When the Phillies open the 2012 season 109 days from now in Pittsburgh, Charlie Manuel will probably write on his lineup six of the same eight names he did the night that the unparalleled promise of a season ago died. It would be seven had Ryan Howard not ruptured his Achilles tendon on the final pitch of 2011.
With Jimmy Rollins now in the fold, and barring any additional injuries and unforeseen Ruben Amaro Jr. roster moves before April 5, Manuel's offense looks unchanged. That will disappoint some of the fans, who watched that very lineup muster three hits in a 1-0 elimination game loss while the team's ace pitcher did everything in his power to keep the deficit as slim as possible.
For many, Game 5 established the narrative to describe the broken dreams and failed expectations of 2011. Change, despite a franchise-record 102 victories, was overdue. Failure was an offensive crime, and with an aging core, something had to be done, and done now. That's reactionary groupthink the front office did not adopt.
"I don't think," Pat Gillick said, "you want to blow the whole thing up."
Gillick, the former general manager and now Hall of Famer, was speaking two weeks ago in the lobby of the Hilton Anatole in Dallas, where baseball gathered for its annual winter meetings. Amaro said his main task there was to negotiate with Rollins' agent, which eventually helped lead to Saturday's deal. While there, the GM said he discussed trades with 20 to 25 teams - some of which he claimed could have been franchise-altering.
But they were merely talks and, no, the Phillies did not blow the whole thing up. It was the prudent decision.
The largest sample size, a grueling 162-game regular season, tells us the Phillies were a baseball machine incomparable to most. They scored only 713 runs, the team's fewest since 2002, when playing .500 baseball was the goal. But the 2011 Phillies had a plus-184 run differential - the third-highest in 129 years of National League baseball in this city. Only the 1976 Phillies (plus-213) and 1887 Quakers (plus-199) were better.
Does a good pitching staff let the offense off the hook? Absolutely not, but it's worth remembering that the numbers say the Phillies performed acceptably.
They won 51 games in each 81-game half of the season. In the first half, the Phillies averaged four runs per game and ranked eighth in the league. That's when the Four Aces and the rest of a historically good pitching staff carried them. In the second half, the Phillies scored more than any other team in the NL.
That's right. From June 30 until Sept. 28 - even with the gruesome eight-game losing streak - the Phillies averaged 4.8 runs per game. They still won 51 games, just like the first half.
They, of course, are ultimately judged on five games in October. It was a frustrating finish, and fingers of blame were pointed in a few directions. Interestingly enough, the prevailing narrative has stricken from the record the fact that Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt allowed 10 runs in 12 innings during the series. The Phillies outscored St. Louis in the series and lost.
If the offensive cast hasn't changed, what does? In the wake of defeat, Amaro proclaimed that his team needed to adjust its approach on offense. Since then, team officials have noted how difficult that will be for a group of veterans.
So the true public message is finally revealed, and it could be a hard one for some fans to accept: What if nothing changes?
"The sort of solution is to pitch better and hit better," Gillick said. "I mean, we won 102 games. We won more games than any team in baseball. The other thing is, you have to be careful. You don't want to throw the whole thing out the window. You want to try to build and improve on it if you can. We're probably still capable of winning 90 to 100 games."
And that's the goal. Win enough to qualify for the postseason and hope luck bounces your way. The more times the Phillies make the postseason, the better chance they have at winning it all. It's a harrowing process, especially when about $170 million and six months of devoted attention are invested, but there is no formula. (These Phillies proved that.)
They did tweak it, as Gillick suggested. The Phillies hit 19 more home runs in the second half than the first, and part of their strategy this winter was to add offensive depth mostly focused on power. Laynce Nix, Ty Wigginton, and Jim Thome are not high on-base-percentage players, but they can hit home runs. The Phillies have quite a few players who used to hit home runs.
A radical offensive change could come next winter, when Amaro will have more positions to fill. Third base, center field, left field, and maybe even second base (depending on Chase Utley's health) will offer opportunities for new talent in 2013.
For now, Manuel's lineup looks the same as it did in 2011, which means 162 games trump five in October. And that's the way it should be.