A Eulogy for the 2013 Philadelphia Phillies and a Once Would-Be Dynasty

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A Eulogy for the 2013 Philadelphia Phillies and a Once Would-Be Dynasty
Nick Laham/Getty Images
Jimmy Rollins and his Phillies teammates got one ring, but their other fingers are still empty.

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming.

This is indeed a sad day, as we acknowledge the end of something. In many ways, though, this also should be a happy occasion,  time to remember and celebrate what was.

If you'll please be seated, we'll begin the ceremony of saying goodbye to the Philadelphia Phillies and the dynasty that could have been.

 

The Beginning of the End

The Phillies have failed to make it above .500 this season—they're 16-21 through Friday—but the downfall of this once-proud franchise started well before 2013.

If we were to paint a picture of the very moment this club went from potential dynasty to impending travesty, it would look a little something like this:

Drew Hallowell/Getty Images
Ryan Howard's injury—fittingly, on the final play of the 2011 NLDS—marked the beginning of the end.

That's Ryan Howard, the highly paid slugging first baseman, slumped on the ground, unable to even run to first base after meekly grounding out and wrecking his Achilles on the final out of the 2011 NLDS against the Cardinals.

Heading into that postseason, the Phillies were considered the favorites after finishing the regular season with the best record in baseball—by a wide margin—at 102-60, carried primarily by their star-studded, built-for-October rotation of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt.

But in that decisive Game 5, the Cardinals beat the Phillies 1-0, as ace Chris Carpenter was just a little bit better than Halladay, and of course, the Cards would go on to win the World Series—a destiny that many expected of the Phillies.

 

The End Itself

Coming off that disappointment, the Phillies' window of opportunity already was closing fast, but unfortunately the club was never really able to get going in 2012.

Sure, the Phillies briefly looked back to their old selves (pun intended) when Howard, Halladay and second baseman Chase Ultey finally were all healthy at the same time. In fact, after spending almost the entire season well under .500, Philly actually got back above that mark in mid-September, thanks to a furious run.

Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Maybe if Chase Utley and some of his teammates hadn't missed so much time to injury, the Phillies would have become a dynasty.

But that was just false hope. The franchise that had earned five straight NL East titles, made two straight World Series appearances and won it all in 2008 would miss the postseason for the first time since 2006.

Reality, by this time, was starting to set in, if it hadn't already.

 

Saying Goodbye

Now? Well, now things are bad and likely to get worse.

You've heard about Halladay and how the once-indomitable ace will undergo surgery that could end his season—and perhaps his career as a Phillie, seeing that the right-hander is in line to be a free agent.

Speaking of free agents, Utley is in the final year of his contract, too. There have been rumors that Utley, the longtime heart and soul of this club who performs like an All-Star but approaches every game as if he were fighting tooth and nail to remain on the 25th man roster, could be traded if the club decides to go the seller route.

Harry How/Getty Images
Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, the heart of the Phillies once-dangerous lineup, may soon be split up.

And while that, too, will be a sad day, if and when it comes to pass, trading Utley might be the right move for general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.

Fact is, when you look at the ages, performances and recent injury history of the Phillies' stars—Halladay, Utley, Howard, Lee and shortstop Jimmy Rollins—almost all of them are going too far in the wrong direction in at least one of those aspects.

 

The Long Climb Back

Perhaps the biggest factor in all of this is the competition.

While the Phillies front office has been hoping to squeeze every last drop out of a core that had the best record in the National League from 2007 through 2011—the Phils went 473-337 (.584) over that five-year stretch—the dynamic of the division they once dominated has changed dramatically.

Jason O. Watson/Getty Images
Cliff Lee is still great, but at age 34, he's moving into the twilight of his career, like many of the Phillies.

The Nationals had baseball's best record a year ago, and the Braves have one of the youngest and most dangerous lineups around. The Phillies aren't nearly as good and certainly not as young as either of those clubs.

And while things don't look as promising for the Mets and Marlins right now, both teams have already begun their rebuilding process, so they have a head start on Philadelphia in that respect.

In other words, the Phillies might have a few long seasons ahead of them.

 

The Good Times

But rather than dwell on the future, let's remember the Phillies' proud past. After all, there are still plenty of memories from the great years.

Like when Howard won the 2005 NL Rookie of the Year, then MVP a year later, triggering a string of individual awards and team-wide successes.

Or like when Rollins' 2007 performance earned more MVP hardware.

Or like Halladay's perfect game, followed by his postseason no-hitter, followed by his Cy Young win—all in 2010, his first year in town.

Highlight: For Roy Halladay and the Phillies, it doesn't get any more perfect.

And of course, who can forget what left-hander Cole Hamels did in the 2008 playoffs, culminating in a strong performance in the World Series-clinching Game 5, which ended a curse and brought the first major sports championship to the city of Philadelphia since 1983.

That seems like as good a note to end our service on as any. So, folks, we'll ask that you bow your heads in respect and remember what the Philadelphia Phillies achieved.

Could they have done more? Was there supposed to be another title along the way? Should this team—with Utley, Howard, Rollins and Hamels, just an insane run of homegrown talent all clumped together in the mid-aughts—have become a dynasty?

Rather than harp on what could have been, it's better to appreciate what actually was.

And hold onto those memories. It might be while before the team can make some more.

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