Phillies 2011 Season Ends in Agony, Defeat

The Phillies showed up to spring training in Clearwater, Florida with the weight of enormous expectations resting squarely on their shoulders. Was the starting rotation the greatest ever assembled? Which of the four aces would win the Cy Young award? Just how many games could this team win — 100? 110?

Teams with so much expected of them rarely live up to it, just ask the 2001 Seattle Mariners, who won 116 games and lost in the ALCS to the New York Yankees. Baseball is both adored and scorned for its unpredictability, making for the harshest of heartbreaks and loudest of celebrations.

The Phillies failed to reach their goal of winning another World Series. The upstart St. Louis Cardinals blazed through September, winning 18 of 26 games in the final month, ultimately reaching the post-season when the Atlanta Braves collapsed. The Cardinals entered the NLDS as huge underdogs against the Phillies, but behind solid all-around baseball, the Red Birds took advantage of an under-performing Phillies starting rotation and an anxious lineup that could not score runs in any consistent fashion. For the second straight post-season, the Phillies’ hopes were dashed with Ryan Howard making the final out. To add injury to insult, Howard came up lame running out of the batter’s box, injuring the foot that had been bothering him for much of the second-half of the season.

There are no two ways around it: 2011 is a failure for the Phillies. A team with their payroll, their caliber of pitching — their caliber of players overall, in fact — in a relatively weak league should be expected to win it all. However, in the sadness, let’s not lose sight of the great things that were accomplished this season. The team set a franchise record with 102 regular season wins. Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels all pitched incredibly well, and Vance Worley should not be lost in that conversation. Shane Victorino had a career year, as did Hunter Pence (who was even better with the Phillies than the Astros). John Mayberry, Jr. showed he can be a productive Major League player. Ryan Madson continued to pitch as one of the best and most underrated relievers in the game. Antonio Bastardo came out of nowhere to play a crucial role in an otherwise uninspiring bullpen.

Now that the season is over, Phillies fans may have seen a few players for the last time. Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Madson, and Raul Ibanez are free agents while Roy Oswalt and Brad Lidge have contract options that can be declined. All five are players that we have come to know and love over the years, through all of the trials and tribulations. Losing (potentially all of) them would be losing a part of the 2007-11 era that made baseball so fun. Of course, the Phillies will have the means to bring in new faces and we will start the whole process over again. That’s why baseball is so great — there’s always next season, and there are always new players with whom we can get attached. For the Phillies, it’s back to the drawing board, then on to attack 2012 with a vengeance.

. . .

As a bit of a personal aside, thank you, readers, for making this season so fun. This blog has continued to grow and achieve new levels of success, and I can’t thank you enough for making Crashburn Alley a regular stop in your Internet routine. The content will continue to flow in the off-season, so remember to keep stopping by for analysis on the Phillies’ approach to the 2012 season.¬†Additionally, I have had a blast live-Tweeting games — those of you who follow and interact with me on Twitter have made watching Phillies baseball even more fun, something I didn’t think was possible.

Congratulations to any Cardinals fans who may be stopping by to read. In particular, I’m happy for Matthew Philip of ESPN Sweet Spot’s Fungoes blog as he was kind enough to spare some time to come over to the dark side and speak with us before the series began. Let’s hope for a competitive and entertaining League Championship and World Series.

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39 comments

  1. Rich

    October 07, 2011 10:47 PM

    Epic fail.. words cannot describe. Too painful, offense collapse, game set match.. is the dynasty over?

  2. Mark

    October 07, 2011 10:58 PM

    Nice write-up, Bill. Tough one to all you Phils fans out there.

  3. HBP

    October 07, 2011 11:07 PM

    Thank you for your continued great work on this blog. It adds to the great experience of being a Phils fan throughout the season.
    A disappointing ending no doubt but just another reminder of how unbelievable and unexpected the 2008 championship season was. Man was that an awesome sesaon for those of us who were long time fans and never experienced a championship. It will never be matched no matter how high the payroll gets or how many great players they acquire. Ultimately, I feel bad for Halladay. The guy deserves a ring.

  4. tc

    October 07, 2011 11:13 PM

    Great, level-headed season summary without all the self-loathing, scape-goating overreaction I’ve been reading on other sites. While I’m absolutely crushed about the loss, the manic-depression type of emotional roller-coaster is what makes sports great.
    It’s not easy to win the World Series. Don’t forget that. It’s pain like this that makes seasons like 2008 so unbelievably wonderful.

  5. jordan

    October 07, 2011 11:15 PM

    yeah Halladay once again put the phillies on his back and pitched a great game against a lineup that puts out a Pujols/Berkman/Holliday combo……..best pitcher in baseball once again let down by a horrendous offense

  6. Cutter McCool

    October 07, 2011 11:27 PM

    @Jordan. I’d take any of those Cardinal three over Howard in the middle of this lineup. Irony is had the Phils not given Howard that ridiculous contract, they’d be in a position to possibly outbid the Cardinals for Pujols this offseason. And he and his injured ankle would be off the books for next season.

