COMMENTARY | The Philadelphia Phillies entered the 2013 season knowing everything would have to go exactly right in order to seriously contend.
Roy Halladay would have to return from shoulder problems to something resembling his old form. Ryan Howard and Chase Utley would have to put injury-riddled seasons behind them and be their formally productive selves. Some low-priced outfielders and a few youngsters in the bullpen would have to turn into unexpected pleasures.
Utley had a pretty darn good season and outfielder Domonic Brown finally began to pay some dividends for the Phillies' patience with his vast potential. Other than Cliff Lee turning in a very solid season on the mound that deserved better than his 14-8 record, there wasn't much to write home about a 73-89 season that was the worst for the franchise since 2000, the worst since the Phillies have inhabited Citizens Bank Park.
The Phillies finished 27th among the 30 major league teams in team batting. They also finished 27th in team pitching. They were 19th in fielding. All things considered, they probably should have been worse than 73-89.
It's not pretty, but we'll take a closer look anyway.
The Phillies started poorly, then lost Halladay and Howard for most of the season, and yet somehow reached the .500 mark at the All-Star break, just 6 1/2 games out of first place in National League East. They returned from the break to beat the New York Mets, then proceeded to go 4-21and fall off the map.
They said goodbye to the venerable Charlie Manuel, the most successful manager in their history, and hello to Ryne Sandberg, a guy everybody pretty much expected to be the manager in 2014 anyway. At season's end, they said goodbye to Rich Dubee, their pitching coach for nine years who was given much credit for the their success from 2007-11 and much blame for their recent woes.
At season's start, the Phillies said hello to Michael Young, for whom they traded in order to play third base, and then said goodbye to him at the end of August so they could look at young players at third. They said hello and goodbye to Delmon Young, who neither hit nor played the outfield very well. They said goodbye to outfielder Laynce Nix, who didn't hit and seldom played defense, after a season and a half.
They said hello to Ben Revere, who seemed to be evolving into a pretty effective slap hitter and competent base-stealer, but couldn't throw out anyone's grandmother trying to stretch a double into a triple before an injury ended his season. They said hello to Cody Asche and Darin Ruf as minor leaguers they hope will blossom into effective major leaguers. Both had some excellent moments, then seem to hit the wall and struggled in September. They threw Brown into the everyday fire, make-or-break style. He had a great first half and went to the All-Star fame among the league leaders in home runs and runs batted in. He sustained a concussion shortly after and pretty much disappeared from the lineup the rest of the way.
They said hello to Carlos Ruiz after he came back from a 25-game suspension for a performance-enhancing drug violation, and then got hurt after a month and missed 28 more games. He finally found his form late in the season, possibly in time for the Phillies not to say goodbye to his fine catching career in Philadelphia. They said hello to John Lannon, a left-hander the Phillies pounded during his time with the Washington Nationals. But he was pretty good against everybody else. Except for a few starts, he wasn't too good as a Phillie and doesn't seem a good bet to return.
They will say hello next season to the superb Lee and to Cole Hamels, their longest-term, high-priced investment who went 8-14 and had to go 6-3 over the last three months to get there. Hamels got next to no support, but then few Phillies pitchers did except on rare occasions. They will say hello to Kyle Kendrick, who was solid in the first half and not so much in the second half before a shoulder problem shut him down. They will say hello to Jonathan Pettibone, a rookie who had some good moments in Halladay's stead before the injury bug bit him. And they will also say hello to closer Jonathan Papelbon, who started well and then faded badly, losing velocity as early as July. He was the primary scapegoat in a bullpen that was a mess from the get-go.
And they will also say hello for at least one more season with Jimmy Rollins, who appeared in all but two games in 2013 and is still one of the best defensive shortstops in the sport. His offensive numbers took a significant dip overall, but the fact that he bounced all over the lineup likely contributed to that.
All in all, the season couldn't have gone much worse. The problem the Phillies have entering 2014 is they're likely to enter with the same wishes. Howard must come back as a major contributor. Halladay is a free agent, but the Phillies have said they'd like to bring him back, hoping he's got something left. Recently promoted young players must contribute. Young pitchers must morph into a bullpen. Mostly, the Phillies need good health all around, something that's been missing for the last two seasons.
After 73-89, that's an awful lot to wish for.
Ted Williams lives in Emmaus, PA and is a lifetime Phillies follower. He spent 20 years in print journalism, winning state and national awards. He covered the 1980 World Series, the first championship in Phillies history.
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