The Phillies boast the oldest team in the National League this season. Credit: Getty Images
The glory days are over. Even though many of the names are the same, the current crop of Phillies are not the group which won a World Series championship in 2008 and raced through the greatest run in the history of this mostly moribund franchise.
That being said, the Phillies are also not the same primarily unwatchable team of 2012 and 2013, which after falling behind, tended to pack it in after the sixth inning.
The solace disillusioned fans can take in the 2014 squad is that they come back. Ryne Sandberg’s team, often led by such graybeards as Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins, have roared back late a number of times this season. The Phillies were money in the ninth inning Saturday in New York when they edged the Mets 5-4 thanks to a Ryan Howard single.
“People are foolish if they underestimate that team,” Washington Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche said. “If guys like Howard, Utley, (Carlos) Ruiz, Rollins, (Cliff) Lee and (Cole) Hamels are out there, you know it can be a difficult game. They know how to win. They’re confident that no matter what the score is, that they can come back in the game.”
LaRoche neglected to mention Marlon Byrd, who has been the Phillies best hitter along with Utley. Byrd won Friday night’s marathon in New York with an RBI double.
“That guy is a winner,” reigning NL MVP Andrew McCutchen said. “When we got him, everything changed. Every team needs a Marlon Byrd.”
The Phillies may not make the playoffs. According to Baseball Prospectus, the Phillies have a 13 percent chance of reaching the postseason. However, if the core remains healthy, the Phillies could be in the conversation in September when it comes to potential games in October.
“That’s what it’s about,” Howard said. “We’re going to battle every game and I believe we have the guys that can lead us back to the postseason. It doesn’t matter what people believe out of this clubhouse. It just matters what we believe.”
But much depends on the health of the oft-injured core.
“That’s the big issue,” a NL scout said. “The difference in the quality of player is huge if you have to replace Utley, Howard or Rollins.”
There’s no doubt about that. The Phillies bench is the worst in the MLB. The only solid player among the crew is Wil Nieves, who has been good with the bat and glove. After that it’s an abyss. No reserve infielder is hitting above .154.
“It’s difficult to win when you get nothing from your six, seven and eight hitters,’ the NL scout said. “But as long as the Phillies regulars remain healthy they have a chance.”
And that is a palpable improvement over the 2012 and 2013 models, who played much of the time as if it were on life support.
“We’re having fun,” Howard said. “Having fun typically means we’re winning some games. I think it’s going to get very interesting this season.”
That’s a positive sign since it was anything but interesting since the 2011 season abruptly ended.
Darin Run is on the rehab trail. He started Saturday night in Clearwater. The Phillies bench can certainly use a potent right-handed bat off the bench. “Ruf can only help them,” a NL scout said. “He sure can’t hurt.”