In what may be the understatement of the year, I’m going to say that 2014 has not gone as well as the Phillies front office had hoped. There was talk about making a playoff appearance, and while that may have mostly been optimistic bluster, I think they at least imagined the team would be more competitive than it has been.
I thought that if everything broke right, the Phillies could in fact make the playoffs. But I felt it was more likely that the team would end up around .500.
It seems that even a .500 record is more than the 2014 Phillies are capable of. They entered the break ten games under the .500 mark, and if the team proceeds to sell some of its veteran players at the trade deadline, things could get even worse in the second half.
The news wasn’t all bad though. While the first half of 2014 was mostly unpleasant, there were a few bright spots along the way.
Chase Utley returns to the All-Star Game
After two straight years where he missed almost half a season of play, Chase Utley proved that he could remain healthy in 2013. Yes, there was a stint on the disabled list due to an oblique injury, but his arthritic knees didn’t seem to be a major problem anymore.
In 2014, not only has he remained healthy, he has also resumed his place as the National League’s best second baseman. As a result, he will once again be headed to the All-Star Game.
Despite slumping a bit in recent weeks, Utley has been the team’s best offensive player this season, and for many fans, he’s been the only reason to tune into the game on most nights.
Jimmy Rollins becomes the Phillies hits leader
Jimmy Rollins is not as good as he once was. He wasn’t named to the All-Star team, and chances are, he won’t be included in the MVP discussion at season’s end.
But after a poor 2013 season in which it looked like he was nearing the end, Rollins has rebounded nicely to have a fine season. He’s been solid defensively, and with eleven home runs, he’s even regained a bit of his old power.
Rollins also provided what might have been the best moment of the first half when he surpassed Mike Schmidt to become the Phillies’ all-time leader in hits. The 2014 season probably won’t be remembered fondly, but we’ll always be able to look back at the scene of Schmidt congratulating Rollins and smile.
The Phillies relief corps was mostly awful in 2012 and 2013. Early in the season, it looked like we were headed for yet another year of the bullpen being a huge weakness for the team.
That has changed over the last couple of months, and now the bullpen can be counted as a relative strength.
Despite everyone thinking he had a fork in his back, Jonathan Papelbon has had an outstanding year. There were concerns about his diminished velocity, but he’s managed to maintain his effectiveness even with less kick on his fastball.
Considering what he’s being paid, we should expect Papelbon to be good. It’s the success of the other relievers that has been the true revelation.
Sure, there were some rough outings early on, and it seems that manager Ryne Sandberg still doesn’t know how to best deploy everybody. But for the first time in a while, the Phillies seem to have an effective group of middle relievers and setup men. Jake Diekman, Justin De Fratus, Antonio Bastardo, and Ken Giles can usually be counted on to limit the opponents’ offense in the late innings.
It would be nice if the relievers had more frequent opportunities to protect leads, but it’s at least refreshing that the game doesn’t feel like an inevitable loss once the starter leaves.
The offseason acquisitions
This past offseason, general manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. had a tough task. He wanted to make improvements to his roster without making potentially harmful long-term commitments.
While it’s becoming clear that no amount of patching would help the Phillies’ crumbling foundation, it’s hard to take issue with most of the players picked up this offseason.
There were many skeptics who thought that Marlon Byrd wouldn’t be able to replicate his surprisingly strong 2013 season, but he’s provided the right-handed power that the team was looking for. He’s on pace to surpass his single-season high for home runs in a season.
A.J. Burnett hasn’t been as consistent as the team hoped, and has had some control issues in a few of his starts. But for the most part, he’s been a solid mid-rotation starter who usually gives the team a chance to win.
Even Roberto Hernandez has done reasonably well. His 4.22 ERA might not be worthy of All-Star consideration, but for a guy who was brought in as rotation depth, he’s done a decent enough job.
The brief stretches of success
Perhaps the most frustrating thing about the 2014 Phillies is that there have been times when they actually looked like a good team.
The team has recorded sweeps over both the Atlanta Braves and Milwaukee Brewers; two teams that were in first place at the time. During those series, the Phillies looked like the team that Amaro must have envisioned. Their starters would pitch deep into games, the hitters would come through in clutch spots, and the bullpen would shut things down in the late innings.
Unfortunately, those effective stretches have been far too infrequent. The rest of the time we’ve just been left wondering why they can’t play that well more often.
Now that I’ve looked at the bright spots, tomorrow, I’ll take a look at what has gone wrong for the 2014 Phillies. Unless you haven’t been paying close attention , you’ll know that I had a lot more to choose from.