The St. Louis Cardinals were thumped 9-2 by Charlie Manuel's squad on September 17, 2011. A number of friends and I watched the Philadelphia Phillies clinch their fifth straight division title on that thrilling September Saturday night last fall.
Two weeks later, the Phillies hosted the Cardinals again. Philadelphia handled Tony LaRussa's team once again that night, beating them 11-6 in Game 1 of the National League Division Series. That specific period of time has now come to represent the last gasp of an era that has ended.
Yes, the Phillies can bounce back next season. But, their nearly certain postseason absence this fall will draw a line between one playoff period (2007-2011) and the next one that is yet to come.
I believe that the Phillies entered this season knowing that their chances of contending were slim. Regardless of whatever information was presented publicly about Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, it's reasonable to conclude that general manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. planned for a losing season.
It could be that Utley's knee situation caught the player and his employer by surprise. Even if that is fully true, roster evidence shows that the Phillies' front office boss appeared to be hedging his bets.
Except for the big long-term deal that was offered to former Boston Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon, most of his other moves were small. And that was very telling.
Jim Thome, Ty Wigginton, Laynce Nix, Chad Qualls, Juan Pierre and Mike Fontenot? Not exactly Amaro's style.
The marketing beast that is Citizens Bank Park needs to be fed by announced sold-out crowds. That wouldn't have happened if the Phillies organization had openly stated that 2012 was likely to be an off-year. As to whether the team has truly continued to sell-out all games through early August is suspect, but sharp fans understand the business motivations behind these strategies.
Now that facts have been revealed, let's review some parts of next year's team.
Managerial and coaching staff changes might be made during this calendar year. I'm not a Manuel detractor, but will understand if a new course is set. With whatever is done, Ryne Sandberg needs to be incorporated into the Phillies' major league coaching staff before the fall ends.
Howard should be fully healthy by next spring and as such, I have no concerns about him becoming a good cleanup hitter again.
Utley looks like he has strengthened his legs and is driving the ball better than most people (including me) ever thought he would. He's not a plus-.300 hitter anymore, but still fields his position well and should continue to be a generally productive part of the lineup.
Jimmy Rollins simply isn't consistent enough to leadoff. Yes, that's an old song to be singing. But, a new number 1 hitter must be installed before next year begins if this team is to have a better offensive approach.
Domonic Brown's play is encouraging. He has a lot to prove, but this young man is sincere. The Phillies will allow his everyday role to continue into next season as long as he offers a consistent effort.
Carlos Ruiz may not play for the rest of this season. That's a shame, because his 2012 All-Star year was remarkable. As far-fetched as it might seem, another feel-good catching story is developing in the form of Erik Kratz. The 32-year-old may have already worked his way into a backup position for next season.
Josh Lindblom, recently acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Shane Victorino trade, is the type of middle reliever that the Phillies need in their bullpen. As a matter of fact, they could use a few more just like him. Only Papelbon and Kyle Kendrick have actually offered relief this season.
Roy Halladay has one more guaranteed year left on his contract. Lee's deal is locked-in through 2015 and as we all know, Cole Hamels has at least six more secured years. Unless some unbelievable trade is offered for Lee, I'm guessing that these 'Three Aces' will still be held next season.
Amaro's roster revitalization will continue through the winter, with hopes that 2013 postseason access can be gained.
Sean O'Brien's professional writing career began in 1990, when he first began working in the Philadelphia Phillies farm system. He was a freelance sports writer for five years and is currently a Featured Contributor for Yahoo! Sports. You can follow him on Twitter @SeanyOB and read his daily Sports Blog: Insight.
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