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Monday, April 06, 2015

The 2015 Phillies

There used to be a rotation that was the envy of everyone -- the "Four Aces."

There used to be a lineup that the writers referred to as the "only American League lineup" in the National League, a lineup that scared people, the observation a compliment. 

But that was four years ago.  And, at a time when teams started to rely increasingly on analytics, the Phillies' GM, ironically an economics major at Stanford, didn't follow.  And, at a time when most of the team's stars were about thirty, the team got older, not younger.  As it turned out, the vaunted prospects that they used to trade for others turned out not to be that good; none is a Major League star today, and few, if any are regulars.  When you combine the age on your 25-man roster with few prospects on your 40-man roster, you have a problem. 

And that's where the Phillies are today.  Their two best position players are 36 and have been injury-prone; history suggests that they'll get hurt again this year.  Your second-best pitcher's career might be over, and you'll trade your best pitcher before the deadline to add prospects.  Your one-time MVP first baseman suffered from not evolving and an awful dispute with his family that he settled in the off-season.  He could have a decent year, but the odds suggest not.  Your outfield is destined to be the least productive in the Majors.  Your rotation has a star and journeymen.  You have a good bullpen, but the odds are that they won't be in a position to hold let alone save many games.  Many pundits predict that you'll have 99 losses; if you trade the ace, you'll have more. 

It's almost as if Seinfeld's Bizzaro World has hit baseball.  The Royals and Pirates are formidable; the Yankees and Phillies are not.  No one knows what the Red Sox have, the Tigers got old fast and the Angels aren't there and, even with Mike Trout, might not get there.  The historically jinxed Cubs seem on the upswing, and with a good manager too.  And then there are in Nationals, testimony to the fact that while the nation's capital might be first in war and first in peace, it might be fielding the best baseball team on the planet. 

The Phillies are not a good baseball team.  I still root for them and have rooted for them for decades.  I went to many games with my father and with my children.  Some good, some not so good.  There were two World Series championship seasons, the insufferable "Glennbo" advertising campaign of the late 1980's, watching Steve Jeltz play shortstop and listening to Terry Francona talk about the talents of utilityman Kevin Sefcik too much.  The team that got the wrong DiMaggio brother also got the wrong Maddux and the wrong Giambi.  It traded Fergie Jenkins, who then went on to a Hall of Fame career and then gifted Ryne Sandberg to the Cubs decades later for Ivan Dejesus.  And it gave up on Dave Stewart too soon.  The fans boo former GM Ed Wade, who helped find guys named Hamels, Howard, Utley and Rollins.  Go figure.

To top it all off, I listened to Sports Talk Radio at lunchtime today.  The major topics of conversation in Philadelphia were the 76ers' chances at high draft picks based upon their trades and whether the Philadelphia Eagles had improved.  It is Opening Day today, and callers were more excited about the third-worst team in the NBA than their hometown baseball club.  Perhaps it's because the basketball team has a plan and hope.  Perhaps it's because the baseball team has neither.

Today, though, the team is tied for first, at least until 3:05 p.m. EDT, when Cole Hamels will deliver the game's first pitch.  And maybe they'll win today, and go 1-0 and give themselves a chance at a win streak.  The weather is nice and the ballpark is a great venue.  And it was only four years ago when the team won over 100 games in the regular season.  Which is proof that a lot of change can happen in that time span.

It was fun, though, while it lasted, from say 2007-2011.  It's just too bad that the front office didn't see what some of the fans did -- a team that needed to get younger fast, and a team that didn't.


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