By Joe Giglio
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – When spring training began for the Philadelphia Phillies in Clearwater, Fla., there was a dark cloud hovering over a franchise in disarray. Over the last few weeks, the skies have opened, raining on any positive thought fans could have for the 2014 season.
From Cole Hamels’ shoulder soreness to Jimmy Rollins drama to injuries or setbacks to key reserves like Mike Adams, Darin Ruf, Freddy Galvis, Jonathan Pettibone and Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, the news cycle has provided a daily dose of pessimism for a disenchanted fan base.
Amazingly, an 89-loss team from 2013 has found a way to make people less optimistic as the new season screeches closer to reality.
Spring training is about hope. Career journeyman look like stars, Quadruple-A players emerge to intrigue coaches and stars of old return to their youth for three or four weeks.
For the most part, Feburary and March success stories are squashed in April and May. Reality arrives quickly when the marathon of a 162-game regular season begins.
Yet, for this Phillies team, that reality hasn’t waited. The team didn’t bother to wait, tease fans with a 12-5 start in April or early-season headlines of a rebound season.
Instead, in the backdrop of optimism and hope, the Phillies became an unwatchable product, according to scouts following the Grapefruit League.
With less than two weeks remaining before the games count, the Phillies have hit rock bottom and crashed to the doldrums of the few fans and supporters that expressed hope for meaningful baseball this summer.
In reality, this day was always slated to arrive. With an aging, decaying core and curious offseason moves by general manager Ruben Amaro, the idea of a 25-40 record in early June wouldn’t have surprised anyone.
The surprising aspect of this spring hasn’t been the bad news, injuries or lack of encouraging day-by-day reports to emanate from beat reporters covering the team. What’s been shocking is the lack of anything to believe in, hope for or take solace in.
Two years ago, there wasn’t a WIP caller that didn’t believe in the Phillies extending their window of NL East dominance for at least a few more years. After a 102-win season in 2011, the road to a division title would go through Philadelphia again in 2012 and beyond.
With back-to-back non-winning seasons, the Phillies haven’t just ceded the NL East hierarchy to the Nationals and Braves, they’ve carved out a legitimate battle with the Marlins and Mets for real estate in the division cellar.
In fact, if you believe what scouts and insiders are peddling down in Florida, the Mets and Marlins are poised to emerge from losing before the Phillies. By the end of the 2014 season — regardless of the final standings — it’s more than realistic to believe that the Phillies will be the worst team in the division.
Any forward-thinking baseball observer could have predicted a day of reckoning for an roster in steep decline, but few would have nailed “Spring Training 2014” as the moment where everything came crashing down.
Objectively, the Phillies could be a good, second-tier contender in the NL wild card race if everything went right this summer.
Led by three top starting pitchers, a reliable closer, bounce-back season from Ryan Howard and continued progression from Domonic Brown, the idea of an 87-win team isn’t out of the realm of possibility. The other side of the coin also exists, leaving the Phillies in a 20-game area of variance and possibility slated for 95 losses and a last-place finish.
Across the country, fans of bad teams hope for the franchise to surprise each summer.
In Philadelphia, the Phillies have already delivered the most unique surprise of the early baseball calendar: Rock bottom has arrived before the first pitch of the season.
Joe Giglio is a host on WIP and WFAN, and covers MLB as a Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Find him on Twitter @JoeGiglioSports. Catch Joe’s next show on WIP Saturday night at 10 p.m.