When the season began, the Philadelphia Phillies' roster looked unstoppable, drawing comparisons to historic starting rotations and sporting the same offensive core as in successful years past. Six months and a regular season later, Philadelphia’s ball club is exactly where it should be.
So why doesn’t this year feel like the dream season fans seemed to expect?
For one, excitement for the postseason in Philadelphia has been quelled due to the recent struggles of the club. So what if the Phillies have nothing left to play for? The past week has seen the team go on their longest losing streak since an eight-game skid over a decade ago. Looking like a squad with nothing left in the tank, just before they embark on a postseason quest for a title, have warranted cries of concern.
The way in which the 2011 campaign is coming to a close for the Phillies is also tarnishing the accomplishments a team with so much potential could have achieved. Though Philadelphia’s legacy will ultimately be decided by the need to plan for a parade, celebrated team records and individual bests are becoming unattainable as October approaches.
The Phillies’ dream season was predicted to feature award-winning pitching, revenge for a premature exit last season and a World Series appearance. Here are five reasons why this year could fall short of reaching its true potential for the Phillies.
After the signing of Cliff Lee in the offseason, the Phillies had constructed a pitching staff with four legitimate aces. The assembly of such quality arms on the same club had analysts trying to predict which Phillies’ starter would out-duel his teammate for the NL Cy Young Award. Roy Halladay was the returning champion, but he would certainly be challenged by reacquired Cliff Lee and Philadelphia mainstay Cole Hamels.
159 games since the season’s first pitch was thrown by Roy Halladay, Phillies’ fans are now looking at a rotation that has been nearly as good as advertised, but also a staff without hardware. Despite Halladay’s consistency and Cliff Lee’s monthly surges, the National League Cy Young award will almost certainly reside on the West Coast with Clayton Kershaw of the LA Dodgers.
The Phillies' rotation still looks primed to guide the team deep into the playoffs, with Halladay, Lee, and Hamels all ranking in the top five in earned run average. Each of them, however, was bested by Kershaw, who leads the National League with 21 wins, a 2.28 ERA and 248 strikeouts.
A dream season would have featured a three-headed monster competing for the right to be called the league’s best pitcher. The four aces will now have to settle for a spot behind the younger Kershaw in the record books.
Last season came to an early end for Philadelphia, crushing the city’s dream of a second parade in three years. The main culprit for Phillies’ NLCS loss to the San Francisco Giants in six games last October was a lack of situational success on offense.
As the team approaches the postseason with a clean slate, the Phillies are looking avoid the same fate it met a year ago. If the ball club expects to push past its point of failure over the next month, it means finding its groove at the plate. Igniting playoff heroes like Carlos Ruiz and Chase Utley could be the difference between parade plans and a longer offseason.
For as well as the team has played this season, and as dominant as the pitching has been, it takes just one series-long slump at the plate to render it all useless. In order to bring this Philadelphia squad to the storybook ending it deserves, the bats will need to lead the way.
One of the most exciting predictions made at the beginning of the year presented the prospect of Philadelphia shattering the franchise record for most wins in a season. After clinching the division more than a week ago, going over the 101-win mark for the first time in team history seemed like a foregone conclusion.
Now, with just a three-game series in Atlanta remaining on the schedule, that guarantee is anything but a sure bet. Following a string of eight straight losses, the Phillies will need to sweep the Braves to reach a record-setting 102 wins. For a team as talented as Philadelphia, anything less would be considered a regular season letdown.
The legacy of a team is defined by its postseason play and overall finish, but dominating over the course of a long 162-game season is a testament to consistency and depth of roster. The Phillies have all the makings of a team that deserves to be called the best in franchise in history. However, because of the way their campaign is coming to a close, they may not earn that distinction.
While looking at factors that could sink the Phillies’ hopes of a dream season, Manger Charlie Manuel comes to mind. Manuel must pilot the ball club in exactly the right way in order to achieve the desired results. There are some questions as to who will even make the postseason roster, leaving some big decisions for Manuel.
Once he makes the cuts necessary for the postseason roster, the Phillies’ skipper must pull the right strings, like he did in 2008. The manager is crucial to Philadelphia’s success and if he meets his match in the opposing dugout, the team could be in trouble. Charlie has a history of over-managing playoff games, think 2009 against the Dodgers, and his role will be under the microscope throughout October.
Manuel's tenure in Philadelphia has represented one of the most prolific strings of success in franchise history. The Phillies' faithful have put their trust in the soft-spoken clubhouse leader to bring home another World Series title. Another October failure could result in questions as to why such a loaded team faltered when it mattered the most, leaving Manuel with an uncertain future.
By the end of the calendar year in Major League Baseball, only one team has won the right to wear the league’s crown as World Series champions. Judging by the level of disappointment that Phillies' fans were forced to endure after October blunders in 2009 and 2010, the City of Brotherly Love will not tolerate a third consecutive postseason exit.
While regular season accolades and records are something to be proud of, the exuberance and celebration that comes with a victory parade is unmatched by anything in sports. Anything less than a trip down Broad Street for this season’s edition of the Phillies would not do justice to how good this team has been in 2011. Between a great rotation and the production of its offensive stars, Philadelphia cannot fall short of reaching their ultimate goal.
With the postseason just a week away, the Phillies have all communicated an understanding of the “World Series or bust” attitude. For the third year in a row, the team is favored to rise out of the National League and reach the World Series. In that same span, they have yet to follow up their magical 2008 performance with anything worth bragging about.
Defeat, at any point in October, would turn this dream season in Philadelphia into a nightmare.