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Are The Phillies The Rare Team Whose Failure Is Truly Special? 7th-Day Stretch


José Alvarado looks to the heavens during another Phillies bullpen collapse on Friday. A Brad Miller walk-off double salvaged a 4-3 victory that night, but the cracks in the team’s foundation are as large as ever. (AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson)

Fans of struggling, flawed sports teams, including if not especially the Phillies, love to talk about how bad they are. Oh sure, they wish they were better, and most will let you know exactly how things are going to turn around in the same breath, but complaining and bitterness are what brings us together as sports fans. In a league where 97% percent of teams fail to achieve their ultimate goal every single year, there really is no other option.

To try and set themselves apart, these sad fans try to convince themselves that their team’s suffering is unique. Everybody wants to be the best at something, and if losing is the only option, so be it. We convince ourselves that our team implodes more than any other. That our mistakes are more egregious, our gaffs are more inexcusable, our errors are more flagrant. We make the worst trades and lose in the worst ways and always make other team’s bad players look better than they actually are.

Although common, this sentiment is rarely accurate, but somewhere out there, one of these bickering fanbases is actually right. They experience more heartbreak than anyone else and deserve as much sympathy, pity, or/and therapy as they desire. The Philadelphia Phillies may not ultimately be this team, but it sure seems like it.

This is a team that somehow managed to blow eight saves in nine days. Four different pitchers accounted for those. They wasted Aaron Nola’s historically dominant strikeout performance to the point where Nola seemingly did not even want to talk about the fifty-one-year-old record he tied. Oh, and then they nearly threw away similar gems by Zack Wheeler and Vince Velasquez the next week. Their corner infielders are among the worst in the game defensively, and their $330 million superstar has yet to homer with a runner on base. Sunday marked the halfway point of the Phillies season; in just four of their first 81 games has their optimal starting lineup matched the lineup card submitted by Joe Girardi. They ended June 5-10 across the final fifteen games of the month after a 7-2 start.

Lots of teams can claim to suffer from one or more of these failures. Combining them all into one franchise seems impossible to the uninitiated. To be clear, this is not to say that the Phillies are the worst team in baseball; their 39-42 record is average to slightly below average, but it is that same mediocrity that creates so much of the agony that defines this franchise. The heartbreaking losses hurt that much more because fans know they are capable of something better. Most clubs two games under .500 would understand likely not buying at the trade deadline; most clubs with a top-five payroll would not even comprehend such a fate.

The Phillies are the rare team whose collapse is visible as it unfolds. Did anyone think David Hale or Neftali Feliz would win bases-loaded battles with Josh Bell and Nick Castellanos? Every time a runner so much as even reaches base against the Phillies bullpen, which is historically bad for the second straight season, you can feel the dread of the only 20,000 or so fans at Citizens Bank Park from miles away. This is a city desperately hoping for a baseball team that can make them forget the 76ers tragic finish to their season, or at the very least, keep their attention until the Eagles begin. Yet the middling attendance figures and apathetic Tweets show fans seem to know how unlikely the Phillies are to provide a worthwhile distraction over the next few months.

Yes, Rhys, not everything is bad. But all the good the Phillies do seems to be making up for the bad. If the Phillies were strictly a business, they would always seem likely to become profitable yet find themselves in the red at the end of every quarter. The starting pitching can dominate, the offense can score 12 runs, Wheeler can be the best pitcher in the NL not named deGrom, but it does not seem to matter, at least not more than the defensive miscues and roulette wheel of sadness known as the Phillies bullpen. It has become almost hard to remember the thrilling walk-offs, epic home runs, and feel-good stories.

No Phillies were voted into this year’s All-Star Game; does that mean I have to agree with this article?

That last observation is the greatest case for claiming the Phillies’ disappointment as unique. While the team does find successes from time to time, they are so outweighed by the organizations’ egregious failures that one forgets the good times anyways. Will it go down as just that? Only the second half of the season can decide.

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