- Crashburn Alley - http://crashburnalley.com -

Some Optimism: It Could Be Worse!

The last week was arguably the toughest to swallow for both the Phillies organization and the fans, as Jonathan Papelbon failed to hold onto three different leads in the span of four appearances, the offense played hide-and-seek, and the starting pitching has been a far cry from the standards set in recent years. At 36-40 and 7.5 games out of first place with the trade deadline fast approaching, the Phillies are dangerously close to backing themselves into the sellers’ corner. The core of a team you grew to know and love over the years may be no more after July 31 as Chase Utley, Jonathan Papelbon, Cliff Lee, and still others could be wearing different uniforms to finish out the 2013 season.

It’s disappointing to think about, which is why I’d like to bring you a small dose of optimism: it could be worse!

According to ESPN, the Phillies have faced the fourth-easiest schedule thus far. They have only played the division-rival Braves three times, somehow, but will match up with them for a three-game set in early July. Between now and the end of July, the Phillies will face the upstart Padres and Pirates, as well as the Cardinals and Tigers. The Phillies, believe it or not, should consider themselves lucky to be four games under .500!

Another way to think about how fortunate the Phillies have been is by looking at their run differential. Yesterday’s 8-0 loss pushed them to -58 on the season, which is actually the third-worst in all of baseball. The only teams worse off than the Phillies are the Marlins (-90) and the Astros (-96). We can estimate a team’s won-lost record based on their run differential. According to Baseball Reference, their Pythagorean W-L is 32-44, four games worse than they are right now. That would be the fifth-worst record in the National League, just a hair ahead of the lowly Brewers and Cubs.

The last time the Phillies allowed 58 or more runs than they scored was 1997 (a staggering -161), and we all know how well that season went. The ’97 club finished 68-94, dead last in the NL East. The comparisons between the 1997 and 2013 clubs begin and end there, however, as each was on one side of the “team life” spectrum. While the ’13 club is taking its final breaths, the ’97 club was — they hoped at the time — just beginning its eventual rise to power, with a roster made up of mostly young and cheap players.

Here’s the list of Phillies teams since 1970 to start -58 or worse:

StartDate EndDate W-L Win % RS RA RD Tot W-L
4/7/1970 7/2/1970 34-42 .447 252 346 -94 73-88
4/6/1971 6/30/1971 31-45 .408 262 326 -64 67-95
4/15/1972 7/9/1972 26-50 .342 235 324 -89 59-97
4/4/1989 6/30/1989 27-48 .360 305 368 -63 67-95
4/2/1996 6/26/1996 31-45 .408 307 370 -63 67-95
4/1/1997 6/27/1997 23-53 .303 272 433 -161 68-94
4/1/2013 6/23/2013 36-40 .474 280 338 -58 36-40

Now consider all of the players to have missed time due to injuries:

Don’t forget that Howard still isn’t the same after he tore his left Achilles to end the 2011 NLDS, and he has also been battling right knee soreness, but hasn’t gone on the disabled list.

If all of the above wasn’t enough to sink the Phillies further than four games above .500, it is hard to imagine what more can happen to loosen their grip on third place in the NL East. If you believe in trends created mostly by players no longer on the roster, the Phillies have perennially been one of the best second-half teams dating back to the early 2000’s. Manager Charlie Manuel said he didn’t know if the Phillies had “a run” in them. They’ve yet to put together a second winning streak longer than three games. It hasn’t happened yet, and if it’s going to happen, it has to happen in the next five weeks.