Phillies Fan Reaction (PFR): PHI 0, TB 5 - Depression
All you had to do was win.
All you had to do was not lose seven of ten to the Marlins. All you had to do was assemble a bullpen that didn't produce the worst ERA in MLB history since 1930. All you had to do was sign JT. All you had to do was not blow a lead in 66% percent of your losses. All you had to do was not blown fifteen multi-run leads. All you had to do was not blow eight three-run leads. All you had to do was not blow a seven-run lead in a seven-inning game against the Blue Jays. All you had to do was not allow a 32-year old to become the oldest player in MLB history to have their first home run be a walk-off. All you had to was win more than you lost with Zach Wheeler and Aaron Nola on the mound. All you had to do was win of their final four starts. All you had to do was call-up Alec Bohm earlier. All you to do was not lose three straight to one of the worst teams in baseball in the last week of the season. All you had to was win one of your last three games. All you had to was win two of your last eight.
All you had to was not be the biggest joke in professional sports, just like you've always been.
The losingest franchise in the history of sports suffered their most painful loss since October 7, 2011. On the twelve-year anniversary of the day they clinched the 2008 National League East pennant, with six-year old me watching from the Diamond Club, the Philadelphia Phillies lose, 5-0, to the Tampa Bay Rays. In order to make the Postseason heading into today, the Phillies needed a win, as well as Giants and Brewers defeats. The Brewers lost. The Giants lost. And yet our ace couldn't make it out of the fourth inning. The offense couldn't score one run. A defensive mishap all but ended the game in the 6th. It was a complete disaster, just like the entire season.
Major League Baseball expanded the Postseason field by six teams (three in each league) for the 2020 season, the widest field in the sport's 150-plus year history. For the team with the seventh highest payroll to miss the league is absolutely inexcusable, especially when the team with the 27th highest payroll, a team that hadn't made the Postseason since 2003 mind you, finished directly above them in the NL East.
It wasn't really the fault of our stars that the Phillies will be home again in October. Bryce Harper was in the MVP conversation early and finished the year on fire despite playing through back tightness. JT Realmuto remained the best catcher in baseball, battling through an injury of his own (hip). Aaron Nola wasn't as good as his 3rd-place Cy Young 2018 season, but wasn't as bad as last year's setback. The team's two biggest free agent signings, Zach Wheeler and Didi Gregorius, both had tremendous years. Wheeler led the club in ERA; Gregorius in RBIs. Young talents like Alec Bohm and Spencer Howard showed plenty of promise, with the former a serious candidate for Rookie of the Year.
Alright, that's all the positivity this team deserves. The Phillies bullpen had an ERA over SEVEN, the worst MLB mark in 90 years. A Little League team would have been better than them this season. In 21 of their 32 defeats, the Phillies had the lead. This team scored first more than the FORTY-ONE win Dodgers and didn't make the Postseason. They blew the same amount of three-run leads as the rest of their division COMBINED. Somehow, the four relief pitchers they added at the trade deadline were worse than the previous group. That shouldn't even be statistically possible. But here we are.
Technically, you can't blame everything on the bullpen. Vince Velasquez was a train wreck yet again this season, cementing the Ken Giles trade as one of the worst in team history, especially because Giles (a flame-throwing closer) is exactly the player this team needs right now. The team was ravaged by injuries - Seranthony Dominguez and David Robertson, two of the team's best relief pitchers, missed the entire season with Tommy John. Robertson, a free agent, is likely gone for good and I have little faith Dominguez (who missed almost all of last year) will contribute significantly again. Rhys Hoskins missed the stretch and he (a first baseman!) may also need Tommy John (thankfully on his non-throwing arm). Jake Arrieta ended his massive flop of a contract on the injured list, sporting an ERA over 5 in his final season with the club.
What a nightmare.
It is actually difficult, requiring a serious, concerted effort, to be as anti-clutch as the Phillies have been the last three years. In 2018, they were 63-48 in August and first place in the NL East. They finished 17-34 and did not win eleven consecutive series after a four-game sweep of the Marlins that proved to be the climax of their season (again, with me in attendance). Last year, they spent $400 million in the offseason, pulled out their first 4-0 start in over 100 years to break the longest such drought in sports history, and...blew game five in embarrassing fashion with a bullpen choke and didn't win more than four straight the entire season.
