This is the eleventh edition of Hope for the Hopeless, where we will take a look at the first
ten fourteen teams in the league eliminated from playoff contention, and examine what their fans can be optimistic about after a disappointing 2013 season. Next up: Philadelphia Phillies.
In their first game after the All-Star Break, the Phillies pummeled the Mets 13-8 to move to 49-48. The Phillies were in second place in the NL East, 6.5 games behind the Braves. They were also just 5.5 games behind the Reds for the NL's second Wild Card.
Three months later, the club is 69-80, 20 games out in the NL East and 15.5 back of the Reds. They've gone 20-32 since that pounding of the Mets. The team's poor stretch cost manager Charlie Manuel his job, and drove their fanbase up the wall when Ruben Amaro Jr stood pat at the trade deadline. However, just because the bottom has fallen out in the second half, that doesn't mean that the Phillies are completely off the rails for next season as well.
The Phillies have seen some of their young talent step up this year, which hasn't really happened in recent seasons due to the team's locked-in core. But injuries have resulted in young players getting playing time, and the trio of Domonic Brown, Cody Asche, and Darin Ruf have all taken advantage of that playing time. All three are expected to fit in to the team's plan going forward, and a healthy Ben Revere in center field will give the Phillies four regulars that will be 27 or under on Opening Day 2014. If you combine those four with a hopefully healthy quartet of Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, and a potentially resigned Carlos Ruiz, the Phillies have the makings of a surprisingly solid offense lacking worthless spare parts like Michael Young and Delmon Young getting every day playing time.
Philadelphia's starting rotation also looks to be solid once again, even if the team makes the expected move and lets Roy Halladay walk away as a free agent. Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels are two of the very best pitchers in the NL, and the duo has been pretty incredible in the second half. The Phillies also still have Kyle Kendrick, an acceptable innings eater, under control through next season. The team also has a couple of fifth starter types in Jonathan Pettibone and Tyler Cloyd that could keep rotation spots warm for prospects like Jesse Biddle, who might not be ready for Opening Day but could get there soon. There's also the massive question mark that is Cuban signee Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, who is penciled in to Philly's rotation next season but might wind up in the bullpen.
The Phillies also have another high upside prospect in Maikel Franco, who seems destined for the majors next season when Howard inevitably gets hurt again. Another overlooked piece of the Phillies' future is their never ending cash flow from Citizens Bank Park and CSN Philadelphia. The Phillies bring in so much money that instead of dumping what few prospects they have left for upgrades on the field (hello, Hunter Pence), they can throw money at free agents to fill holes. However, that hasn't worked out too well in recent years, especially considering that the team's last major free agent signing has thrown 127 2/3 innings over the past two seasons while saving 65 games and making roughly $24 million.
As I mentioned earlier today in the post-mortem, the Phillies are in a dangerous position. Their major league roster is about half young players and half veterans, and their mediocre farm system means that they're not going to be able to easily phase out the older players. If everything goes wrong again like it did this season, there isn't really anywhere else to turn like there was this season, when Ruf, Brown, and Asche all stepped up and took hold on jobs for next year. Where's the team going to go in 2014 if attrition starts to take hold? They tried to patch the initial holes with money this season, and that was a disaster. This club is walking a tightrope, and one misstep could have terrible effects on the long-term health of the franchise.