Most nights, for an inning or so, it all still makes sense—the Philadelphia Phillies still look like the Phillies.
Friday night's game, for example, saw Roy Halladay take the ball. He gave up a solo home run to Carlos Beltran in the first inning, but after that he was really excellent and never in any serious trouble.
Just how you remember it.
The Phillies' first four batters in the game were Jimmy Rollins, Juan Pierre, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. Four legitimate major league baseball players, two former National League Most Valuable Players.
Or to put it another way, an aggregate of over $47 million in salary to four hitters.
Save for the occasions when Jonathan Papelbon ($11 million) comes in at the end of the game (as he did Friday night), that is where the similarities to the Phillies you remember ends.
After Howard on Friday night, the next four hitters in the Phillies' lineup—the team that led the National League in run differential going away in 2011—were Domonic Brown, Nate Schierholtz, Erik Kratz and Kevin Frandsen.
Or to put it another way, an aggregate of far, far less than $47 million in salary to four hitters. Actually, far less than $4.7 million, as only Schierholtz is making more than $1 million this season.
Three games out of five, you still get to watch Halladay, Cliff Lee or Cole Hamels pitch. You are no doubt well aware of their significant contracts. Hamels is getting by on $15 million this season before his lucrative extension kicks in. Halladay and Lee are being paid $20 million and $21.5 million, respectively, this season.
Trouble is, once they stop pitching and before (if) Papelbon pitches, the pitching staff, like the back half of the lineup, gets tough to recognize.
Antonio Bastardo is still there, but after him, so many of the names and faces are so hard to place. Could you pick Josh Lindblom, B.J. Rosenberg or Jeremy Horst out of a lineup? You might be the only one.
Going back to Friday night, the last four position players in the lineup combined to go 3-for-12, all of the hits singles, with one run batted in (Brown) and no runs scored.
Utley bailed the offense out with a mammoth home run to deep right center field in the bottom of the eighth inning. Rollins, standing on third base when Utley struck it, simply smiled and pointed skyward. And again, it felt like old times, if only for a moment.
All the while, an announced crowd of 43,122 (98.8 percent capacity, if you care) did what it has done for the past five successful seasons. It sat idly when things were going poorly, it roused when the Phillies threatened, it willed some big outs from Halladay. Then it erupted when Utley played the hero.
This, then, is how the remainder of your 2012 Phillies season is likely to play out.
Even though the team's playoff hopes are all but dead, the park is going to be plenty full for many of the remaining home dates...because the money is already spent on the tickets. That money is not coming back, either, at least not on StubHub or eBay. The tickets have been devalued by the team's poor play.
In the past, the choice was often just to stay home and eat the tickets. But when the cheapest seat in the stadium costs $20 (and with so many seats already bought for so much more) it is much harder to justify watching the game on television or, for that matter, going out and doing something else.
That would mean burning entertainment dollars twice on the same night.
So on the surface, then, the 2012 Phillies continue to look sort of like the Phillies teams of the recent past: plenty of people in the seats, big names in the lineup and for most games, big names on the mound.
Looking closer, though, it does not take long to notice that these Phillies are not the genuine article.
You usually know by the middle of the second inning.
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