The Philadelphia Phillies have won seven games in a row. After Sunday, they were close enough to the second Wild Card to inspire a "Maybe! Probably not, but wouldn't that be something!" article. After Wednesday, it's time to write a "Holy crap, this could actually happen" article. That's how quickly things can change in the wacky second-Wild Card era.
Which means there is serious analysis that needs to be done. Because a couple of months ago, the Phillies were supposed to be a bad team. Empirically bad. How were they going to put out the fire? How were they going to rebuild? What went wrong? Who should be fired? Everybody, right? Probably everybody. Trade Cole Hamels. Trade Cliff Lee.
Just two months later, everything's looking up. What kind of lessons can we learn?
Teams get better when they add Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Roy Halladay
You know how short magazine articles can get adapted into full-length books? The Orchid Thief started as an article in the New Yorker, which led to a full-length book, which then led to a movie, which somehow managed to include a scene with Nicolas Cage walking in on himself masturbating. But forget about that last part. The point is that this is but a kernel of an idea. I'll need 400 pages to explain the proofs for my theory that teams get better with Utley, Howard, and Halladay replacing inferior players.
Of course, of those three, only Utley is doing especially well. And even then, he's not at super-Utley level. Meanwhile, Howard is struggling with a .313 on-base percentage, and Halladay has a 4.01 ERA, and he's failed to record a quality start in five of his 11 outings since returning from the DL. He failed to record a quality start in seven of his 32 outings last year, so he's not quite the same Halladay. It can't all be about the return of these players. Maybe this is a bad lesson.
Disappointing teams should always trade away the players they were counting on before the season
The Phillies did this with two-thirds of their outfield, keeping only Juan Pierre. They traded both Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence, even though both of them were important cogs on a 102-win team last year. Victorino is 31 and Pence is 29, so it was probable, if not likely, that their slow starts were an aberration. Doesn't matter. They need to go for prospects to improve the team in the future, and that will improve the team in the present.
Wait, that makes no sense. Hold on …
It's usually a good idea to promote Kevin Frandsen, insert him into the starting lineup, and wait for John Mayberry to get hot
Both of them have been absurdly hot since the beginning of August, but this isn't really …
Find your most valuable player during the first part of the season and injure him. Then summon a 32-year-old journeyman catcher from the minors to replace his production
I don't …
That's not even a full sentence.
Teams should … I don't know ... acquire players like Tyler Cloyd.
You're just making this up as you go along. There are no lessons to learn from the 2012 Phillies. Sometimes baseball just doesn't make sense.
The Phillies shouldn't be better without Victorino and Pence. They weren't old enough to simply fall off a cliff after several years of solid production, but that's exactly what happened. Eric Kratz shouldn't hit like Carlos Ruiz, and Frandsen shouldn't hit like an All-Star. And the return of Utley, Howard, and Halladay can't explain all of it. Sometimes baseball just doesn't make sense.
The Phillies don't make sense. But it's pretty fun to watch. For non-Mets fans, at least. And there will be more of these teams over the years with the second Wild Card. They'll have high expectations, look horrible, and generate excitement with a late-season surge that isn't easy to explain. This will happen again, just as it's happened in the past. We're just going to notice them more now because the bar is a little lower for postseason contenders. There aren't any lessons to learn.
Now the Brewers. There's a team we can learn from. Because the key to winning is to replace your nominal ace with a failed first-round pick who was struggling in Triple-A. Yeah, there we go. Hold on, I'll write that up. Gimme a sec.