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It’s not asking too much for these Phillies to at least be watchable

Nobody wants to watch the 2018 Phillies play the second half again.

Los Angeles Dodgers v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Yeah, I don’t know, man. Shit’s broke.

The Phillies greeted the National League-leading Dodgers at home Monday after dropping a series to the Nationals, and they were promptly and aggressively greeted back by Cody Bellinger, hopped up on two Red Bulls and a fistful of pills.

The presumably sober Phillies went on to allow Bellinger to collect four hits on the night, including a pair of dingers that likely landed in the waiting hands of one of the many Dodgers fans infesting Citizens Bank Park, a cross-country takeover of a stadium that seemed to occur out of the blue.

But what fan of an opposing team wouldn’t have a good time at CBP? The most threatening part of coming to South Philly right now is the humidity. Opposing teams just sort of let the game start, then back away from the Phillies and watch in awestruck horror as they melt into a puddle of goo.

Log onto Phillies dot com at the moment and you’ll see Bryce Harper, Jean Segura, and Aaron Nola staring solemnly back at you. It’s meant to be cool or intimidating, but right now it feels like you’re just being boxed in by pod people on the subway.

Is it even worth a diagnosis at this point? It’s hot. The team sucks. There’s no sexy move to pull off. Everybody who has quietly had their own personal target for blame is now quite loudly proclaiming their theories. Sure, with three or four wins in a row, this team is back in it—problem is, after a 16-2 dragging in their own stadium, but not in front of their own fans, three or four wins in a row gets a lot harder to imagine.

Do you know how many pitchers who are not Aaron Nola would get starts for this team in three or four games? Zach Efin’s run as the top arm in the rotation is long over; without pinpoint command, his arsenal is neutralized and he can’t go deep into games. The last time he did, he went eight innings on June 12, allow only two earned runs. The Phillies lost 2-0. Vince Velasquez is way past his last chance. Nick Pivetta hasn’t survived the sixth inning in his last four starts, and his ERA is sitting at 5.80 halfway through the season. And the only things we’ve gotten from Jake Arrieta this season are reasons to be even more concerned about him.

The Phillies, who plan to do nothing too big at the trade deadline, were on the inside of two trade whispers last night, being linked to both Robbie Ray and Martin Maldonado (who wound up going to the Cubs). Okay, sure. Make a move. Drop baseball’s walk leader (56 BB in 20 starts) into this rotation, or swap out some of your meager assets to strengthen the back-up catching. Then what? The players that are already here still have to perform. This has really turned into the Phillies front office throwing their hands up at the fans and yelling, “WHAT DO YOU WANT US TO DO?!?” and the fans yelling back, “I DON’T KNOW, NOT THIS!!”

So, welcome to the crankiest time of the season. The worst part about the collapse is that the Phillies can’t even limp to the finish line and disappear into the crowd—there is still so much more baseball ahead of us. They’ve got two and a half full months of schedule left, and it’s impossible to imagine them doing anything else beyond dragging their carcasses to the end of it, because what other version of this team have we seen?

Sure, the sweep of the Braves was terrific to start the year. Anytime Maikel Franco is hitting well, the team seems to get better, look looser, and have more fun. Bryce Harper’s first game back at Nationals Park was a riot. The Fortnite wave—are they still doing it? I think, so but more as an afterthought now—that was funny. They’ve looked good, but we’re far enough into the season that the 2019 version of this team isn’t going to fix itself.

I’ve repeatedly said this season that there’s a good team in there—I don’t have to tell you who’s on it (It is mid-July, after all), but that’s been my main motivation in saying so. I mean, look at them. They’re good. They just... are, all evidence to the contrary. I’ll allow you to use hindsight to point out that the Phillies never did enough to improve their pitching entering the year, because at one point that thought was also foresight. But the offensive tire fire wasn’t as predictable; nor were the images of the 2018 team flickering in our minds. The most irritating part of last year’s squad wasn’t that they blew it—that wasn’t particularly enjoyable either, but it’s something that baseball teams do sometimes.

The worst part was the apathy. The mindless hacking. The thoughtless flailing. The rampaging cluelessness. The immediate knowledge that a two or three run deficit was too much. Ryan Howard, in his retirement ceremony speech on Sunday, told Phillies fans to take it easy on these guys; they’re doing their best. But alternatively, he also had a message for the team:

What they’re supposed to do is be the Bryce Harper’s, JT Realmuto’s, and Jean Segura’s we thought we were getting. What they’re supposed to do is look like they deserve that half-game lead on the second wild card spot (that is now currently a tie with the Cardinals). What they’re supposed to do is look alive. The Dodgers are untouchable. The Braves have been on fire for weeks. The Nationals are streaking upward. The Cardinals have won three in a row. The Phillies’ contemporaries at the moment are teams like the Diamondbacks or Brewers or Rockies; teams hovering around .500, waiting for one of them to twitch first and give away their motives at the trade deadline—teams nobody can do much more than shrug at, because, you know. WTF.

By the time Roman Quinn enters the game as a pitcher, no matter who you blame—from the team on the field, to the to the manager who is trying to lead them, to the general manager who assembled them (all viable options)—nothing that’s supposed to happen is happening.

You can puff out your chest and announce you’re not giving up on this team—congrats; obviously the rest of us are going to keep watching too, because we all have the same disease. The schedule gets a little cushier for what feels like the first time in months after this Dodgers series (just three more games!). But it’s an extra dagger to see the stadium fill with Dodger Blue on a Monday night, to have chants from a long-dormant west coast fanbase drown out the hideous screams and accents of our beautiful region. But who is going to pack the kids in the car go watch a team that looks capable of nothing more so than losing, whether it’s in the ninth on a home run, or in the fourth, on a complete meltdown? Who is going to hop on the subway to watch a team that already looks dead slowly melt in 650% humidity?

What the team’s supposed to do is show up—without a game-changing deal to make or a managerial or front office shake-up being openly considered at the moment, it’s been made clear that showing up is pretty much their best—and only—option for 2019. The Phillies made their moves in the off-season, and they were good ones. Nobody thought we’d have to wait this long for them to pay off. There’s a lot of things said about fans in this town, but the one thing we all know is true, still is true: The fans show up when the team does.

Something’s got to wake this team up. Maybe it’s time for Red Bull and Advil Night.