Let’s tell the truth: The Phillies are fine — that’s it.
Nothing wrong with that. Most teams are fine. But it’s not about them, Phillies fans. It’s about why you think they deserve your fandom. You deserve a team that makes you feel like you’ve been struck by lightning.
Don’t you dare settle for fine.
With apologies to Roy Kent for stealing his material, that’s what the Phillies have been for four years now: fine. They’re 51-51 this year (shocker, they split a double-header on Thursday). They were 28-32 last year, 81-81 the year before that and 80-82 the year before that. They haven’t been more than four games on either side of the .500 mark in 2021, and they weren’t more than five games on either side in 2020, either.
The last time they were 10 games on the positive side of .500 was in June 2019 — they were 37-27 on June 8 — and they lost 11 of their next 13 games. In 2018, they were 14 games over .500 after a win on Aug. 17, then went 12-28 to finish the year.
The mediocrity is maddening.
And their silence leading up to Friday’s 4 p.m. trade deadline gives no indication that anything will change anytime soon. This is a team with a golden opportunity — the Phillies entered play Thursday only 3 1/2 out of a playoff spot despite their “meh” record — and a handful of championship players but major issues, and their best upgrade effort so far this month was a nearly completed but failed trade for Tyler Anderson.
Not a nearly completed but failed trade for Kris Bryant or Craig Kimbrel, two stars who would be exactly what the club needs, or a nearly completed but failed trade for Jose Berrios, who would slot in next to Zack Wheeler as the club’s co-ace for the next two seasons.
Nope, a nearly completed but failed trade for Tyler Anderson, the serviceable back-of-the-rotation arm who had a 4.35 ERA in 18 starts for the other Pennsylvania team this season. Anderson wound up being traded to Seattle.
It’s not like the person making the decisions is afraid to make trades. It’s the exact opposite, actually. Dave Dombrowski was brought in last offseason with the technical title of “president of baseball operations” but in reality he was the “president of get the Phillies into the playoffs” because of his long track record for getting teams into October.
He spoke with Jayson Stark of The Athletic this week.
“You have to analyze your own situation,” Dombrowski told Stark, “and also analyze the clubs in your own division. And you try to be honest with yourself. Do you really think you’re as good as that team? Do you really think you can beat them? And you look at us now. We’re 3 1/2 games out (of first place), right? Well, we haven’t played good baseball on a consistent basis. But we’re only 3 1/2 out, and I don’t think there’s a dominant club in our division.”
He’s right about that last part. There is not a dominant club in the division — the Mets are in first place, at 54-47, by far the worst record of any division leader — so it’s hard to get away from the “why not us?” line of thought.
But watching that double-header Thursday against the Nationals, any sort of honest assessment of the Phillies would come to the conclusion that this probably isn’t a team capable of beating even a non-dominant club (hi, Mets!).
So it’s easy to understand his hesitancy on the trade market. It’s understandable that, when the deal with the Pirates initially broke down — reportedly over medicals of one of the prospects heading to Pittsburgh — Dombrowski didn’t come over the top to make sure the deal happened. Trading for a No. 4/5 starter wasn’t worth the extra cost.
Because here’s the thing: Swinging a massive deal for Bryant and Kimbrel would address two major issues with one fell swoop, no doubt. But would even that be enough?
The Phillies aren’t one arm away from a lock-down bullpen, and they’d still have serious issues in the rotation; Wheeler has been outstanding, but Aaron Nola has performed under career norms, Zach Elfin is on the IL and here are the ERAs for the other pitchers with more than one start this season: 5.54, 5.72, 6.46 and 6.98. Do the names even matter?
And then, there’s this: The minor leagues aren’t exactly flush with elite talent. In the pre-season farm system rankings, MLB.com had the Phillies checking in at 23rd among the 30 teams and Baseball America’s talent rankings had the Phillies at No. 27. So there’s no reason to break the farm system talent bank for a half-season of Bryant and a season-and-a-half of Kimbrel when adding those two might not even be enough to get the Phillies past the Mets, much less help them win series in October.
It’s at this point that I can’t help but think back to a conversation with Phillies owner John Middleton, on the field in Clearwater right after his club signed Bryce Harper to that 13-year contract in April 2019. Here’s what I wrote then.
“Whether you’re talking about 80 wins or 65, Philadelphians just want to win,” he told Sporting News. “I think if we would have strung together a bunch of 75- to 81-win seasons, I think they would have said, ‘You know what? We’re tired of this. It’s time for you guys to kick it up a notch and take it to another level.’ ”
So it’s about titles? Yep, it’s about titles.
“Listen, we didn’t make these moves so we could get 83 wins,” he said. “That’s not where we’re going here.”
It’s a few days before August 2021, and the Phillies haven’t even managed to get to 83 wins (or an equal winning percentage in the shortened 2020 season), much less win anything of note.
Yep, it’s frustrating to be a Phillies fan. One suggestion?