With last night's ninth-inning meltdown, the Phillies have now lost 81 games. In a baseball season, 81 is the magic number that indicates the break even point in a 162 game season.
When a team hits 81 wins, it is guaranteed not to have a losing season. But, on the flipside, when a team hits 81 losses, as the Phillies did, they are guaranteed not to have a winning season.
In other words, the best the Phillies can do this season is finish with a .500 record . . . and that's only if they win their remaining 17 games.
While we live in a world of almost infinite possibilities -- after all, a man whose catch-phrase is "you're fired" has the potential to become the President based on a campaign tailored to out-of-work people and those dissatisfied with employment prospects -- I'd be pretty comfortable wagering all I have in life that the Phillies are not going to win out this season.
Regardless, with the Phillies guaranteed to have a losing season, the franchise has now strung together 5 consecutive non-winning seasons. Coming off the team's franchise-best 102 win season in 2011, the Phillies have been in a tailspin:
2012: 81-81 (.500)
2013: 73-89 (.451)
2014: 73-89 (.451)
2015: 63-99 (.389)
2016: 64-81 (.441)
The optimistic take here is that the Phillies have also guaranteed themselves a better season than last year. Like the Phillies winning 17 games to finish the season, it's also impossible for the team to go backwards in wins. With 64 wins this season, even if the Phillies were to lose their remaining 17 games, they'd finish 64-98, one game better than last year. That's progress!
The less optimistic take is that the Phillies' pythagorean win percentage is virtually the same this year as last - .385 last year, .386 this year. Given the team's dismal play recently (4-11 over the last 15 games), it's very possible this year's percentage dips lower than last year's.
How does this five year string of futility stack up against the franchise's past? Well, if you've been a fan of this team for more than just this century, you know that five years of non-winning records is just a blink of an eye for this franchise.
The most recent streak of 5 or more non-winning seasons came from 1994 to 2000 (7 seasons). During that stretch, the Phils were never as bad as they were last year (worst season was 2000's 65-97 (.401) record), but the streak started only one year removed from another 6-year streak from 1987 to 1992 (6 seasons).
These streaks are just another reason 1993 was such a phenomenal year - the World Series run was sandwiched by two long stretches of team misery. Taken together, from 1987 to 2000, the Phillies had losing seasons in 13 of the 14 years. Is it any wonder the team's fans who lived through that stretch still have a hard time believing good will come for the Phils?
But this being the Phillies we're talking about, the 1987 to 2000 stretch is actually not that bad. There were two more isolated stretches of losing from 1968 to 1974 (7 seasons) and 1954 to 1961 (8 seasons), but the real misery is from 1918 to 1948.
Thanks to a barely-winning season in 1932 when the Phillies went 78-76 (.506), the team didn't have 31 consecutive non-winning years, but that's little consolation: From 1918 to 1931, the Phillies had 14 consecutive losing seasons, and from 1933 to 1948, they had 16. It's a real shock that the franchise didn't fold during these years and that fans even bothered to show up to games.
After all, not only was the team not winning, but it was losing at an absurd rate. During this 31 year stretch, the team had a .373 winning percentage. Take that number in for a minute or two. Think of last year's Phillies with their .389 win percentage and imagine an even worse team than that. Now imagine that team playing that poorly for 31 consecutive years. That was the Phillies from 1918 to 1948. It really is amazing that we still have this franchise today.
With the Phils' currently well-stocked farm system and a front office that appears to know what it's doing, it's hard to imagine this 5-year run stretching into the depths of despair we've seen in the past with this team. Good times do seem to be on the horizon.
But for the remainder of this year, we are once again watching a losing season. And even though it's not going to be as bad as it has in the past, it still would be nice to watch winning baseball sometime again in the future.