Until recently, this Phillies season was shaping up to be a unique one in my lifetime. Starting with my birth year (1972), in the 46 seasons I've been alive, no matter how bad the Phillies have been, we fans have had the pleasure of watching an all-time Phillie great on the field. In fact, through last year, in each season, there have been at least two all-time Phillie greats playing on each team, usually many more.
This year has been unique. The fact that the Phillies have been a terrible team is not new for fans of a certain age. We've been through terrible droughts before. But, we haven't seen what we've been watching this year - an awful team with no all-time great Phillies to help us get through the season.
Here's a chart showing the Phillies' seasons since 1972 with the team's winning percentage and then a list of the all-time great Phillies who played on that team. I didn't use a strict definition for "all-time great Phillie" but rather worked off the team's Wall of Fame for players old enough to have that honor (minus John Vukovich - he was a terrible player). For those not on the Wall, I included two who probably never will be - Lenny Dykstra and Bobby Abreu - as well as the more recent players who eventually will be. Here's my list:
Two things to note about this chart. First, there were several very good, even iconic Phillies left off this list. Tommy Greene was a big part of the 1993 World Series team, but I don't think he makes it into this level. Same with Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth for the 2008 team. There may be some other quibbles here and there, but I think almost every Phillies fan will agree that the list here includes great Phillies that we've had the pleasure of watching through the years.
Second, all of these players are on this chart because we have the benefit of hindsight. In 1983, when Darren Daulton had 4 plate appearnaces for the season, we didn't know he would eventually be a staple on a chart like this. Likewise, it's entirely possible that 15 years from now, this chart will have some of the team's current youngsters, say Maikel Franco or Odubel Herrera, listed. We don't know if a player is an all-time great Phillie until he's played long enough, and most of the current roster hasn't.
That being said, this year it's been incredibly hard to look at the current roster and say that any of these players, let alone more than one of them, is ever going to join this list.
However, over the past month, I'm starting to think that, in Aaron Nola, maybe we're seeing the birth of the next great Phillie. The 7th pick in the first round of the 2014 draft, Nola certainly has the pedigree. He's shown flashes of brilliance in 2015 and 2016, but injury has kept him from performing to his best.
Same thing happened this year, as he missed the end of April and most of May. He had a great start his first start back from injury (1 earned run in 7 innings), but then was rocky over the next two (9 runs in 9 innings). In his six starts since, though, he's been excellent. In four of them, he's gone 7 innings or more, giving up 2 runs or less. Overall, since the start of June, Nola has thrown 40.1 innings, a 43:12 strikeout to walk ratio, a 2.68 ERA, and a 1.07 WHIP. Plus, most of the time, he's made it look so easy on the mound, something that the best pitchers usually do.
Of course, six starts is an incredibly small sample size, and it is entirely possible that when he takes the mound tomorrow through the rest of the season, he shows us that he's nothing more than the #3 or #4 starter that some of his critics think is his ceiling.
But, it's also possible that now that he's healthy and has some experience under his belt, he's ready to take his game to the next level and become the next all-time great Phillie.
If anyone on this current team is going to join that list, I'm putting my money on Nola.