And what about this year? This crazy, pandemic, 60-game shortened season, DH for everyone, seven seven-inning doubleheaders, extra-innings-gimmick year. They somehow one-upped themselves, tripping over the bar in its lowest possible setting. The Brewers became the second team in MLB history to make the Postseason despite losing often than not. It literally COULD NOT have been easier for the Phillies to end their drought, and it probably will not be again (please bring back the normal format next year - the bets thing about MLB's Postseason is how hard it usually is to get there).
Because of their collapse, and the inevitable rise of the Marlins, White Sox, and Padres, the Phillies now have the longest active Postseason drought in the National League and second longest in the entire league (God love the Mariners). Only three NFL and two NBA teams have longer active droughts than the Phillies. To add context, the last time in the Phillies made the Postseason, I was in my second month of fourth grade. I am now a freshman in college. Talk about pathetic.
Last year, I wrote a very similar article to the one I am writing right now about the Phillies' failure and what it has done to my fandom (and likely many others'). At this time last year, I was questioning whether I still felt like being a fan. I begged this team to do something with their incredible core. I should have listened to my own advice when I wrote, "At this point, it's foolish to even believe in them." Maybe that would've helped deal with this year's latest and strongest dose of heartbreak.
This season just cements the Phillies' status as the biggest failure in the history of professional sports. They have lost 11,032 games, easily the most ever. They have missed the Postseason an astonishing 103 out of 115 times since the World Series began in 1901 (not counting 1903 and 1994, when it was cancelled). In one 34-year stretch, they finished under .500 thirty-three times. They have done the same in each of the last nine seasons; in the four major sports, only the Browns and Sacramento Kings have longer streaks.
Things are only slated to get worse. The team is set to make "significant cuts" to their staff (per The Athletic). JT Realmuto, the best catcher in baseball, is set to be a free agent, and there's no indication management is willing to pay close to what he deserves. The Phillies traded their top pitching prospect Sixto Sanchez and a solid young catcher in Jorge Alfaro, two key contributors in Miami's surprise return to the Postseason, to acquire him before last season. If Realmuto walks, that trade sets the organization back five years own its own. Gregorius is also a free-agent; he may be one-and-done in Philly. General manager Matt Klentak is all but a lock to be fired. Just like last year's Flyers, change is coming.
Then again, that may be for the best. The Phillies current state isn't too different than the Flyers' when Ron Hextall and Dave Hakstol were fired in late 2018 - great core pieces, intriguing young talent, but totally dysfunctional around them and completely lacking any talent in one key position. Chuck Fletcher found the pieces needed to take them over the top, and Alain Vigneault proved to be the right leader for the group, leading them to their best season since 2012. Maybe whoever the Phillies bring in leads them to a similar fate.
But remember what I said about it not getting your hopes up about this mess of a baseball team? Baseball and hockey are very different sports. Basically everything has broke the Flyers' way under the new regime. It doesn't matter who the Phillies bring in to replace Klentak, there's almost no way they're getting that lucky. Ownership has refused to go over the luxury tax even before the pandemic; there's no way I see them changing heart now. It's a chicken-and-the-egg dilemma; ownership won't go over the tax until the team is a contender, but the team won't be good enough to be a contender until they go over the tax.
I was so happy to have baseball back in late July. It was my first return to normal moment in the pandemic, and America's first taste of live sports since mid-March. While I'm grateful that we even got to have a season, this season literally could not have gone worse. At the beginning of the year, I said I would rather the Phillies suffer the most heartbreak possible than not have a season at all. Now that I got my wish, I'm starting to have second thoughts.
But alas, I know I could never give them up. The Phillies used to be a tremendous source of joy for me. When I was little, I loved them more than anything. They were the reason I started liking sports in the first place. Without them, there's no way this blog would even exist.
I accepted the rebuild with as much patience as I could. I thought 2018 was the year I was waiting for. It was an incredible return to form, and even thought they fell short, their failure was understandable and easy to overlook considering how big of a step they had taken from 2017 (a 14-win improvement). Last year was crushing, but at least there were incredible moments like Harper's walk-off grand slam and Opening Day (which I also attended - maybe I should just stop going to games at this point) that fans will remember forever. But in this year? There were zero redeeming moments this season. Absolutely none. Alec Bohm's breakout and seeing Klentak out the door are the only positives to come from 2020.
In the end, it's just more of the same. To be honest, I don't see this team making the Postseason for a long time, assuming MLB goes back to the five team per league Postseason format they've used since 2012. They have pieces to build around (Harper, Nola, Bohm), but this is the type of loss that a group might never recover from. This franchise has proved time and time again to be the champions of bad decisions and wasting talent. In the end, the same message I wrote 368 days ago still holds true.
"Brutal. Baseball. Same thing."
And it always will.