Rewind to 2011: On that fateful October night, as Ryan Howard left the batter’s box and never made it to first that was the first time I predicted the fate of the 2012 Phillies. There was no other way for this season to go than the way it has to date. The unthinkable has happened. The Phillies currently sit in last place and, according to ESPN.com, have a 3.2% chance of making the playoffs.
The progression was a long and frustrating one beginning with the end of the 2007 season. The Phillies mashed their way to the top of the National League East, and earned their first trip to the playoffs in 14 years. They led the league in runs, Jimmy Rollins would win his only MVP Award the year after Ryan Howard followed up his Rookie of the Year campaign with his own MVP Award, and fans were happy with just being there. True the Phillies fell victim to the Colorado Rockies buzz saw, but no one was terribly heartbroken.
The 2008 season was one that was long overdue for fans of all sports in Philadelphia. The Phillies lost only 3 games during the postseason to capture the city’s first title since 1983, and first World Series title since 1980. The rotation was built on homegrown talent – with Sellersville native Jamie Moyer included – and midseason acquisition Joe Blanton. Brad Lidge never blew a save, and the bullpen became the subject of an MLB reality show the next season. Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Pat Burrell, Jimmy Rollins, Carlos Ruiz, Cole Hamels and Brett Myers were the core, the homegrown core that led the Phillies to the promised land.
Pat Gillick would retire after the 2008 season leaving Ruben Amaro, Jr. as the Phillies new General Manager. They also lost legendary announcer Harry Kalas early in the year, a rallying cry for the rest of the season. The 2009 Phillies again improved on their record from the previous year, finishing with 93 wins. They led the league with 820 runs scored but also had some concerns at the top of their rotation. RAJ went out and got himself two former Cy Young Award winners to go with his World Series MVP winner, Cole Hamels. Cliff Lee was acquired through a trade with the Cleveland Indians after the Phillies failed to land Roy Halladay from the Blue Jays. He was nothing short of spectacular throughout the rest of the year, and the postseason. Pedro Martinez made his major league comeback with the Phillies and proved serviceable for the remainder of the year. However, even with a breakout year from Jayson Werth, and an All-Star campaign from Raul Ibanez, the Phillies couldn’t overcome the New York Yankees in the World Series. This was the beginning of the backslide for the Phillies.
The following offseason Cliff Lee was traded immediately after the Phillies acquired the man they coveted so dearly in Roy Halladay. It was a move that baffled most fans, so RAJ explained it as a way to replenish the farm system that was being depleted by these trades including the ones for Brad Lidge, Joe Blanton and Cliff Lee. This logic was quickly overruled by the July acquisition of Roy Oswalt from the Houston Astros, and the Phillies win at all costs legacy was perpetuated.
The Cliff Lee deal could simply have been misconstrued as a panic move for a new general manager who didn’t want to fail, and then basically trading Lee for Halladay was logical given the explanation of wanting to keep the farm system in tap. The Oswalt deal was a very American League East type deal, and began a dangerous precedent. It was a move that let fans know the Phillies wanted to stay on top. It was a move that signaled the end of an era. It was the end of the bottom up approach that finally won a hungry city a well-deserved title.
Roy Halladay dominated the National League, and was perfect against the Marlins, en route to his second Cy Young Award. The Phillies finished with 97 wins, but the offense started falling back to the pack finishing with less than 800 runs, and behind the Cincinnati Reds. All concerns were put to rest, for a short time anyway, after the Phillies no hit the Reds in the Wild Card round behind Roy Halladay and reached the NLCS for the third straight year. The only thing that stood in the way of their World Series quest was the light hitting San Francisco Giants. The pitching match ups were close, but the edge clearly went to the Phillies in terms of their offensive firepower. 6 games later, Ryan Howard struck out swinging against Brian Wilson’s beard, and the San Francisco Cody Ross’ were on their way to the World Series instead of the favorites.
Enter Ruben Amaro, Jr. The Magician of Broad Street swooped in at the 11th hour to recapture Cliff Lee from the Texas Rangers and the universally despised New York Yankees, and Lee instantly made the Phillies the favorites once again with their rotation of Halladay, Lee, Hamels and Oswalt. The Four Aces. R2C2. Whatever they were, they would overcome all obstacles to bring a title back to the City of Brotherly Love. Even with Werth leaving for big money from the Nationals, there was no one who could stop these Phillies from winning it all.
Things soured as the season progressed, and the four aces were down to three after Roy Oswalt’s back couldn’t handle anymore cortisone injections. Ben Francisco and highly regarded prospect Dominic Brown weren’t producing in right field, so the Phillies again called Ed Wade and Philadelphia South, the Astros, to see if they were willing to part with Hunter Pence. The trade went through and in typical fashion an RAJ trade worked out perfectly for the Phillies on the front end as Pence tore up the league with the Phillies.
The season ended by the Phillies resting a lot of their key players, losing a ton of games at the end of year, but mustering up just enough energy to complete the campaign with most wins in franchise history. They also managed to beat the reeling Atlanta Braves on the last day of the year, in a meaningless game, in extra innings, to allow the red hot… no scorching hot St. Louis Cardinals into the postseason on perhaps the most exciting day of baseball in the history of mankind.
Five games later Ryan Howard ended the season again by tearing apart his Achilles and picking up my story by proving the Phillies are in a terribly predictable string of events. I uttered the phrase after that at bat that sounded something like this, “Well, you know what this means. Phillies win the World Series. Phillies lose the World Series. Phillies lose the NLCS. Phillies lose the NLDS. You know what this means don’t you? No playoffs next season.”
Needless to say I was laughed at, but anyone who follows baseball can see a little bit of New York and Boston here in Philadelphia. They can see a little bit of that ’07 swagger down in D.C. They can see the fire is out.
Time to stop with the Chase Utley, Ryan Howard talk. All Chase Utley did in his first game back was go 3-5 with a home run in his first at bat. The bottom line is the Phillies have not won since his return. If that spark, and that series of events, including news of Howard’s rehab officially beginning couldn’t ignite the Phillies, then what will?
I said it in jest, but I never thought I’d be right. Here’s to hoping the 2012 Phillies prove me wrong.
(Some stats and information courtesy of ESPN.com, CSNPhilly.com and MLB.com)