2014 was a tough year for the Phillies and their fans. They missed the playoffs for the third year in a row and lost more games than they won for the second consecutive season. These certainly weren't new lows for any of us; we were around for the dark years of the late 90s. Nevertheless, this season produced a unique feeling of ennui that was unexplored during the 90s, if I may speak for my fellow masthead-mates. (This experience might have something to do with that I was in elementary school in the late 90s and, therefore, was incapable of ennui.)
It wasn't until August that I was entrusted with the keys to game recaps, so I never got to express in these pages the irrational optimism I took into 2014. All I provided for The Good Phight were nuggets of joy like the following:
"Would that the inning had ended there. Mario Hollands and Justin DeFratus were both victims of cruel, cruel BABIP before getting out of the inning with a tie score.
Sure the game was tied, but we all knew where this was going." (August 16, 2014)
"Two years ago, I would have been slinging profanities at my television throughout this inning. This year, I just shrug and chuckle. Sometimes you eat the bear; sometimes the bear eats you." (August 29, 2014)
"Recapping this game reminds me of my one attempt at running a marathon to date. It starts out really well, feeling comfortable through the halfway mark, maybe even longer. Around the 5th inning, or 15 miles, you start to feel a little discomfort, but convince yourself it's nothing to worry about. 7th inning, mile 20, it's become abundantly clear that an aggressive early pace was more than you could handle. Gone are hopes of sub-2:50, gone are hopes of sub-3:00, even. This has become a battle of survival. I've been reduced to hobble-jogging and accepting the pity-cheers from spectators. You know what, screw this. I'm dropping out." (September 19, 2014)
Substitute "season" for "game," "July" for "the 5th inning," August" for "7th inning" and that was how 2014 felt.
I can't go on like this. If I approach 2015 and 2016 like I approached 2014, I'm not going to last long on this earth. Which is why I have made the following one of my resolutions for 2015: Find Joy in the Phillies. This resolution will take its place alongside "Get in Shape to Run Semi-Competitively Again" and "Acquire Rudimentary Programming Skills," but is the only one immediately relevant to the purposes of this site, so will be the only one discussed going forward.
In considering this resolution, I am immediately confronted by the following problem: the Phillies are going to be very bad at baseball, at least at the major league level, in 2015. This simple truth will make this resolution difficult, but I've outlined below some strategies that might help. I expect I will return to these as early as May to refocus on my goal of happiness.
Throughout the season, our esteemed Schmenkman updates us on the status of current Phillies on various organizational leaderboards. While nothing of the magnitude of Jimmy Rollins breaking the franchise hits record is set to happen in 2015, Papelbon is poised to take the lead in saves and Hamels, if he remains on the team and healthy, should move into second in strikeouts and 5th in wins. Chase Utley also figures to move up on a number of appearance-based leaderboards.
While these accomplishments are unlikely to correlate strongly with present wins, they will be important for our sanity. Take all of these as opportunities to remember your favorite moments with these players. Watch 2008 Cole Hamels playoff starts; call up the Youtube video of Papelbon's College GameDay appearance; re-watch Chase Utley's World Series parade speech. These are chances to escape the present and reflect on better days; take them.
Develop Ironic Player Obsessions
Last year, I attempted to start a Grady Sizemore as franchise savior bandwagon, but the entire time it felt a bit contrived. Sure, Sizemore was surprisingly decent for a time and he wore high socks, but he didn't play frequently enough for an obsession to deliver rewards; I put more into it than I got out of it.
It's probably a little too early to tell who will see consistent playing time in 2015, but a couple candidates for consideration are:
Freddy Galvis: At the moment, he appears to be the starting shortstop, so he should see plenty of playing time. He plays very good defense and hits homeruns more frequently than you would expect given his hitting ability. Defensive wizardry and dingers are objectively fun to watch.
Odubel Herrera and Andy Oliver: The Rule 5 Draft is like a record swap: it's something only hipsters are into and the items available for exchange are objectively unappealing to acquire. Nevertheless, Rule 5 draft picks are fun to cheer for. In all cases, they are forced to play over their heads for a full season and success is attained in one of two ways: 1) player was on 25-man roster for the entire year without the average fan noticing or 2) player received palying time but managed to avoid historic ineptitude. With today's trade of Marlon Byrd, there is a non-trivial chance that Herrera starts in the Phillies outfield. In Herrera and Oliver, we get to see the Phillies feign excitement over acquiring other team's clutter.
Consume More Prospect Coverage Than Usual
After a brief dark period, the Phillies farm system is making a rebound. While they won't be confused with the Cubs in terms of depth, there are some promising players down there. J.P. Crawford seems likely to appear in the top-20 on most prospect rankings this winter and Aaron Nola should appear in the top-50 on those same lists. There's not much top-end talent after that, but don't be fooled into thinking there is nothing of value. Who you prefer out of the second tier is largely personal taste if you're not a scout or experienced prospect guy. Personally, I like Deivi Grullon (defensive catchers are tons of fun), but don't just listen to me. Read prospect coverage and develop your own crushes. Embracing B- and C-list prospects are like having crushes on girls (or boys) who are out of your league. You realize there is approximately zero chance of reward, so real world concerns don't get in the way of the joy of the fantasy.
Appreciate the Real Talent on the Team
I've neglected to mention that there are, in fact, real, living and breathing baseball players of above average ability on the Philadelphia Phillies. For the moment, at least, we still have Cole Hamels, one of the best starting pitchers in baseball. Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz prove last year that they aren't just playing out the last years of their respective careers; they are still among the most productive players in the game at their positions.
But, it's not just the veterans who are good. Ken Giles emerged as one of the best bullpen arms in the game and is accompanied by a more-than-respectable supporting staff of Jake Diekman, Justin DeFratus, and Mario Hollands. All four of those pitchers are young enough that you can imagine them being around when the Phillies are good again. Maikel Franco had a rough go in a brief stint with the Phillies, but has the talent to turn it around as he adjusts to major league pitching. Lastly, despite being declared a bust, Dom Brown resembled a league-average player over the last couple months of the season.
Long story short, there will likely be some bright spots among the overall wreckage of 2015.
2014 wasn't exactly the most fun I've had watching the Phillies in recent memory and the 2015 iteration of the team figures to be even worse than 2014. Despite their objective terribleness, I hereby resolve to make this an enjoyable year of covering the Phillies.