Like all good Phillies fans, I was amazed and delighted at the club’s 26-21 start. Hey, we marveled, perhaps they’re further along then we expected. Some delusional fools (read: me) even supposed they might be buyers at the trade deadline.
Ah, well, back to reality. A 3-13 skid pushed the Phils down to where they belong, and slapped sanity into silly dreamers. Maybe Hector Neris isn’t all that. Maybe Vince Velasquez couldn’t be untouchable the second time. Maybe corner outfielders with a collective .301 slugging percentage keep you from playing meaningful baseball in September.
But here’s the thing: Reality isn’t bleak at all. In fact, it’s encouraging. Just not always at Citizen’s Bank Park.
After watching an 8-0 Phils loss to Washington Saturday, I tuned in to that night’s televised game of their Triple-A team, the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. The good guys pasted the Durham Bulls (without Crash Davis) 16-1 with power, speed, pitching and smarts. There were even brawls thrown in for good measure.
One blowout win means little, but consider this: The Phillies top three farm teams have a collective .606 winning percentage. It’s the achievement of an elite group of prospects.
The next generation is stirring. Zach Eflin, 22, makes his first start for the Phils tonight.
In Lehigh Valley, outfielders Nick Williams and Cam Perkins are pushing for promotions. Shortstop J.P. Crawford is struggling to adjust, but he’ll get there. There’s an intriguing rotation, now led by 22-year-old Jake Thompson.
At Double-A Reading, 6-foot-6 rightfielder Dylan Cozens has 19 homers and 12 steals. Jorge Alfaro, Roman Quinn, Rhys Hopkins and another group of young pitchers keep winning.
By law of baseball’s averages, half those names will fail or get injured. But if 50 percent wind up at CBP, that’s a hell of a lot of talent. Make sure you thank Ruben Amaro Jr. next time you see him hitting fungos at Red Sox BP.
I believe in Maikel Franco as a future All-Star despite his lackluster start. He’s still 23. I believe in Odubel Herrera as a cog. And I believe in Aaron Nola and Velasquez as the front end of a rotation, provided Vinnie’s “biceps” problems don’t turn out to be code for “elbow” problems.
I predicted in this space last year the Phils will be our next pro team to contend for a title. I believe it more today. The Sixers remain a collection of misfit parts. The Flyers have attractive pieces but — stop me if you’ve heard this before — lack the goalie they can ride through the playoffs.
The Eagles? C’mon, be serious.
The Phils, for all the pain we hear in Larry Andersen’s voice, at least have a credible pathway to success. You just can’t always see it in South Philly. To visualize it, travel to the homes of their farm teams. Hey, I’ll be in Reading next Thursday for a 1 p.m. game. I’ll meet you there and we’ll toast the sunny future.