There was a time earlier this season when talk of tanking was absurd. A team that was supposed to be one of the worst in the league surprised us all out of the gate. Maybe the future wasn't so far away, and maybe the team could be competitive this year. For a month and a half, the team seemed talented and full of promise. The stupid talk of tanking seemed even more inane than it did over the winter.
May 18 was the pinnacle of the team's early-season success. The Phillies were half a game out of first place in the East, with the 3rd best record in the NL and 6th best in all of baseball. The top of the NL standings looked like this:
No other team had a record over .550. At the bottom of the standings were the woeful Atlanta Braves and Minnesota Twins. Both teams had the same 10-29 record (.256 winning percentage). The thought of the Phillies ever competing at the bottom for the #1 pick next year seemed ridiculous.
There were ominous signs, however. The team was winning 1-run games at a ridiculous rate. And their Pythagorean win percentage of .415 (thanks to a 136-164 run deficit) indicated the win percentage was most likely a lot of smoke and mirrors. Nonetheless, the youngsters were winning, it was fun, and we were even dreaming of a wild card spot.
Then reality came calling and the bottom fell out. Since May 18, the Phillies have been a disaster. So much so that the idea of having the worst record in baseball at the end of the season is once again a possibility. From May 18 to June 20, the Phillies have gone from the 6th best record in baseball to the 6th worst. Here are the current bottom teams in baseball, all with win percentages under .450.
In the last month, the Phillies have gone from 13 games ahead of the Twins and Braves to only 8 ahead of the Twins and 6 ahead of the Braves. They've done it with an MLB-worst 6-24 record since May 18. In that same time period, the Twins have gone 11-19, and the Braves have posted a 13-17 record.
What's more is that there's good reason to believe the Phillies have a great chance at continuing their slide -- their current 6th-worst-in-the-majors record is still inflated compared to their Pythagorean win percentage. The Phillies current win percentage is .423, however their Pythagorean win percentage is .332 -- the worst in the majors (Twins are second-worst at .341). In other words, the Phillies may be 8 games up on the Twins, but they really should be about 1 game worse.
Given this recent skid and the team's overall problems, now's the time for the Phillies to embrace the tank. Give Buster Olney something to really write about. The team just picked first in the MLB draft, but in a year that everyone agreed was a less than stellar year at the top. The team's best path to success in the future is to go for the first pick again next year, when there's hope that the talent pool at the top is better.
After the first month and a half of the season, I really thought the team was going to have enough success that talk of next year's draft positioning was going to be irrelevant. But now it's not. The on-field team is putrid and is once again showing that results this year are irrelevant.
The path to long-term franchise success going forward is once again getting that top draft pick. It's time to tank.