The season is half over. The players have been selected for the All-Star Game. 90 games have been played by every MLB team from your favorite to your least favorite. The Phillies have only won 29 of those 90 games. Do fans dream of electric TARDIS that would allow them to go back to 2011? This one surely does. I’ve seen many bad Phillies teams in my lifetime. But I’ve never seen one quite this awful. But, if the Doctor should happen to read this article, I promise if The Doctor takes me back to 2011, I will fully appreciate that last great year when Halladay and Lee were healthy. When Victorino and Pence roamed the outfield before they were both sent to better, greener, World Series winning pastures. I would appreciate the well-turned double play. Alas, I am not Martha Jones and the Doctor never does appear with a TARDIS.
The Phillies are 20 games out of first place in the National League East. They have a team batting average of 0.239 which is the 3rd worst in the National League. They have the worst team OPS+ in the NL. They’ve scored 306 runs, the 2nd worst in the NL. They have a team ERA of .482, second only to the Colorado Rockies, and have allowed 464 runs which gives them a run differential of -160. It is only half a season so we can’t compare this team to past Phillies teams but there isn’t much hope on the horizon for the Phillies until 2017 when best of the rapidly improving minor league system reaches the major leagues.
It isn’t just the numbers that are bad though. Ryne Sandberg, before resigning in the middle of the season, overused his bullpen to the point where Justin De Fratus has pitched more innings in the first half of 2015 than any other reliever in baseball. Chase Utley, normally a phlegmatic player, had an on field hissy fit at the treatment of Jeff Francoeurs. In the meantime, the Phillies continue to lack a strategic vision for Domonic Brown, though to be fair they never had one to begin with.
It’s more than the numbers or Sandberg or Asche or Mike Schmidt’s casual sexism. We are watching the slow, painful end of Chase Utley’s career. Chase Utley has been the 2nd best player in the history of the Phillies franchise, a franchise founded in the 1880s. He has played on knees that should have given out long ago. He has turned some of the most beautiful double plays I have ever seen. He has sacrificed his body by leading the Phillies in hit by pitches. He slides into second base like he has a personal vendetta against the very idea of a double play on his watch. Bill Baer summed it up best earlier this year when Utley went on a brief hot streak. Utley has since been moved to the disabled list but his hot streak was a brief illusion at the end of a storied career. It was not the beginning of a renaissance. Ryan Howard can barely run. Cole Hamels will be gone by the trade deadline. Harry Kalas is gone. Chase Utley remains The Man only in our hearts and memories.
Baseball is beautiful and poetic and moving. The truth though, is that players don’t end their careers on a walk off hit to win a World Series. As Vin Scully says life (and sports) don’t come with happily ever afters. Yes, there is Aaron Nola, JP Crawford, and Maikel Franco, who are the Phillies Top 3 prospects according to Keith Law. Franco is already at the big league level and watching him play is one of the few highlights of this season. The future will come but the past is fading quickly.
Sometimes, just to remind myself, I watch Harry Kalas call Chase Utley’s first major league hit.
Chase Utley will always be The Man to me. I’ll always have 2007-2011 to remember, even if this is a year in Phillies history I will try my best to forget.
Image: Chase Utley (c) Matthew Straubmuller under CC 2.0 via flickr