I'm not a huge believer in karma, or what goes around comes around, or anything like that. Yes, I'd like to think that jerks get their comeuppance at a certain point, but it's not at all bankable, so it might as well not be real at all.
However, this Phillies season is making me reconsider that ethos entirely, because 2012 feels like the errand boy, sent by clerks, is coming to collect a bill. The team's struggle this year is less about injuries and aging bodies and mediocre players, and more about cosmic payback for the last five years of good fortune, which was clearly the result of some sort of soul-selling transaction.
Think about it. The last five years have brought with them some incredible fortune for the Phillies. There was the 2007 Mets collapse, Brad Lidge's perfect season in 2008, Raul Ibanez's otherworldly performance to keep the team afloat during the first two months of 2009, the arrival of The Halladay in 2010, and 2011's franchise record setting club.
This year? It's all crumbling. Chase Utley, once among the best players in the game, has been reduced to rubble thanks to a set of bum knees. Ryan Howard, he of many millions of unpaid dollars, blew out his Achilles despite being a man in his early 30s. Roy Halladay, the patron saint of durability broke down like an old jalopy after too many trips up and down the turnpike. Even Galvis, oh! Freddy Galvis, the one bright spot on the team this year, has a back fracture at age 22.
The pox that has grabbed hold of this team isn't only affecting the bodies of those who are in the field. It appears that the baseball gods are without mercy, for the bats – those poor, poor bats – have been afflicted with whatever malady that is coursing through the clubhouse.
The Phillies are dead last in baseball with a 38 percent success rate when batting with runners on third and less than two outs. They have batted 117 times with that situation and only 45 have yielded a run in some way, whether it be via a hit, groundout or sacrifice fly.
That is the worst rate for any team since at least 1948.
Woosh. There is bad, there is worse, and then there is cursed. I kid about the Phillies being a team that is being punished for their run of success as of late, but after I see a stat like that, it's hard not to think that some forces are affecting this team in ways we cannot begin to comprehend.
Or maybe it's the fact that the offense is built around free swingers, mediocre hitters, aging bats, and enough holes to fill a thousand golf courses. That's probably it.
Earlier this season, I proclaimed that the offense would hit well enough to keep the team in the race, provided that the pitching performed at a level it was accustomed to. That theory, as misguided as it was, was a built around the notion that the offense was in a similar spot to start last season (no Chase Utley, Hunter Pence is better than Ben Francisco, and so on), and that the only big difference was the lack of Ryan Howard.
As it turns out, I could not have been more wrong about things. While there have been a few bright spots (Juan Pierre not bottoming out, Freddy Galvis actually being able to hit Big League Pitching, and Carlos Ruiz – my goodness, Carlos Ruiz), the rest of the team has been staggeringly disappointing. John Mayberry is a shell of his 2011 self (not a huge surprise), Jimmy Rollins is showing his age and Shane Victorino is having the opposite of a contract year (nontract year? Is that what we call that?)
As bleak as those numbers are, Gelb points out that it is a somewhat small sample size and that things should even out as the season goes along. Certainly, the return of Chase Utley and Ryan Howard will help in that regard.
But, there is one question we need to ask ourselves. By the time that happens, will it even matter?