Can The Phillies Turn Around Their Season?
Ken Rosenthal likes to drum up hysteria in Philly.
And yeah, this proved perfect timing
So, with the Phils the sole holders of last place in the NL East and trailing division-leading Washington a most-since-2007 8.5 games entering Tuesday, with all kinds of toss-ups in soon-to-be free agents (Cole Hamels, Shane Victorino) and patent underachievers (Hunter Pence, Jimmy Rollins) and injuries-o-plenty (the rest of the infield, starters, subs, ball girls, everything) and with the Chase Utley and Ryan Howard things being all but sure, he figured, "What the hell?" and checked in with Phillies general partner David Montgomery.
“You’re way ahead of us. We still think we have a lot of season left and opportunity for us. Hypothetically or not, we haven’t gone there.
“Come August or something, maybe we feel differently. But that’s not our emphasis right now. Our emphasis is to try to get ourselves back in a position to compete this year.
“We owe it not just to our fans, but we owe it to the group in the clubhouse. We’ve battled a few challenges this year. The last week hasn’t been pretty. But there’s still opportunity.”
As is there every reason in the world for the guy to lie to his teeth. Even if you brush off the "Poker Face For The Fan Base" and "Clinging To The Sellout Streak" corollaries, there's still the booming reality that, yeah, it would be a really, REALLY bad idea for a guy to put up "For Sale" signs this early, in this thin a Wild Card-whittled market. Would totally destroy his leverage. Would never.
But let's play unabated optimist for a sec, and take Montgomery (and the Phillies...) at his word.
Up for referendum, then, is the accuracy of his hope. The question then:
Do the Phils really have much more of an "opportunity" left?
Let's tackle this first in a vacuum. At 29-33, the Phils have 100 games left to play. Now, this is usually the part where I go, "Well, the last 5 division winners..." leading into a comp and a spiel. Lucky us, the Phils themselves were the last five division winners, making this search -- a dive into past regular season records on this day in those years, to figure just what kind of push they're looking at -- a quickie.
Here's how the Phillies fared on June 12 in each of their last five NL East-winning seasons.
|YEAR||W||L||NEEDED W||MAX L|
So, based only on recent history -- which, while it totally disregards the NL East's vastly improved parity, should be normalized some by Wild Card expansion -- the Phils should basically hope to cap their losses between 35-40 for the rest of the season, which, might not be reasonable. Like, at all. If for no other reason than that welcoming back Utley (starts rehab assignment Tuesday, which can't last more than 20 days) and Howard (who knows?) isn't going to be a easy-going point-and-shoot. Fitting them in the lineup (as they acclimate to MLB game-speed fresh off an eight-month delay) won't go totally smoothly.
Neither will the rest of the Phils schedule. Not exactly a freshly Zamboni'd ice rink. For starters, they've gimped along this early stretch to recent franchise lows despite having one of the easiest schedules in the sport. The Phils .488 RPI (Relative Power Index) ranks No. 22 in baseball, the same spot as their opponents' combined .494 win percentage. And that's not luck of the draw. Everybody knew it was going to be a cakewalk. (Well, at least for most.)
Then there's this: Buster Olney Sunday ranked the Phillies the NL's toughest schedule for the second half of the way.
Note: Realize most of you aren't ESPN Insiders. You're welcome for the hook-up.
1. Philadelphia Phillies
Home/away: 32 of last 71 are at home.
Games vs. teams with record over .500: 36
Noteworthy: The Phillies had one of the easiest schedules of the year at the outset of the season, but it'll be tougher in the second half -- and the Phillies might be better equipped with Chase Utley back.
Big Finish: The Phillies close out the season on the road -- at New York and at Atlanta. One final test.
Moving right along...
If the Phils are going to prove themselves World Series-worthy -- the only scenario, really, in which Montgomery's rosy outlook now aligns with what is reality later, meaning there aren't any trades -- they're going to have to do so against those teams. So let's just tuck that, and the wear and tear of a haul like this one (which won't be doing them any favors in the "getting/staying healthy department," but whatever...) aside.
Does that ever really happen? Do teams ever really put forth early-season showings that totally misrepresent their potential? I mean, sure, the Cardinals capped one of the baseball season's greatest turnarounds to wrap last regular season and squeak into the playoffs. But is that the norm? Doesn't a team kind of show you what it's got over the first, say, 62 games of a season?
World Series winners do. In fact, comparing these Phils to those benchmarks (of the last five clubs to get rings) for an on-this-day comparison proves a pretty depressing exercise.