    “that’s adding injury to insult”–Ricky Bottalico

  7. RickAnkiel4HOF

    October 07, 2011 11:28 PM

    Boris says to type Phils lose because they do not have the Rick.

  8. Tommy2cat

    October 07, 2011 11:32 PM

    Yeah… too bad Phillies lost. Really thought they were going all the way. They had the pitching, but didn’t hit. Howard, Pence & Chooch completely tanked out.

    Too bad Phillies lost.

  9. Tommy2cat

    October 07, 2011 11:34 PM

    Hopefully, we’ll be entertained by a Tigers-Cards World Series.

  10. AGH

    October 07, 2011 11:34 PM

    I truly feel for Howard. After the last two seasons, one can only expect a more precipitous decline in 2012–the first year of his ridiculous extension. Maybe we can trade him to Boston once Papi retires.

  11. Cutter McCool

    October 07, 2011 11:35 PM

    Um, “the upstart Cardinals”? They won a world series a few years ago. And have the best lineup in MLB. Every team that’s beaten the Phils in the playoffs the last two seasons has won the world series–of the teams remaining, the Cardinals seem most likely to win it all.

  12. Cutter McCool

    October 07, 2011 11:39 PM

    @AGH. Agree they should trade Howard to whoever will take him if they can. Trade him for a bag of peanuts to be rid of his hideous contract. Then take that money saved to sign a major free agent–Reyes, Pujols, etc.

  13. Cutter McCool

    October 07, 2011 11:49 PM

    The Diamondbacks were upstart. The Cardinals are perennial contenders. Call it a comeback, not upstart.

  14. Matt

    October 07, 2011 11:51 PM

    Dude- enough with the positive spin. This is one of the biggest let-downs in the history of Philadelphia sports. I’m upset that you’re even trying to end the season with an optimistic outlook.

  15. Cutter McCool

    October 07, 2011 11:53 PM

    Also, about your “gentle” article above, there’s not enough lysterine in a germophobe’s bunker to wash the taste of this loss out of anybody’s mouth.
    Nice try though, Wheeler.

  16. Nick

    October 08, 2011 12:02 AM

    Trade Howard and add Prince Fielder. Youth, and some real baseball talent at the 1B. Maybe do what the Sox are doing and move Utley to SS and get a new 2B.

  17. Dustin

    October 08, 2011 03:08 AM

    I don’t know why people want to jump off a bridge because the Phillies lost three games out of five in a postseason series. Is it disappointing? Yes. Is it a failure given what the Phillies had? Yes. Does it mean the Phillies suck at baseball? No. Ibanez’ flyball goes a few more feet and we’re dissecting matchups with the Brewers.

    Let’s be glad we live in an era where we the Phillies collect division titles like party favors, and they at least have a chance in the playoffs every year. Most major league teams can’t say that.

  18. Ben

    October 08, 2011 03:28 AM

    @bill, games have been a lot more fun since following you and your live tweeting. Thanks and lets go get it next year

    PS. i bet jeff passan is insanely happy right now

  19. Patrick

    October 08, 2011 03:31 AM

    Hey, it was a tough postseason, but I very much want to thank you for your coverage this season. It became a crucial part of my enjoyment of a great season.

    To next season.

  20. hk

    October 08, 2011 08:02 AM

    Bill,

    Thanks for a great season of providing some great insight and perspective on the Phils. Unfortunately, your blog and our favorite team seem to be going in opposite directions.

  21. MoonDog

    October 08, 2011 09:18 AM

    I feel bad for you and the Phillies, especially Ryan Howard and what appears to be a major injury. But what a fabulous game it was. Cardinals’ beat writers are calling Carpenter’s performance reminiscent of Bob Gibson back in the day. As a lifelong Cards fan that lost faith in this team once Wainwright went down, they never cease to amaze. The Phillies had a great season and they’ll be back next year contending for the World Series. Take it easy.

  22. jauer

    October 08, 2011 11:30 AM

    When Howard is allowed to swing at that 3-0 pitch and Halladay is allowed to swing at ANY 1-0 pitch, it’s not surprising this team scored zero runs.

    This is the second consecutive year the Phillies have outscored the opponent who eliminated them.

    Blame it on the sheer randomness of the playoff format (7 games in itself is random, 5 games is just a toss-up) rather than the failure of the offense.

  23. Sean C

    October 08, 2011 01:10 PM

    Thanks, Bill, for one awesome season of write ups and articles on my favorite team.

    There’s always next year.

  24. Jeff G

    October 08, 2011 02:24 PM

    Howard cannot be traded for fuck’s sake. I doubt any team would even claim him if the Phillies put him on waivers.

