Well, Phillies fans, it is finally over.
This disappointing season full of underachievement, heartbreaking losses and what-ifs came to an end earlier today, when Michael Martinez' fly ball landed in the glove of Nationals' left fielder Corey Brown.
The five-time defending National League East champion Phillies ended with an average 81-81 record. They took a 21-game tumble from their remarkable 102-win season last year. There is not one big reason for this, but there are plenty of small ones.
Nobody expected Roy Halladay, a baseball god in the last two seasons, to put up a 4.49 ERA. Cliff Lee's numbers normalized, as he ended the season with a respectable ERA of 3.16, but the guy just didn't pitch like himself in the first three months of the season, run support or not.
The Phillies' offense as a whole scored 684 runs, for an average of 4.22 runs per game. This was by far the lowest total of any of Charlie Manuel's Phillies teams, and the lowest offensive output for a Phillies team since 1997. This isn't surprising when you consider that their leadoff hitter led the team in home runs and RBI.
We can officially start pondering the question that will haunt us all winter: Is the Phillies era of excellence over or was this season an aberration of bad luck with players having bad seasons at the same time?
I will attempt to construct an argument for both possibilities. First, I will take the negative side.
It is not impossible that the Phillies have reached the point of regression. Let's face it, the Phillies are an old team. The reason for this? The Phillies were buyers from 2009 to 2011, and they chose to try to win at the moment rather than look to the future.
The acquisitions of Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Hunter Pence sacrificed pieces that would now be useful to build a younger team.
The good news? All of these moves gave the Phillies a better chance to win the World Series, and they definitely made the team more exciting to watch for a couple years. The bad news? The Phillies never did win the World Series after their youthful 2008 season, and those moves are coming home to roost now.
Roy Halladay may never be the same. Roy Oswalt is buried in the ashes of his career and will be retired next year. Hunter Pence is playing on the other side of the country now. In an ironic twist, Oswalt and Pence both have a chance to win the World Series this year, but neither with the team that acquired them for that very purpose.
As it stands right now, the Phillies are possibly a rebuilding team without a farm system, an extremely unenviable position for a baseball franchise, and, often times, a recipe for years of malaise and irrelevance.
Now that all of you are flatly depressed, let's take a look at the more optimistic possibility.
It is certainly a possibility that there were just too many things that went wrong for the Phillies in 2012 for this to be a sign of things to come.
As I mentioned earlier, Roy Halladay had about as un-Halladay of a season as possible. While he may never be at his Cy Young-level of 2010 again, it is nearly impossible to imagine the hardest-working man in baseball having two terrible seasons in a row.
While Vance Worley may have overachieved in 2011, I don't think his mediocre 2012 season was his true form, especially knowing about the bone chips. Ruben Amaro learned a painful lesson this year and he certainly will not go into 2013 with a bullpen composed of minor leaguers.
Chase Utley and Ryan Howard will not both miss the first half of the season again. Yes, they are both more injury-prone now than they were in the past, but the odds of both of them missing so much time at once are astronomical.
Having Ryan play 150 games and Chase play 140 will give this offense a different identity, and having a 30-35 HR presence in the lineup is something the Phils sorely missed for all of 2012.
So what is my opinion?
While I agree with parts of both arguments, I am more inclined to fall on the side of this season being somewhat of a fluke.
Remember, while it did not feel like it for most of the season, the Phillies didn't finish that far off this season. They were still an 81-win team. St. Louis clinched a playoff berth with 87 wins.
With all the crazy idiosyncrasies of this odd season, winning six more games this year wouldn't have taken too much of a drastic difference.
Do I think the Phillies are going to reach the 102-win dominance of 2011 next year? No. They are not that team anymore.
Do I think that with a couple big signings at third base and the outfield, a few smart moves in the bullpen and expectedly better luck next year could net the Phils between 88 and 90 wins? I don't think think it's unreasonable.
The 2012 season is mercifully over. The 2013 offseason has begun, at least for the Phillies and their fans. The organization will now begin to look for answers, because there is no certainly no shortage of questions.
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