Sunday, July 30, 2017

Phillies winning spurts tempered by lessons of history

The Phillies have won eight of their last 12 games
The Philadelphia Phillies walked off the Atlanta Braves on Saturday night. The 4-3 victory in eleven innings gave the Fightin’ Phils their eighth win in the last dozen games.
Despite the hot stretch of winning baseball over these last two weeks, the Phillies remain in last place in the NL East Division standings.
The Phillies are 24 games behind the first place Washington Nationals. They sit 20.5 games out in the National League Wildcard race. The Phils are even 10.5 games behind the two teams tied for fourth in the division, the Braves and the New York Mets.
I’ve noticed a pattern with these little winning spurts by the Phillies in recent years. When they start winning, all is right in the world. Not only for the players and manager Pete Mackanin, but also fans and the media who follow the team on a regular basis.
When the Phillies are winning, social media explodes with platitudes for the current players, extolling their skills and feats. Talk begins of players in their mid-upper 20’s who will be part of the “winning future” core.
As someone who has always considered themselves a “glass half-full” personality, it pains me to add the “but” to this piece. It’s something that I learned a long time ago, an old saying: “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”

MR. KLENTAK, MEET MR. SANTAYANA

Many have heard the saying, or some variant of it, at some point in their lives. It comes from philosopher and novelist George Santayana (1863-1952) and his 1905-06 “The Life of Reason” project.
The full quotation leading to that famed finish actually goes as follows: “Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
The Phillies have indeed seen a great deal of change in recent years, all of it necessary. However, GM Matt Klentak and the club’s fan base cannot make the mistake of settling for what they are seeing in short, winning spurts. The change must continue, and it must strike at the heart of this current lineup.
Over the last three years, the Phillies have gone with a core lineup that features Maikel FrancoOdubel HerreraCameron RuppFreddy Galvis, and Cesar Hernandez.
None of these players is to blame for all of the losing. Each of these players has redeeming qualities as a ball player. Galvis can be sensational defensively. Franco has legitimate power. Rupp is a typical catching field general. Hernandez has speed and makes good contact. Herrera is the most talented, and perhaps conversely the most maddening.

LENGTHY LOSING FOLLOWS BRIEF WINNING

The problem with these players, as I have visited in the past, is that they are wildly inconsistent, both individually and as a unit. What it has led to over these last three years is a dysfunctional mix that cannot win consistently.
From April 15-27 this year, the Phillies won eight of ten, lifting their overall record to 11-9. They proceeded to lose 26 of their next 32 games. Prior to this recent win stretch, they had dropped seven of eight.
Last year they played hot for most of the first seven weeks of the season. On May 18, their 24-17 record left them just a half-game off the division lead. The Phils proceeded to drop 26 of their next 32 and never recovered.
That 2016 team would capture eight of 12 games between August 2-14. They went just 15-28 the rest of the season, losing eight of their final 10 games.
In 2015, the first season that the current position player core spent together, there was a six-game win streak in mid-May. The team then dropped 24 of their next 30 contests.
After the 2015 MLB All-Star break, the Phillies came out firing. The club won the first four straight, nine of 10, and 15 of 20 games. It made for a fun stretch of baseball from mid-July through early August.
By the end of August and into September, however, they found themselves dropped 20 of 26 games en route to a last place finish. That season finally saw the end of the Ruben Amaro era, after manager Ryne Sandberg quit on the club less than halfway through the campaign.

MORE CHANGE NEEDED TO CHANGE HISTORY

The point here is to remind fans that this will not last. This current Phillies lineup is simply not constructed to win over months of play. They are simply not that good, at least not consistently. The likelihood is that a fairly long stretch of losing is coming, and probably beginning soon.
I want the Phillies to win. I root for them now, as I have since discovering the existence of the team and the game all the way back in 1971 at age nine. But these 46 years of watching Phillies baseball, and especially these last three years, have taught me valuable lessons.
There has been some recent change. Over the last few days, Klentak has done what was expected as the MLB trade deadline approaches. He dealt away veterans Jeremy Hellickson, Pat Neshek, and Howie Kendrick. That will hopefully open some playing time opportunities for youngsters who might truly become pieces of the club’s long term future.
But those recent deals are not enough. The Phillies will not win again on a consistent, season-long basis until they turn the page from this current position player core group. Until those wholesale changes happen, enjoy the wins when they come, but realize the good times are sure to end soon. That is the lesson of recent Phillies history.

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