  25. Alan

    October 08, 2011 04:48 PM

    Oh you could trade him but you would have to eat so much money it wouldn’t make sense.

    I don’t know that a season that saw 102 wins and a 5th consecutive NL East title can really be called a failure, a disappointment yes; failure no.

  26. hk

    October 09, 2011 06:43 AM

    jauer,

    Blaming the sheer randomness of the playoff format and blaming the failure of the offense are not mutually exclusive. Yes, the offense scored 21 runs in 5 games, but unfortunately, 15 of them came in the first 11 innings and 6 came in the final 34 innings…hence the randomness. However, that should not remove the blame from an offense that had next to no production from the 6 through 8 spots in the line-up and that seemingly had no game plan or approach (as you reference in your comments above) throughout the series.

  27. johnnn

    October 09, 2011 07:17 PM

    would it be insane to let Rollins, Madson, and Oswalt walk, freeing up bankroll so can try and sign Pujols, sticking him at 3rd (or 1st if Howard misses significant time)?

  28. bill

    October 10, 2011 08:58 AM

    Anyone else feel like the Phillies might actually have some room for improvement next year in the regular season?

    Stick Mayberry at 1B and Dom Brown in LF, that’s a better offensive team than 2011.

  29. KH

    October 10, 2011 10:38 AM

    The Phillies should look to get younger at LF and SS unless they want this run to end in a 1 or 2. Jimmy Rollins is going to demand 5 years and the Phils would be foolish to give to him. He is still a fine player but he gets hurt every year and it will only get worse with time imo.

  30. KH

    October 10, 2011 10:40 AM

    Howard was awful but lets be honest the whole team was bad except for a few players. Rollins, Utley, Halladay, Hamels, and Madson really are the only guys that played well.

  31. Rob SJ

    October 10, 2011 12:09 PM

    Johnnn – in a word, yes.

  32. Matt in NYC

    October 10, 2011 05:54 PM

    Bill–is that a lineup? Because I don’t think you should be batting Lee and Bastardo back-to-back. Gotta break up the lefties. Also, Ruiz has to bat 8th, because that’s where catchers bat.

  33. hk

    October 11, 2011 04:40 AM

    KH,

    At the outset of the series, I was expecting next to nothing from Ibanez and Polanco (and they didn’t disappoint) and I wasn’t expecting much from Ruiz, especially with him misplaced in the 8th spot, so it is tough for me to deflect any blame from Howard because the lesser players also under-achieved.

    Having said that, my bigger concern now is the future and the fear that, as you note, the squad may only have 1 or 2 more years of serious title contention. I don’t have a lot of confidence that RAJ, who has mismanaged the roster and payroll, is the guy to get this team back on the right track, especially if the goal is getting younger. Therefore, with the dearth of shortstops in MLB, I would sooner see Rollins return and see if he can be part of this group’s effort to win a World Series in 2012 or 2013 – even if it means overpaying him in 2014 and 2015 – rather than take a step back with a younger shortstop. I think it is a given that they will get younger in LF, with Charlie probably already having JMJ locked into the spot with Dom Brown again being pushed aside. Hopefully, they will look for a young 3B who can make Polanco into a utility player.

    Speaking of the error of the GM’s ways, just think about how pretty the Phils would be sitting if RAJ never signed Howard to the ill-fated extension at the beginning of last season. Howard, Fielder and Pujols would all be on the market and the Yankees and Red Sox would be on the sidelines.

  34. Cutter

    October 11, 2011 02:35 PM

    Howard definitely deserves his share of the blame. But, he did turn around game one, and got the team off to a great start in game two.

    The problem was, they needed some other players to emerge as heroes, and except for Jimmy Rollins (and even he came up small in game 5) and Ben Francisco, they didn’t do it.

    The Cardinals seemed to get key hits from all throughout the lineup without one player standing out as the absolute star. If they named an MVP of the NLDS, I can’t think of a player who is an obvious choice.

    And if you think back to 2008, that’s the way it was for the Phillies as well. Everyone took their turn with some big moments.

    But this year, all we got was a constant stream of ground outs by Hunter Pence and Placido Polanco.

    Maybe postseason baseball really is just luck and randomness?

  35. Mandy

    October 12, 2011 11:22 AM

    Upsetting end to this season. I’m looking forward to watching them go to the next World Series!

  36. Jim Pearson

    October 14, 2011 07:58 PM

    I am in pain; how could the Phillies do this to Philadelphia-the best fans in the baseball world and the source of such pride. I love baseball and I am shocked that the team hasn’t the ability to dig deep, make hits out of bad pitches and hit good pitches. I can’t understand why the hitters seem so poor at seeing the ball; takingn balls right down the
    middle of the plate and swinging at balls out of the strike zone. Seems like they need a better hitting coach, one that they hitters can look up to. Maybe Charlie need to be replaced with someone who can fire them up, In Pain Jim

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