This season, the questions that Phillies fans have asked themselves, each other, and the team itself have been wide ranging. What is wrong with the team? Is Halladay hurt? Why do Kyle Kendrick and John Mayberry Jr. suck so much? Is Carlos Ruiz an MVP candidate? What is going on with Domonic Brown? Why are Kendrick and Mayberry suddenly not sucking? Did they find a magical genie in an ancient lamp? Who is Erik Kratz? Is he the Amish Country version of Chooch? And that over there at third base, Frampton something or other -- who the hell is that!? Shouldn't he be singing "Baby, I Love Your Way?" THAT SONG SUCKS PLAY FREE BIRD!
One question that really hadn't been asked, though, is "Are we in the race?" Why hasn't that question been asked? Because the answer has been clear. "No, of course not. Have you seen the standings?" But in the last month, a new question has come to the fore. Could they put together a run? The answers to that question have been many and varied. "There is too much for them to overcome to make it happen, so no." Or "They could if five other teams forget how to play baseball, or get dysentery, or decide to put on a Broadway musical, or simultaneously decide they all want to become accountants."
My feelings about that question are complicated. I've watched a lot of Phillies games this season. (I wish to God I could erase the memories of that 9-19 June.) I'm well aware of what the team has done. And yet I've never been able to fully give up hope. I know it's better if the team stops winning as much as they have been lately -- they'll get a better drat pick. I know that's true intellectually. I know it's the best thing for the team in the long term. And yet I can't stop myself from wanting them to win right now. I'm not an optimist about many things in life, but I'm an optimist about baseball. There *is* a chance that the Phillies could snag one of the wild card spots, and as long as that chance exists, that's what I want. That's not to say I'm delusional. I'm aware that their chances are essentially nil. But isn't that the point of hope? Just like baseball fandom itself, it's not always rational.
Despite the Phillies' obvious non-chance to make the playoffs, it's been nice to see that I haven't been the only holdout optimist. It's been interesting to watch the progression over the past month, both in my own mind and on Twitter. Here's a dramatic interpretation: "There is no chance. None." And then: "I just hit myself in the face with a frying pan for just now thinking they could pull this off. Someone please call 911." Followed by "I'm an idiot for thinking they could do this. I'm a moron. Right?" Then: "Jesus, they swept the Nationals. Someone make me stop looking at the Wild Card standings and doing math!!" And finally: "I can't help myself anymore. I know I'm setting myself up for the ultimate letdown, but they're JUST SO DANGED LOVEABLE!!"
When it all comes down to it, this season has been a slog; one long, painful, continuous kick to the head punctuated by the occasional donkey punch of major injury or stunning, last minute loss. So I'm glad to have the chance to actually root for something. Not just for the team to make it to .500, or for a high draft pick, or for Cliff Lee to finish with more WAR than wins. This is something real. Even if nothing comes from it -- nothing will, probably -- it's nice to root for something beyond those intangible consolation prizes of your team's failure. That in and of itself will make this season a bit more worth it. Plus, it's baseball. Anything can happen.