Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Year Of Phillies Fan Correction

In my Twitter feed are various Phillies fans, and I'll be blunt about this: they are not doing the rest of you any kind of favor. As I write this, the NL East Dynasty In Decline is 31-36, 9 games out of the East and 5 games out of the wild card (and yes, it truly is 5, since Atlanta and San Francisco are tied for that), and more likely to sell at the trading decline than buy.

How they got here is fairly easy to diagnose: they treated their aging personnel as special and magical creatures that would never decline or get hurt, imported proven guys only, and treated their remaining homegrown talent (i.e., Domonic Brown) like they were nuisance animals crossing a highway. There have been injuries, but when everyone of note on the roster is past 30, there are going to be injuries. Lots of them.

The Phillies, of course, probably knew this day was coming, but they held in and hit on 17, because breaking the dynasty is always hard, rebuilding in front of 4 million paying customers is borderline impossible, and last year's team was a hit or two away from beating the eventual World Series champion in the first round. The money was spent on Jonathan Papelbon, which was roundly pilloried by the cognoscenti, but in the year of the Exploding Closer, I suppose we can't kill them too much for this. Gentleman Jim Thome was also reacquired to cover for the first half of the year without Ryan Howard, Freddy Galvis was promoted to do the same for Chase Utley, and that was, well, that.

The fact that it hasn't worked shouldn't be too surprising; the NL East has talent all over, and while most teams looked too flawed (Washington was too young, Miami too thin, Atlanta too haunted and New York too Ponzied), the flaw for Big Red turns out to be the most fatal: Too Old. Carlos Ruiz is the only hitter having a year, and while he's been the best catcher in baseball, you aren't making the playoffs purely on a catcher being on pace to hit 20 HRs and 85 RBIs with a .400+ OBA, especially when the one-time front-line shortstop (Jimmy Rollins) is on pace for 10 HRs and a sub-.700 OPS. Galvis didn't hit before he got hurt, John Mayberry Jr. gave back all of 2011's gains, Shane Victorino stopped being an outlier MVP candidate, and so on, and so on.

But the idea that the offense would be in trouble was no real surprise to anyone; it was supposed to tread water until Howard and Utley got back, and they've probably been better than expected, especially when you give nearly regular at-bats to Juan Pierre. (Woof.) The bigger issue is the pitching. Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels need to be historic for this team to go places, and this year, they've been only ordinary. It's what happens with pitching, especially when two of those guys are in their mid-30s, and the napalm efforts of Kyle Kendrick, Joe Blanton and every reliever not named Papelbon or Antonio Bastardo means that the 4/5 starters and extra inning games are all going the other way.

Maybe they pull it together soon, maybe the two returning starters and the eventual return from injury by Halladay could drive a big push, but they've just lost too many of Those Kinds of Games to inspire any kind of confidence that they can do it again. Besides, last place in the division is last place in the division; jumping past all of these teams just isn't going to happen, which is what's keeping me thinking happy thoughts about Red Sox Elimination Day coming early this year.

Now, you might think that one of MLB's most losing franchises would have enough old-school fans to be able to deal with a down year, and understand that this is all that this is. The Phillies are a pure MLB+ market, the only team in a market that could probably support two with relative ease (seriously, imagine how the AL East might look with the Philadelphia R'As instead of Tampa), the beloved new-ish park and a division filled with teams with, well, none of these advantages. In the long term, they should compete every year, assuming they can restock the farm system, get away from the dead wood contracts, and make some better moves.

Phillies Fan, of course, is treating the year with something approaching breakdown, in between sticking pins into Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg voodoo dolls. (Seriously, people, calm down. They'll be signing free agent American League contracts before you know it.) It's just a bad year. They happen.

But not for anyone who has only rooted for the team in this century.

So, young'uns? Come close. Listen up. I'm old and such, can't speak very loudly.

Steve Jeltz. Rich Schu. Charlie Hayes. Jeff Stone. Mickey Morandini. Tommy Hume. Nino Espinosa. Glenn Wilson. Kevin Stocker. Rico Brogna. Gregg Jeffries. Juan Bell. Kyle Abbott. Andy Ashby. Don Carmen. Chris James.

Do I need to go on?

No, I don't think so.

Baseball is not, even for a plus market, an automatic win slot machine. Eras end, and when they do, it's rarely pretty. And real fans are not made just in playoff runs, or glory, or full stadiums and roaring crowds. The least fun team to root for is the team that's expected to be good but isn't, and the most fun team is the team that comes out of nowhere to contend. There's a reason why guys that are my age like the 1993 team nearly as much as they do the 2008 WFCs, and it's been nine years since you've watched a sub.500 team. There aren't more than a handful of fan bases that have had it better than you in a long time, and this has been, by far, the best era in the laundry's history.

So, the next time you want to tear Joe Savery a new one, take a breath instead. Cut Victorino a break or six; he's earned them. Take in the small and simple joy that is Thome, sort of the rich man's Matt Stairs, or how there's never been a better named lefty reliever than Bastardo. Trust that Charlie Manuel will get some offense out of someone eventually, or how Brown might eventually get a few ABs and do something with them. Delude yourself with the fools' gold wild-card race, or get excited by the talent that comes their way if they sell off a name. (The guy I'd move is Cliff Lee, by the way. Not like he's not used to it, or that there won't be suitors in big markets that have seen him do good things in their league before.)

And earn your good times, rather than cutting and puling and running your way through them. Besides, actual games of consequence with any other Philadelphia pro sports team are 12 weeks away. So what else are you going to do with your time?

No comments:

Ads In This Size Rule