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The 2016 Why Not? Phillies

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I was in Baltimore this weekend, watching an Orioles game with my mom and my son. I was furiously checking on Phillies scores, because, the Phillies are interesting again.

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

When I go to Phillies games and Orioles games in close succession, as I did on Friday (Phillies) and Sunday (Orioles), I end up trying to compare the two teams and the cities. Being from the backcountry, I'll reserve my judgment on Philadelphia, and I'll also do it because, honestly, I spend very little time there other than for baseball.

Baltimore, on the other hand, is as much of a "home" for me as any city ever will be. I really like the place, as infused as it is with awful "big city" problems, but teeming at the same time with a surprisingly large amount of working class, blue-collar -- almost redneck -- culture. I blame this on the Eastern Shore folk and the people who run and make things. I guarantee you that the per capita income represented in an Orioles crowd is lower than that at CBP on any given night. That's purely from eyeballing things, but I'd bet on it. Orioles Park also has lots of beards and the hipsters they grow on and families. It also has more diversity than I see (superficially) in CBP.

You'll see more product combed into the hair of old men than young men, too, and that speaks volumes about the differences between the cities. I am "pro" the former and "anti" the latter, of course. Nothing is cooler than a grumpy old guy watching baseball with a buddy while they sit there with their arms crossed in black satin jackets from the BD Club in the neighborhood.

Baltimore is, by my assessment, also much more likely to have somewhere in the bowels of one of its neighborhoods, a feral clan of rednecks who survive only on LSD, Natty Boh, and discarded kid-sized Esskay hot dogs. I wouldn't be surprised if Esskay started a new line of hot dogs made from all the kids who disappear after they "run the bases" -- Soylent Orange.  As the tweet I saw this weekend noted, it's a beautiful morning in Baltimore when there's plenty of trash, the barbed wire is glistening, and the drunks are out. And I fucking love it, hon.

It was into this environment that I was released as an older teen with a car and kind of unlimited gas money. During one of those summers, I experienced the "Why Not?" Orioles.

In 1988, as all of you surely recall, the Orioles were terrible. Like, obscenely bad. They lost 107 games. They lost 21 in a row at one point. That is really, really hard to do even when you are really bad. The best part is that they lost 21 but did not break the Phillies' mark of 23 losses in a row during 1961.

Looking at the Orioles roster from 1988 is a little like finding a sticky copy of Penthouse forum in your grandfather's trunk in the attic - intriguing, but disgusting: Rick Schu, Jeff Stone, Curt Schilling (!), and Dickie Noles all found their way onto that team. True Phillies of the era -- they found a way to spread their contagion of losing, almost like an MLB version of The Walking Dead.

The 1989 Orioles did not win with pitching, though they had a great rookie season from Gregg Olson who, despite walking tons of batters, also struck out tons and stranded tons. Bob Milacki and Jeff Ballard were serviceable as starters, but the rest of the rotation was marginal to bad. Mark Williamson pitched many needed and good innings in relief. Here is a video about the 1989 team that is a delightful time capsule in so many ways.

The team mostly won on solid defense up the middle (Devereaux and the Ripkens, especially Cal) and the bats of Randy Milligan, Cal Ripken, and Mickey Tettleton. Joe Orsulak, Mike Devereaux and Phil Bradley did enough, too, with Bradley, particularly, getting on base at a good clip.

It was probably a story of a team starting to hit the right ages at the right times.  The top 6 offensive players ranged in age from 27 - 30. Tettleton and Cal Ripken were both 28. Ripken's bWAR was third-best in the AL, and he was the best defensive player in the AL that year.

The Orioles went from 54 - 107 (they only played 161 games, thankfully) to 87 - 75.  It was *exciting* and they lost the division at the wire to a stacked Blue Jays team in a head-to-head series at the end of the year.

That's a great model for the Phillies to follow this year - they dumped older, worse players, replaced them with some younger, better ones, right?

Except it isn't.

The Orioles, after getting some career years, still had no pitching in 1990. It got even worse. While Cal was still Cal, the rest of the team fell back. The moderate Pythag luck from 1989 fell back. They were ordinary and bad and 76 - 85 on the year. Not 107 losses bad, but bad, nonetheless.

I've been joking with my kid about "drinking the Phillies Kool Aid" this season. We're moderating our hopes without being the dork who keeps harping on the run differential and the record in one-run games. But we know about it.

But Why Not?

Because these Phillies are better than that.

There is no obvious Hall of Famer, such as Cal Ripken, but it looks like there might be some good pitching that may be with us more than this year in Aaron Nola and Vince Velasquez. Maikel Franco and Odubel Herrera are young enough to have a few years of growth ahead of them. The team has great talent on the way. The best prospect that we've all been waiting for, J.P. Crawford, is still not even on the scene. He's far from alone as a plausibly good/above average MLB player in the system.

The Phillies have enormous payroll flexibility. They still have a 1:1 draft pick.

My prediction is this: the Phillies will not be the "Why Not?" version in this town. They will fall back this year. But they will not fall back next year. Or the next. This is not an "out of the blue" season where everything goes right. The 2016 Phillies are a team that is legitimately getting better at the MLB level with sustainable momentum.

After watching the Phillies win Friday and thinking about the two teams Saturday and Sunday, I decided this that I'd rather have only one "Why Not?" team in my life of baseball fandom. The 1989 Orioles can hang on to that title. I expect much more from the 2016 Phillies.