The Philadelphia Phillies are suffering through the club’s fourth consecutive losing season to this point thanks in large part to one month-long cold stretch.
At the beginning of the 2016 Major League Baseball regular season, more than four months ago now, I came out with my predictions for the upcoming Phillies season.
In that prediction piece, I picked the club to finish a dozen games better than their putrid bottom-of-baseball 2015 campaign, going 75-87 when the books were closed on 2016.
That would mean that my prediction would show the Phillies to have played at a .463 pace over the course of this season. So where are the Phils now?
On this day off in the schedule, the Phillies sit at 58-67 for a .464 winning percentage. To this point, nearly five months in, the club is pretty much exactly on the pace that I predicted at the beginning.
But if you think back, there was a point in the season where everyone following the team was getting a bit ahead of themselves.
The team last reached their 2016 high-water mark of seven games over the .500 mark at 24-17 on Wednesday, May 18th following a 4-2 win over the division-rival Miami Marlins at Citizens Bank Park.
Things were looking good, with the worst team in baseball at the time, the Atlanta Braves, coming to town for three games. There was talk of a sweep, and 10 games over .500, and, gulp, Wildcard playoff contention.
Unfortunately things did not go as planned. Those Braves came in and won the first two games of the series, and that series defeat was the beginning of a month that completely wrecked the Phillies 2016 campaign.
Between May 20th and June 26th, the Phillies would go just 8-28, a harrowing .222 stretch of play that made the horrendous 2015 season seem like the good ol’ days.
In the two months since, the club has put together a 26-22 record. It has been an up-and-down, see-saw type of season for the Fightin’ Phils and the fans who have gone along for the sometimes exhilarating, sometimes nauseating, but ultimately frustrating ride.
These Phillies are at a point in their rebuilding process where they are good enough to beat the worst teams most of the time, but are not good enough to take out the really good teams on most nights or in most series.
They also do not have enough overall talent to get on any type of sustained run of winning. There was a six-game winning streak during their early season success in late April.
That win streak in combination with another early stretch where they won six of seven and eight of 11 games in the first half of May is what pushed their record to that high-water mark.
Just when it looked like they could potentially sink back to the bottom of Major League Baseball, the club went on another tear in late June and early July, winning eight of nine at one stretch as part of a lengthier stretch of 13-6 that pulled them within a half-dozen games of the .500 mark.
Then the MLB All-Star Game came, the team took a four-day break, and came out of that break ice-cold. The Phillies went 6-11 after the break, going nearly three weeks without winning back-to-back games.
From August 2nd through the 14th, the Phillies again got on a roll, winning eight of 12 games to pull back within seven games of the .500 mark. It is the closest they would come before losing four of six to the Dodgers and Cardinals over the past week.
So what have we learned through this see-saw ride? Without looking at any statistics or individual player performances, and only worrying about wins and losses, we get the big picture look of the 2016 season.
As I predicted at the beginning, this season is better than last year. The Phillies are not abysmal. They are not the laughingstock of baseball.
But what the Phillies are, besides somewhat improved and a little more experienced, is still short in talent and still in need of more maturity and growth.
They are right on target with my preseason prediction because I made that prediction based solely on that hard look at the reality of the team’s situation.
You almost never go from being the worst team in baseball to a playoff contender overnight. The Phillies were not spending a ton of money and/or trading prospects for veterans to suddenly build up talent.
This was a publicly stated rebuilding process that stayed on course, and in fact doubled down on that process with the trade of Ken Giles to Houston for a (hopefully) rich prospect package.
The only reasonable prediction was for better, but still not good enough. Winning more, but still not a winner. That is exactly where the team has proven themselves to be at this point.
Here is the Phillies 2016 calendar month-by-month performance thus far:
There are now just 37 games remaining. The Phillies would have to finish 5-32 to equal last season’s wretched mark. That won’t happen.
They would need to finish with a 17-20 mark over the next six weeks in order to reach my 75-87 prediction from the start of the season. That is very doable, and in fact is the pace they are now on.
The real question is, can the Phillies show any improvement over these final six weeks? It would take a 23-14 mark to finish at .500 for the season. Despite some injuries and the normal attrition of a long season, it is possible.
In these final six weeks, 29 of the last 37 games are against NL East Division rivals. The Phils are 22-25 against those five rivals thus far.
Aside from that, there are four games with the Chicago White Sox, a losing team, and four games at home against Pittsburgh, a club just three games over .500 right now.
The Phillies can realistically finish with a .500 season, beating my prediction by a half-dozen games. To do so, the offense will have to produce more consistently, and the pitching will need to firm up despite recent injuries.
It is a lot to ask, going from the worst team in baseball to a break-even team in one year with no major free agent additions, but it is a possibility if players such as Maikel Franco, Odubel Herrera, Aaron Altherr, Cesar Hernandez, and Tommy Joseph finish strong.
Can the club’s top pitching prospect, Jake Thompson, begin to flash the strong form at the MLB level that he was showing at AAA? That would help the club weather the injuries that have cost the club youngster Aaron Nola and Zach Eflin for the year.
Of course, it is possible that the team will collapse under the weight of the pitching injuries, especially if it suffers any losses in the lineup.
The Phillies franchise, and the fan base, deserve a final six weeks closer to the good possibility than the ugly, if only as repayment for what we endured a year ago.