Entitlement can be toxic.
When the Phillies remade the bones of their roster and spent money with little regard for intelligence this offseason, expectations ballooned far beyond any reasonable level. Should they be a winning team for the first time in eight years? Absolutely. How about a wild-card slot? OK. Division title? Maybe, if the Nationals continued to implode and the Braves somehow fall off the map.
But 55 games into the season, the Phillies were 11 games over .500, 3 1/2 games ahead of the Braves in the National League East, and the Ghost of 2008 wholly manifested itself. Now, seven games over .500 and 3 games back entering Tuesday’s schedule feels like failure. It shouldn’t.
The Phillies entered their four-game series Monday in Washington on pace to win about 89 games. This is astounding.
Why? Because, despite their flashy roster additions and their bravado, 2019 was always a developmental season for the Phillies. They knew it all along. They let you know it, too, when they didn’t sign left-handed starter Dallas Keuchel or closer Craig Kimbrel either before the season or last week, when, once they no longer carried draft-pick compensation burdens, they landed with the Braves and Cubs, respectively.
The Phillies always were realistic about their chances in 2019. Optimistic, sure, but realistic too. They entered the season with four unknown entities starting behind Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta. They entered the season with an unstructured bullpen. They gambled, and they haven’t lost. Not really. They’ve lost five of seven games and 10 of 16, and they’ve been unlucky, but they’re still relevant, and plenty of hope remains.
They are an exciting team with outstanding, developed players like catcher J.T Realmuto and shortstop Jean Segura and enticing, young players like slugger Rhys Hoskins and super-utility man Scott Kingery, each in their second full season. Their closer, Hector Neris, has converted 15 of 16 save opportunities.
They’re on pace to win 89 games, which would be nine games better than their 2018 result, even though six of their eight top relievers have spent significant time on the injured list, where five of them remain there, including their chief upgrade, David Robertson.
They’re on pace to win 89 games, which would have put them one or two games out of the playoffs last season, despite having had their four top center-field options either spend significant time on the injured list (Andrew McCutchen, Roman Quinn, Adam Haseley) or on administrative leave (Odubel Herrera).
Their studs aren’t studding but, at 39-32, they’re still tied for the fourth-best record in the National League. Aaron Nola, the purported ace, has seen his WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) jump from 0.975 in 2018, which was third in the National League, to 1.506, which ranks fifth among Phillies starters. Bryce Harper, the $330 million free-agent addition, will make $30 million this season, tied for fourth in the major leagues. Harper has 12 home runs, tied for 65th in the major leagues.
You think Nola’s going to finish the season with a career-worst 4.89 earned-run average? You think Harper’s going to finish with an .820 OPS ... hitting in Citizens Bank Park? They’re 26. In their prime. Cornerstones. Healthy. They’ll get better.
Yes, after the past few weeks it’s gotten harder to consider this glass half-full. In the past month the Phillies have lost or split five series, most recently dropping two of three in Atlanta, which overtook them for first place. That’s the thing: The Phillies, a pretty good team, have struggled against very good teams. They lost two series against the other division leaders, the Dodgers and the Brewers, and another to a 38-win Diamondbacks club. The series split came at the Cubs, who have the same record as the Phillies.
They would have been great series wins, like when they took two of three in Milwaukee three weeks ago, but to expect that sort of performance consistently from this sort of team -- beset as it is with an epidemic of injuries, a slavish devotion to analytics, and a pathological dismissiveness of power-plant third baseman Maikel Franco -- simply isn’t realistic.
What is realistic?
That’s it. That’s all you can realistically ask of this team. It’s all you ever should have wanted.
But there’s more. There’s hope.
Quinn, the fastest player on the team and the best defensive outfielder, was in Monday’s lineup before the game was postponed, and reliever Pat Neshek came off the injured list Sunday. Veteran reliever Tommy Hunter began a rehab assignment Monday, so his return might be just around the corner, with Robertson on his heels.