The Phillies bipolar season continues. Fresh off of losing two out of three to the Milwaukee Brewers, who are 15.5 games out of first place in their division, they prepare to play a Marlins team that, despite sweeping the Mets over the weekend, are challenging the 1962 Mets for the worst win-loss record in modern baseball history. The moment that fans begin to have faith that this team is embarking on “the run” that propels them into contention for the post-season, as has been their nearly annual tradition since 2007, the offense sputters, the bullpen implodes, and they end up getting embarrassed by a bottom-dwelling team like Milwaukee or Miami. These are your 2013 Philadelphia Phillies so far.
The increase in visible empty blue seats at Citizens Bank Park this season can be attributed to several factors. One is a perception that this is an aging team that is on the decline. The other is that Ruben Amaro, Jr. came up small with his off-season acquisitions of Delmon Young, Ben Revere, and the now former Phillie (again), Chad Durbin. However, thanks to a weak division and an extra wild card slot this season, the Phillies, at 7.5 games in back of Atlanta as of today, are far from out of the race, despite seeming to be equally as far from going on “that run”, and becoming legitimate contenders. As a result, the team will most likely forestall any fire sale that finally breaks up their championship core until at least the All-Star break. That translates into more emotional roller coaster rides from series-to-series with this team, with a few bright spots and plenty of sources of aggravation. 76ers fans have experienced this same phenomenon recently, with their team not playing bad enough to break up, but not good enough to really believe in. That’s where Phillies fans find themselves now.
To be sure, there are a few bright spots that are beginning to take shape in a big way. Cliff Lee has put last season behind him to dominate with 7 wins and a microscopic ERA, and young players like Cesar Hernandez and Freddy Galvis look more than promising. But the brightest spot of all without a doubt has been Domonic Brown, whose 16 homers now leads the league, to go along with 40 RBI and a .282 average. He seems to finally be fulfilling the promise that endless scouts had assured was there all along, and is providing an excitement for fans that has been absent most of this season.
On the other hand, there has also been a depressing side to the Dom Brown ascension and the Cliff Lee resurgence. While fans have been enjoying the unbelievable offensive tear that Brown has been on in the past month, they have also seen former MVP and prodigious slugger Ryan Howard barely able to run the bases, and flailing at off-speed pitches at an even more alarming rate. In many ways it seems like it’s a passing of the torch to the up-and-coming class of Phillies, while veterans like Howard and Utley continue to break down. Ask a Yankees fan how they felt watching Mickey Mantle hobble around the outfield in the last few years of his career, or Joe DiMaggio on a lesser level before him, as Mantle was ascending to prominence. Obviously the comparison doesn’t exactly fit, but the images seem sadly the same. In addition, as Cliff Lee piles up the wins and strikeouts this season, the staff ace Cole Hamels is on a pace for 20 losses. Again, it seems that no positive aspect of this season’s Phillies squad can exist without an equally head-scratching feature existing as well. Bipolar indeed.
Unless Amaro can swing a surprise deal that he usually saves for the off-season, like swiping Giancarlo Stanton from Miami, what we’re seeing is basically what we will get until the trade deadline. We will watch what is either a veteran, battered team attempting one final post-season push, or a transition to a younger Phillies squad that will hopefully be the foundation for future success. Either way, fans should be urged to keep their safety belts buckled until the ride, and the season, comes to a complete stop.Tags: Ben Revere, Cesar Hernandez, Chad Durbin, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, crossroads, Delmon Young, Domonic Brown, Freddy Galvis, MLB, Philadelphia Phillies, Ruben Amaro, Ryan Howard