At this point in this season just two years ago, the Philadelphia Phillies had the best record in baseball and had an 8.5 game lead in the NL East. Their starting staff was brilliant and the offense contributed clutch hit after clutch hit, as well as two 20-run outbursts within the same month. The team was well on its way to posting a franchise-best 102 wins.
But now, just two years later, the Phillies are not preparing for the postseason. They are 13 games under .500 and rapidly spiraling toward the bottom of the division, The NL East-leading Atlanta Braves are 19.5 games ahead, and the Miami Marlins are just 7.5 games back of the Phillies in the cellar.
Instead of the postseason, all the team and its fans can do is wonder what could have been.
Entering the season, the Phillies roster wasn’t perfect, but it should have been good enough to keep them competitive. Ryan Howard seemed to have recovered from his offseason surgery, Chase Utley was ready to put his knee issues behind him, Cliff Lee was prepared to have a bounce back season and Cole Hamels had just come off of his best career year and with a new deal, and was expected to be even better in 2013.
Ben Revere was acquired to be a speedy addition to the lineup, while Jonathan Papelbon and Mike Adams were signed to give the Phillies a solid back of the bullpen.
It really seemed like the organization was making the right moves in order to get the team back to the postseason. And maybe it all would have worked out. Maybe if Howard, Adams, Revere and Roy Halladay stayed healthy or if Hamels and Papelbon didn’t struggle, the story for this season would have played out differently.
After all, although it might be hard to see it at this point, the Phillies have had some positive moments this year, namely the breakout season of Domonic Brown. The 25-year-old has 26 home runs and has finally taken to playing everyday. And considering the state of this outfield, he is guaranteed a starting job next year and likely for many more to come.
But for fans and the team alike, Brown’s great season is just another reminder of what could have been.
Imagine if Howard was healthy and hitting cleanup with Brown sitting in the five-hole. Utley would continue to hold down his spot as the no. 3 hitter and Revere, who was hitting .305 with a respectable OBP, would have occupied the top spot. Michael Young, who has one of the better averages on this team, would have filled in the second spot.
Pencil in Darin Ruf, who is having a bit of a breakout season himself, as the sixth hitter and then plug in Carlos Ruiz and Jimmy Rollins somewhere in the bottom two slots. It really isn’t that bad of a lineup. In fact, it is on par with some of the better lineups in the league this season.
Maybe this wouldn’t have helped the starting staff or the bullpen, but for very short part of the season, the Phillies did have this lineup — or at least most of it. And not coincidentally, it was this lineup that had started to push the team on a slow crawl back in the division picture prior to the All-Star break, and looked like they had a slim chance to make the playoffs.
But as it turned out, what happened this season just leaves one to wonder about what could have been.