• Andrew McGuinness

Agony Again: What To Make Of The Phillies Recurring Struggle To Make Ends Meet In September

Updated: Sep 20, 2021

It's another September in Philadelphia, and at least on the diamond, everything is the same. The Phillies are so incredibly close to returning to the Postseason for the first time since 2011. Yet nobody can feel it.

No, those two minor changes from the linked article aren't merely a reaction to losing two of three to Miami last weekend or Tuesday's blowout defeat in Milwaukee. I just as easily could've written them in place of Sunday's article, which showed the imitation of a baseball fan hopeful, maybe even expecting, for their team to reach the Postseason.

For many teams, that would be a perfectly reasonable take. But this is the Phillies, a franchise defined by failure in its past, usually in its present, and at developing its future. The Phillies current Postseason drought would have to linger for six more seasons (including this one) just to move into sole possession of the franchise's fourth such longest (though failing to end it this year pushes it past 1984-1992 into fifth). It has turned the fanbase into a group that has had to scrape and claw and perform Simone Biles-esque mental gymnastics just to feign belief.

Deep down, we all knew the eight-game winning streak that kicked off August with a first-place bang wasn't sustainable; we just wished the ride would've lasted a little bit longer. We knew they had run out of gas in September 2018. We knew they didn't have enough to push over the finish line in September 2019. And we certainly knew they were going to embarrass themselves in September 2020. Maybe you were successfully able to block those feelings out. But that doesn't change the fact that they still existed. Or the fact that they still exist today.

If the Phillies make the Postseason in 2021, it would be the first time in the history of sports a team has done so despite everything going wrong. The team's biggest strength on paper, their rotation, is down to four members, has its ring-leader on a defacto pitch count and a leader who is doing the one thing he couldn't do this year: bomb a fourth straight September. The bullpen and defense sailed past the ineptitude threshold months ago. The offensive production has been good in recent weeks, but the sources of that success (.400 hitter Matt Vierling? Two MLB home runs for Rafael Marchan before his first in the Minors?) makes some of the team's recent run totals look like they were pulled out of Ripley's Believe It Or Not. Spoiler alert: I don't.

It all just sucks. There are more elegant ways to say that, and I've been searching for them since the season's second week. But September is not a month for subtlety.

Yet everyday, the tantalizing thought of "what if?" creeps into every Philadelphian's mind. After all, the Phillies are two to two and a half games out of it, which means they are not out of it. There are twenty-four opportunities for them to state their case, and twenty-six days where they'll be asking for some help to do so. But today's Phillies are still the latest version of the Phillies; not the 2007-2011 Phillies, an era that looks more out of place if this franchise's history as a Picasso in a landfill with each passing day, win or loss.

Just the feeling of imagining the feeling of what it would be like if things went right over the next twenty-six days is intoxicating. The unfamiliarity of it is a huge reason why. There is a generation of Phillies fans who does not know what Postseason baseball is like. They seldom get to see a sold out Citizens Bank Park. They have never experienced a Red October. They've never even waved a rally towel. I'm in the generation right in front of them, which is fortunate enough to have experienced all of that but not able to really remember what it was like. The chance of being able to unlock that time capsule on or before October 3 is exhilarating. The sinking realization that the right combination is lying in one of Gabe Kapler's protein shakes in San Francisco is debilitating.

The scale is tipping, and not in the right direction. The memories of the last three years are starting to spill into our emotions, and the taste is as bitter as ever. The pain is constant, but if there's any good news, at least the feeling is starting to become numb. We all know what the most likely outcome is. In fact, we've known for a while. Nobody wants to admit it, and they can hardly be blamed for that.

The thought of spending the next four weeks in baseball hibernation is appealing. But it simply isn't possible for a large contingent of fans that are paralyzed by the familiar sight bright lights beginning to dim.

Eventually, October will come. People will commute past Citizens Bank Park, peering through the gates at the hope of seeing something spectacular. Darkness usually lingers there at that time, though. Light tries to shine through, but injuries, poor player development, bad managerial and front office decisions, and disappointing execution do a pretty good job at blocking it out.

An era didn't end on October 7, 2011; instead, it is ending in the days and weeks and months and years and maybe even the decade that followed. It is still ending right now. And until it ends, the new beginning everyone has been promised will lie out of reach.

Thumbnail Photo: Jim Rassol-USA Today Sports