Being optimistic is not easy.
The mantra among Philly sports fans — the ones brave enough to watch their futile slew of pro teams through any lens other than between their fingers after 22 combined seasons without a playoff series win accumulate further — is that good times are ahead.
An influx of youth and potential has each of Philadelphia’s four major sports squads poised to return to competitiveness on some kind of palatable time frame, ranging from two to five years.
The wait has been hard, and judging expectations can be difficult.
Each team has given flashes; the Phillies’ start to the 2016 season and pitching prowess, the Flyers' 10-game win streak, the Eagles' 3-0 start in 2016 and the Sixers’ months of January and February where they were the most entertaining team on NBA League Pass.
But all four squads predictably returned to losing form in short order.
How long will we be forced to wait until there’s a team that commands the city’s collective attention as the 2008 World Champion Phillies did?
Playoffs ETA: Next season
Championship ETA: 2020
It’s hard to tell what Philly has in the Flyers. There are two teams here. First is the core, the competent and exciting group of forwards in Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek and Brayden Schenn. And then there’s the up and comers, like Shayne Gostisbehere, Ivan Provorov, Sam Morin, Travis Konecny and others.
The problem is the spaces in between. Are players like Sean Couturier, Steve Mason and Michael Del Zotto the right pieces to help the team contend?
Judging from the recent haul of draft picks, success is going to come soon. There is too much talent for it not to. The challenge seems to lie more with general manager Ron Hextall in his attempt to piece together a roster that can work.
Playoffs ETA: 2018-19
Championship ETA: 2021-22
Ben Simmons hasn’t yet played an NBA game, but he’s finally fully healthy. Joel Embiid had knee surgery before the end of the season, but had one of the most memorable 31-game rookie stints of all time. Dario Saric played like the NBA’s de facto rookie of the year and Brett Brown somehow got 28 wins out of a team that fielded only seven healthy players at season’s end. And the team could have two top five picks in a loaded draft this June.
The potential is incredible. The practicality of a Sixers’ NBA title is not on the horizon anytime soon. The post-Sam Hinkie front office will have a great opportunity to put together a dynasty of a winner.
Playoffs ETA: 2018
Championship ETA: 2019
It’s tough to believe that the Eagles’ current strategy of signing weapons for Carson Wentz to one-year deals will make the team into a Super Bowl contender. A realistic fan should instead expect newly inked Torrey Smith and Alston Jeffery to provide the Eagles’ soon-to-be sophomore quarterback with a gigantic learning opportunity in 2017. The future of this team lies in the NFL draft, and in the health and success of a few bedrock players like Lane Johnson, Fletcher Cox and Malcolm Jenkins.
Philly needs to find a starting cornerback duo, a young running back, a young wide receiver (or two) and reliable depth at nearly every other position.
But with Wentz in midnight green, the Eagles have their franchise signal-caller and the team will go as far as he takes them.
Playoffs ETA: 2018
Championship ERA: 2021
The optimistic Phillies fan has a lot to be excited about. Like the Sixers and Flyers, there are a lot of high-ceiling players in the prospect pipeline, but prospects are unreliable and unpredictable. The makings of a core of the future exist in Maikel Franco, Odubel Herrera, J.P. Crawford, Nick Williams (both in Triple-A) and Mickey Moniak (in Single-A). The makings of a solid pitching staff exist in Aaron Nola, Vince Velasquez, Jerad Eickhoff and Jake Thompson (in Triple-A).
Any guess as to how they’ll develop into everyday MLB players is just that, a guess, but baseball’s 162-game schedule seems to encourage more parity and an additional wild card spot means that a few games over .500 puts any team in a playoff race.
The 2018 free agent class also offers some high hopes as hometown kid Mike Trout could return home to play for the Phillies — and with a ton of money to spend they could make a run at Manny Machado or Bryce Harper as well.