Look how similar they look to one another. Look how much that doesn't look like the Phillies.
|YEAR||TEAM||W||L||DIVISION||GMS BACK||LEAGUE||GMS BACK|
(Phillies are No 11 in the NL, 10.5 games back of the Dodgers.)
Yeah, no. Nuh uh.
Now, not that we're cool with copping to such lowly standards, but let's pretend a World Series berth, even if it meant a loss, was the baseline expectation.
How might the Phils stack up then? Any better? Any closer?
Last five World Series winners' records as of June 12:
|YEAR||TEAM||W||L||DIVISION||GMS BACK||LEAGUE||GMS BACK|
Now, it is worth diving into the expanded Wild Card, and that, in each league, there will be two teams added to the field pitted together in a play-in game very much like the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship tournament pigtails. If the Phillies squeak in, then hey, maybe they can make a run.
But there is folly in that logic, because if we're to argue that the Phillies could still slip in late and could still make said mystical run, then why didn't any of the other of the teams from our data, World Series winning teams, do so? Granted, you could argue that an expanded field stretches the elastic on a team's chances to make it there, and stretch a little further to add that, "Hey, anything can happen" once you're there. And, however flimsy that feels, maybe you're right. Maybe there's a (slight) chance.
But is that really savvy business strategy? Is that shrewd? Is that disciplined? Is that blocking out all emotions and extraneous factors, and making decisions that best temper the team's short- and long-term needs and best try to get them there?
Don't think so.
So, what we're trying to say is, anything's possible. Hell, Utley could win the Triple Crown. Rack, like, 600 at-bats and everything. Six per game. Screw it. He and Howard could go 1-2 in the regular season and World Series MVP balloting. All while the Phils prove themselves outliers, which would not only immediately be penned into an ESPN 30-For-30 flick, but whole ordeal would create so much Philly intrigue that filmmakers would look under the hood of the Eagles front office, bringing to screen the Andy Reid Saga and Joe Banner Ouster, and totally patch the strained relations between Philadelphia sports and the national media forever. Sure. Could totally be possible.
But there's "Coddled Trust Fund Baby," best-case scenario by-default "possible" and then there's "The Rest Of Us," totally managed expectations "possible," and this is starting to assume the slippery, grimy feel of the former. Sucks, really. But, at least, it brings you to the responsible thing: hedging your bet and playing for your future. Trading Hamels and Victorino and whoever else you might get market value for. Restocking that farm system cupboard that's been cleaned out. Not totally packing it in on the here and now, but tucking something -- anything!!! -- away for the not-too-distant future that's screaming toward you, and fast, so you can turn over your roster without too harsh a headache.
Here's where it really starts to sting: The only move that's really worth making would be one for Hamels, who, unlike Victorino, could be pitched to the fan base as a move "you just had to make," given the Betty White in snow shoes progress negotiations has made. (Dealing Victorino would be perceived as a salary dump, which it totally would be, given that the team wouldn't be getting much of anything in return. Not for a rental. Not for, really, anything other than Hamels.)
But how do you make that happen with Hamels so close to free agency?
Everything we've heard from everyone has pointed toward the guy at least dipping his toes in those oh-so-self-important waters, to see what he's worth, to milk the attention, to really pad the ego unlike anything he's ever going to experience in his life again. That totally trashes any leverage the Phillies might have to pit potential buyers against one another. If, say, the Phils could coax Cole into agreeing to a sign-and-trade (or trade-and-sign, order doesn't really matter) to, really, anybody but the Dodgers, you'd be well on your way to a bidding war with LA. (As is, they won't even talk to the Phillies -- not even hear them out on anything -- given their certainty that they can make a solid run at Hamels once he's up for grabs.) Thing is, that lure doesn't work without the team's brandy new ownership really feeling the heat of the possibility of losing him for good. The team's brandy new ownership doesn't feel that heat if Hamels is already hell-bent on hitting free agency, which, it seems, he is.
What's there to do now?
Our suggestion: Settle into mediocrity. Really. Come to grips with the fact that, hard as it's hitting you, this Phillies window is over. There aren't moves for Ruben Amaro to swing. (Who'd he deal? And for whom? Comment box below.) There isn't a cavalry riding in over the horizon.
Worse, that help that came crashing in at each and every deadline the last three years didn't deliver. Your Phillies were, so far as sustainability goes, grossly mismanaged and totally over-leveraged toward the future. They went all in, they got burned on an unbelievable river card.
Ruben Amaro's next move? Move on. Play the next hand.