The beginning: a joyous time when fans turn to each, smiling and nodding in solidarity with their team. The ending: A period of stunned sputtering and the filling of snot rags. Baseball is a sport that loves to make you ask, “Why am I still watching this?” and the Phillies have become especially adept at it. But the truth is, beginnings and endings of baseball season are quite the same: Opening Day, we’re all remembering what time the game is on and who is pitching and by the end of September most of us have pawned our televisions for firewood.
But the middle - that’s where the action is. It’s one of the easiest times of the season to thread a narrative. Now, it’s the 2016 Phillies’ turn to straddle the two halves of a season and become the team they were meant to be after a lackluster first half (Or, keep being the team that they are). If in need of inspiration to do so at 42-48, they should look no further than the teams of the past few years, who may have been unenthusiastic about returning from the All-Star break.
July 8: Braves 4, Phillies 3
You know what was going to be nice? That sixth straight NL East title. In 2012, “Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Shane Victorino, and Hunter Pence” wasn’t a list of injured/unused players (and Chase Utley); it was the lineup of the defending division champs. There was even Roy “Doc” Halladay, a man so good at pitching baseballs he had the nickname of a man who killed people. In its cruelest move, baseball was set to take the Phillies away from us at the season’s midpoint as it always does, but unlike the last few seasons, something seemed off: The offense wasn’t working. The pitching wasn’t working. Acquiring Ty Wigginton wasn’t working. And the Phillies were 14 games out of the first place.
Something about being in last place/getting swept by the Braves heading into the break really rattled people (While on the other side, the Braves’ victories practically assured treasured manager Fredi Gonzalez the job security he’d always wanted). The 4-3 win was Atlanta’s fourth in a row, and Jason Pridie, Mike Fontenot, and the rest of the Phillies’ gang couldn’t do much to stop them. Pridie led the offense with a double, a home run, and three RBI, but when he turned around to see who would support his efforts, he saw only a very tired, dead-eyed Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz slapping singles and shuffling to first base. Vance Worley threw 104 pitches in six innings, one of which was converted by cartoon dinosaur Dan Uggla into a two-run home run.
And then the Phillies finally stopped losing baseball games.
July 13: Rockies 6, Phillies 2
And then they started back up again.
With five days to think, or forget, about the amount of time they had spent losing to the Braves that could have spent with loved ones, the Phillies returned, fired up from watching beloved closer Jonathan Papelbon and non-sarcastically beloved catcher Carlos Ruiz fist-pound to end a victorious National League finish to the All-Star Game. So resounding was their spirit and so raucous their resolve that they barely even noticed their immediate 6-2 loss to the Rockies, in which John Mayberry was picked off first and Cliff Lee was (eventually) replaced by Kyle Kendrick. Despite this start, the Phillies channeled their second half piss and vinegar into winning eight of their next 11 games. Ty Wigginton went 0-for-13 in that time. This has been the “Ty Wigginton Facts” section of this post. Goodbye.
July 14: Phillies 4, White Sox 3
This was not typically the Phillies’ strong point; winning close games. It definitely wasn’t their most awe-inspiring lineup with Michael Young leading off and Darin Ruf in the five hole. And John Mayberry in center. And Delmon Young being probably picked off while making a gesture experts have still been unable to identify. They also definitely didn’t score runs for Cole Hamels on the regular, despite Cole pitching eight innings of two-run ball against the White Sox on this day.
It turns out that despite all these definite truths, the Phillies pulled out the 4-3 win, even after giving John McDonald an at-bat. Hamels led the offense with two hits, by the way. One was a double. Young and Ruf went a combined 0-for-8 with 4 SO and 1 BB.
July 19: Phillies 13, Mets 8
Oh my sweet saints dancing in the heavens above; Dom Brown made the dang All-Star team. But everybody was too busy trying to find a last minute, highly extravagant gift for Mariano Rivera or getting in their last lumps at Tim McCarver to care, and before you knew it, the second half of the season started and Brown turned back into a turnip. Less than a month later, the Phillies would commit the season’s second most grievous error, firing Charlie Manuel, followed by the first most grievous, installing Ryne Sandberg in his place.
In between, though, the Phillies played this game to start the second half, needing 13 runs to outscore the Mets, who had Kyle Kendrick to knock around for 5.2 innings and blew it by only using him to score six runs. A pre-turnip Brown went 3-for-5 with a double and a home run. Delmon Young had three hits, too. Maybe this team wasn’t so bad after all. I mean, two wins? One, just after the other? Eighteen consecutive innings of winning baseball is something the sport hasn’t seen since this team accomplished the feat.
