When the Phillies were shut out in Game 5 of last year’s NLDS by the St. Louis Cardinals, fans couldn’t wait to turn the page and get a fresh start in 2012. Even with a ho-hum off-season that included a controversy over exactly which reliever was getting incredibly overpaid (Ryan Madson, Jonathan Papelbon), there was plenty of room for optimism. Few pundits called for the Phillies’ ouster as division champions, despite facing a first-half without franchise pillars Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. But the 2012 Phillies are the epitome of Murphy’s Law: “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.”
Player after player succumbed to injury, a never-ending plague of poor health. Freddy Galvis went down and Placido Polanco missed time for breathing too heavily (a slight exaggeration, of course). They were followed by Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay, as well as many of the young arms in the bullpen including David Herndon and Michael Stutes. Of those that were able to avoid the injury bug, many posted subpar performances, particularly the now-departed Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence coming off of career years. Howard’s replacements at first base did a lousy job and Domonic Brown withered in the Minor Leagues. The brightest star was Carlos Ruiz, who until very recently was on pace for an historically-great season as a catcher. Nevertheless, the Phillies found themselves in the basement as early as May 5 and have only moved up to fourth place on a few occasions, never so much as sniffing realistic odds at their sixth consecutive playoff appearance.
Just as quickly as fans were ready to move on after last October’s ouster, they are just as eager to rewind and relive the glory days. For many weeks, we have been inundated with stats comparing this year’s squad with that of last year. For example, Matt Gelb posted this on Twitter:
I don’t mean to pick on Matt, of course, as it was just an innocuous bit of information, but it is just an example of reflecting back on what the Phillies did last year. Other than wearing the same uniform and using some returning players, the two teams couldn’t have any less in common with each other. Going by Pythagorean record (which uses a team’s run differential to determine the team’s true talent level), last year’s 102-win team was pitted at 103 wins, while this year’s 50-win squad is just two games under their expected record, the equivalent of a 76-win team over a full season. 27 games, in terms of true talent, separate the 2011 and ’12 teams.
What we should do is accept this year’s squad for who they are — an old, oft-injured, under-performing bunch — and focus on the future. Rather than castigating the bullpen for night after night of lead-shortening and deficit-inflation, we should be happy that Antonio Bastardo and Josh Lindblom, among others are getting their flaws ironed out now in meaningless games rather than in potentially important ones next year. Vance Worley and Kyle Kendrick may have bad starts, but these final two months are the best times to fail and learn from mistakes. Likewise, it is the time to play it safe with fragile players as I suggested on Monday.
Everything the Phillies do between now and the end of the season should be seen through the prism of the 2013 team. The team’s final won-lost record, individual batting and pitching lines, and personal milestones are completely meaningless. Not only is this a pragmatic, but it’ll save you some unnecessary stress and strain on your heart as a fan. The best thing the Phillies could possibly do in their remaining 51 games is fail spectacularly.