Tonight’s Phillies game versus the Chicago White Sox gave a reassuring perspective on the taxonomy of non-playoff teams. As the season has inched to its conclusion and the Phillies have settled into a routine in which losing is the overwhelming norm, it has been easy to grow bored, disinterested, and disheartened with the trajectory of the franchise. Where is J.P. Crawford? Knee surgery? Well, that’s great! Where’s Nick Williams? Still striking out like a bloody fiend? Brilliant!
Reasons for pessimism are easy to find, but tonight’s win offered (at least) one reason for optimism: We don’t have to watch James Shields pitch every week. See, Shields is a reflection of the position in which the White Sox find themselves. They’re desperate to put a good team together on the clock of an established core of Chris Sale, Todd Frazier, Jose Quintana, Jose Abreu, and Adam Eaton. They don’t have a timeline or a targeted competitive window. Rather, they’re desperately trying to make one appear out of nowhere with players like Jimmy Rollins, Shields, Melky Cabrera, and Brett Lawrie. It hasn’t worked and it’s growing increasingly likely that they’ll waste the talent they do have.
The Phillies are equally awful, perhaps even more awful, at the sport of baseball as this team with the bleached socks, but they have the luxury of time. Their talent is fun not because of what it can presently provide, but because we, as fans, are still able to picture that talent contributing to good Phillies teams in the future.
So, when Odubel Herrera hits a two-run home run in the first inning off a decayed big-game ace, he can flip his bat to the moon if he wants to. By the time it lands, that home run might mean something.
When Jake Thompson goes five innings and only gives up runs in one of those innings, we can look not at the underwhelming strikeout numbers or the control issues, but at how he will fit as a workhorse mid-rotation starter behind Aaron Nola and Vince Velasquez.
When Tommy Joseph hits a double and, later, guns a runner down at third, we don't have to think of the series of concussions that ended his career as a catcher. Instead, we can think of what he can provide as a first baseman, now safe from the violence of catching.
When Roman Quinn reaches base in three of his five plate appearances and showcases his speed, not only in stealing bases, but in advancing more bases than he should, we see the Juan Pierre of the Phillies next World Series.
Even Maikel Franco’s struggles look OK in this context. He’s figured it out after struggling at nearly every level up to this point in his career. He has time to figure it out here as well.
Then, we return to Odubel Herrera, a player who has already arrived. Somehow he’s been under the radar in posting a season as good or better than the one that made him one of the greatest Rule 5 picks of all time just a season ago. He went three-for-four today with a home run and two stolen bases. Just over a year after the Texas Rangers essentially allowed the Phillies to have him for free, Herrera is the force that makes the Phillies offense, such as it is, tick. Between his three-run dinger and his other run scored, Odubel accounted for over half of the team’s runs.
Of course, we can focus on what the Phillies lack between pitcher injuries and prospect non-arrivals, but the Phillies experience is not defined by that lack. The juxtaposition with the White Sox, who are defined by that lack—of a supporting cast, of hope, of a win tonight—displays what the Phillies have, which is time to not worry about all that just yet.