October 29, 2008
That was the call that Phillies fans dreamed about since Harry Kalas took over the announcer's booth in 1971. (I know they won the World Series in 1980 but Kalas was not allowed to call the games because of a contract dispute with CBS and MLB.) Philadelphia had not seen a championship since 1983. Not just in baseball, but in any sport. Think about that, a city with arguably the most ruthless and passionate fans going without a championship for a quarter of a century. The team with the most championships in the history of the city are the Philadelphia Athletics, who haven't played there since 1955. The city has had its share of disappointments. This Phillies team was different. It was full of home-grown stars who all worked out. It was a team that Philly watched grow into a champion. That made it all the sweeter. That is why this next season is going to hurt so much.
The perenial championship contender that this town has gotten used to for the past 6-7 years has come and gone. The Phillies are no longer the cream of the crop in the National League. Hell, they are probably the third or fourth best team in their own division. Their main guys are getting old. They can't keep away from the injury bug. Their elite players look less superstar and more replacement player every year. They cleaned out the roster last year at the trade deadline by trading away Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino in separate deals. They retooled this offseason by trading for Ben Revere and Michael Young while also signing Delmon Young to a very team friendly deal. These aren't exactly Roy Halladay or Cliff Lee type deals.
It seems as if the Phils just aren't the team we have come accustomed to in recent years. They aren't the team that is picked by half the analysts on Baseball Tonight to win it all. They aren't even picked to make the postseason anymore. The winning mentality that Charlie Manuel brought with him has left this dugout and has no signs of coming back. Maybe a change is in order. Maybe the core of this team needs a face lift. We have been looking at Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley man the Phillies infield since 2005. They have some sort of chemistry that isn't easy to come by. The problem is those three players will cost this team 46 million dollars combined. Utley and Howard missed a combined 170 games last year. Rollins has had injury issues for most of the past five years. This is just too much money and too big of a risk at this point in their careers.
The pitching staff is supposed to be a strength of the Phillies. When you have three pitchers making over twenty million dollars per season you would expect it to be. Roy Halladay is getting rocked to the tune of an ERA at 6.04 on the season. Cole Hamels has an ERA of 6.46 and his team has lost every game that he has pitched. Cliff Lee is the only pitcher in this rotation who still scares anyone. The Phillies as a team rank 23rd in ERA. They aren't the hard hitting team they were so they need to be tops in the league in pitching to have any chance at competing.
The Braves, the Nationals and even the Mets have a crop of talent that is either in their prime or has it upcoming that makes it look like the Phillies strangle hold on this division is gone. The Nationals have a rotation headed by Stephen Strasberg (24-years-old) and Gio Gonzalez (27-years-old). The Braves have young pitching talent in Kris Medlen (27-years-old) and Mike Minor (25-years-old). The Mets have two future phenoms in Matt Harvey (24-years-old) and Zach Wheeler (22-years-old). The Philles top three are making much more than all of them, and are 29, 34, and 35-years-old respectively. They have been passed already and don't seem like they can make it back to the big dog in the division.
Is it too late this season for the Phillies to turn it around and make one more run? No, but is it likely? Probably not. The competition is too good and the team is playing too bad. The Phils are two games under five hundred and they haven't had any major injuries. Imagine what is going to happen when they have to put Utley, who is producing out of his mind right now, on the fifteen day (at least) DL. Without his production this offense would be ranked a lot lower than they are now (and they are only ranked middle of the pack in most categories). Their main cogs need to start getting on Utley's level if they want to make some noise in 2013.
It was a great run. As they say, all good things must come to an end. It seems that the run that this great group of Phillies had is now over. The memories are great, and they gave us the most infamous call in the Phillies history. Harry Kalas passed away a few months after that World Series call. It seemed he was destined to do that at least once in his great career. Hopefully this team can retool for the future. Maybe they will be able to keep some of the guys from the last run around. One thing is for sure, Ruben Amaro Jr has his work cut out for him. He started to bring in a new era in Philadelphia, he needs to continue with that trend. He may have to have one bad season, but sometimes that is what it takes to bring another set of memories. If you ask any Phillies fan if they'd trade this season to bring in another era like the one we just saw, I am pretty sure you will get a majority to sign up for that.