark on May 17th.
But the Phillies may not have to worry about making the playoffs a fourth-straight season–or reaching the World Series for a third-straight year. They’ve been a success this year. An incredible success. As long as Citizens Bank Park is filled beyond 100-percent capacity each night, it’s a bellyful franchise. Sure, Ruben Amaro is going to look for a starting pitcher around trade time. Sure, they’ll try to upgrade certain areas. The park is filled every night, what more can they ask for?
The fans can ask for something: How about getting Cliff Lee back? Reality says that won’t happen. The Phillies don’t have enough to give up. The Lee trade did speak volumes though. It said the Phils are a team that wants to win within limits. It screamed it! Winning within limits isn’t working, either.
In March, it was almost impossible to get a ticket to a Phillies game. By September, the way this ship is currently listing, that may not be a problem. By then, you should see Chase Utley, Polanco and Ruiz back. You could see Dominic Brown patrolling one of the outfield corners. By then, though, you might not care. By then, it could be too late.