Anyways, then the Phillies lost eight in a row and 13 of their next 14. Then the season still went on for two more months.
July 13: Nationals 10, Phillies 3
The ‘14 Phils had fallen ass-backwards into a five-game winning streak (that had been ominously preceded by 14 losses in 22 games) as the Midsummer Classic approached that year. Defeated by Washington the previous night in the second game of a series, they looked to end the first half with a series win over their division’s only really acceptable baseball team.
But - boy he’s coming up a lot when the other team scores in a blowout - Kyle Kendrick and his classic formula of failing to last six innings saw the Nationals getting the 10-3 victory. Tanner Roark was the closest thing Washington had to a Kyle Kendrick, and the Phillies could only score off of him once - and by the time they did, the Nationals had already scored seven times. At least Chase Utley had the decency to make the All-Star team.
The rest of you should be more like Chase. We appreciate all you do, Chase.
[Poster of Chase Utley gently peels off the wall and floats, landing face down on the floor.]
July 18: Braves 6, Phillies 4
Chase Utley was the starting second baseman at the All-Star Game two All-Star Games ago and made himself a part of a two-run hit train in the second inning to get the NL on the board. Meanwhile, Adam Wainwright later insinuated that he’d given Derek Jeter, who’d doubled during an AL rally, some softballs to hit because it was his final appearance. How Jeter was banned from the sport following the 2014 season but Wainwright remained unscathed remains of this sport’s most shameful mysteries.
Despite the pall cast over baseball following Wainwright’s shocking, unsettling confession, the season rolled on. The Phillies were slated to play the Braves, where they unpacked all of their equipment and reassembled Grady Sizemore only to watch A.J. Burnett give up ten hits and six runs in five innings. Everybody had a hit in the Atlanta starting nine except Freddie Freeman, somehow, and this is a game in which Jeff Manship came on in relief. But, to be fair, his ERA was only at 5.40 at that point, not the 6.95 it would become for the entirety of his legendary Phillies career.
So, what happened after that? Well, already nine games under .500, the Phillies salt and peppered their second half enough that they played a mere five games under .500 in the second semester. Unfortunately, in baseball, final standings are determined by the adding of the first and second half win/loss totals, making the Phillies 16 games under .500 that year. Darn. But at least they dropped Bobby Abreu into spring training to make sure somebody was paying attention.
July 12: Giants 4, Phillies 2
The Phillies had nine hits in this game and only scored twice; better yet, only one was for extra bases and they only missed out on a RISP a single time (which came courtesy of the XBH, a Cody Asche double). So this means; what, exactly... they kept hitting singles and then, just, went back to the dugout to look for their keys?
No, no, silly - this was a night of three double plays off the bats of Phillies hitters, though to their credit, the Giants matched them in this regard. Chad Billingsley—wait, Chad Billingsley started this game? What the hell are we even talking about? This half of a baseball season is over.
July 17: Phillies 6, Marlins 3
That’s right, 2015 marked the first time in the past four years that the Phillies didn’t win or lose both games book-ending the All-Star break. Baseball: Can you even believe it? I hope this statistic made Tim Kurkjian weep openly in line at Wegman’s.
Following an inspiring locker room speech from, I don’t know, let’s say, Jeff Francoeur (It probably was Jeff Francoeur), the 2015 Phillies kicked the door in to Marlins Park and watched Adam Morgan hit a double off Jose Fernandez. Everyone begged the umpires to end the game; nay, the season, at this point, but the Phillies pitching staff, while allowing the Fish nine hits (The Phillies only had seven), held Miami to three runs, two of which came off starter Morgan and the other off sole 2015 Phillies All-Star rep Jonathan Papelbon.
The Phillies went 15-5 over their next 20 games. Then they went 7-13 over their next 20. This was really an exhausting group to keep track of, because you just wanted to give up and pawn the TV for firewood already, but something about the way Maikel Franco knocked 85 hits in 80 games or the way Cole Hamels completed no-hitters or the way this Odubel Herrera kid earned the right to be crushed to death by Jonathan Papelbon made the team not brazenly unwatchable for 162 straight games. If, of course, you were still watching.
Who will the 2016 Phillies be when they return? The 42-48 squad that went to the midpoint with everyone simultaneously nodding and face palming? Or some kind of inexplicably unstoppable team of brutish sluggers and insidious pitchers, having used the last few days to complete their development as young players? Or, third option, the same team, just a little more rested and with the potential promotions of several more key prospects slated ahead of them? There’s no way of knowing, and only you, the people who did not panic and prematurely increase your firewood stores, will be able to watch it unfold. Just know that some of us are far more likely to survive the harsh winter months.