We Could Have Had It All: A Eulogy for the 2011 Philadelphia Phillies

We Could Have Had It All: A Eulogy for the 2011 Philadelphia Phillies

I've never dreaded a baseball game so much as the one I watched tonight.

No
matter what happened, there was no joy to be had in tonight's baseball
game for me. The best I could hope for was relief, and even if that
came, it probably wouldn't come until the 27th out. No series I can
remember a Philly team taking part in has better illustrated the
difference between wanting to win and fearing to lose. Winning would be
nice, sure. Losing would mean the end of the world. I didn't want to
watch this game, I just wanted it to be over. And despite the animated
crowd at CBP tonight, I don't think I was alone in this feeling—it
seemed to me like most Phillies fans were approaching Game Five with the
same kind of angst and general discomfort.

The reasons for this feeling, I believe, were threefold. The first
one is the most obvious one: The burden of expectation. In 2007 and
2008, the Phillies were scrappy underdogs who battled the big-boy teams
to the last day of the season just to get into the playoffs. In 2009 and
2010, the franchise started to act like they've been there before
(because for the first time in ages, they actually had), and as the
attendance, payroll and win totals began to swell, so naturally did the
sense of arrogance and entitlement surrounding the team and its fans. In
2011, there wasn't all that much separating us from the American
League team 90 miles north of Philadelphia that also just lost a
Division Series at home in a one-run decision game.

That might not sound like a pejorative statement—reflexively,
getting compared to the Yankees feels like an insult—but really, it's
not.  It just means that the Phillies are now looked at as one of the
league's benchmarks, the team that all other teams circle the games
against on their schedules, the team that looms large in any
conversation of post-season contenders. And while it's always more
romantic and exciting to be the kids coming up from behind, let's be
honest—it's also been damn fun to be the bullies on the block, to smack
down the unworthy teams and flaunt our wealth (both figurative and
literal) over the have-nots. Hey, it took nearly 130 years for the Phils
to finally get there, nobody can blame us for enjoying it now that it's
actually happened.

Best of all is the fact that we've gotten to play a part in it. Over
the last five seasons, Phillies fans have helped their team accomplish
something most fanbases can only dream of—expanding from a
middle-of-the-pack market to one of the marquee teams of the league. In
2006, the Phillies' budget was $88 million, good for eighth in the NL.
In 2011, it was nearly twice that, easily leading the NL at $172
million. And reductively speaking, that's our doing—unlike in Tampa,
where the team's made the playoffs three out of four years and still
can't sell out playoff games, CBP has sold out over 200 regular season
games in a row, helping to fund the Phils' acquisitions of high-priced
players like Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Hunter Pence and countless others
who have helped turn the team into one of baseball's superpowers.

But, of course, there's a price to paid for all this upward
mobility. When we got swept by the Rockies in the 2007 NLDS, it hurt,
but just getting there was fun enough that the wounds healed relatively
easily. There's no fun in just getting there in 2011. In 2011, getting
there isn't just expected, it's accomplished weeks ahead of schedule. In
2011, the season basically begins with getting there. When you have a
team with a $172 mil payroll and 102 wins, you go all the way or you go home
crying. That's the expectation the league has of the Phils, that's the
expectation that we have of the Phils, and that's the expectation that
the Phils have of themselves. Nothing else is OK. Losing in the Division
Series to the Cardinals—a team that wasn't even part of the post-season
discussion a month ago—would definitely not be OK.

The second reason for the dread surrounding this game, for me at
least, is the fact that there were no excuses to be made for this team.
Everything was set up for the Phillies going into this post-season. We
were healthy. We were well rested, but not so well rested that we should
have been rusty. We had our pitching rotation in order. We had our
lineup the way we like it. We had home-field advantage. Unless we got
stuck with a Don Denkinger-type situation, chances were that if we ended
up losing this series, we'd lose it because the other team played
better than we did.

And that's why it really sucked that through four games, it wasn't
totally clear who the better team was. I'll always believe that the
Phils were the better team against the Giants in 2010, that a couple hot
bats and a pop-up that somehow ended up being a home run in Game Six
made a difference that, objectively (subjectively) speaking, shouldn't
have been made. Here, I wasn't so sure. Andy Greenwald called the
Cardinals "by far the hardest opponent these actually good, Nü Phillies
have ever faced in the postseason," and I'm not sure I disagree—they
never seemed to make easy outs or give us free bases. We would need to
beat them tonight by actually beating them, and if we didn't—even with
our best pitcher on the mound—there'd be nothing to say for the Phillies
except that they didn't get the job done.

This ties the third reason this game was so miserable: The sense
that this might be it for the Phillies. That's not to say that this will
be the last post-season for this group of players—with a rotation core
of Halladay, Lee and Hamels for next year and possibly longer, they'll
certainly be expected to make it back to the playoffs. But when or why
will they have a better team than this? Everyone gets a year older next
year, a bunch of 'em get a year more expensive too, and a couple of them
might not even be back at all. The pitching should still be good for a while, but the offense let us down last post-season, was even less reliable this post-season, and might only get worse as the years advance.

Not to say there's not potential for improvement, or at least
reinforcement. Maybe over the next few years, Domonic Brown emerges into
the star outfielder we all thought (think?) he could be. Maybe the
offensive explosion John Mayberry Jr. showed in the second half of the
season turns out to be legit, and he becomes a core guy. Maybe Chase's
subpar year ends up more due to injury recovery than getting old, and he
has a bounceback year—maybe Polanco too. Maybe Reuben goes out and gets
us a spare bat or two in the off-season. And maybe next post-season, a
couple of the guys who came up short this time around come up bigger. 

It's all possible, but a lot of it isn't probable and none of it is
definite. You know what is definite, though? Ryan Howard, the guy who
needed help getting off the field after making the last of his 15
consecutive outs to end the game (and may now have a torn achilles), getting paid $125 million over the
next five years. Luckily, this is baseball, not the NBA, so a contract
that's as miserable as Ryan's should end up being isn't impossible to
work around. But it's symbolic of a team whose payroll (and really, its
identity) is largely tied up in players whose best days are already
behind them, who might start missing more and more games due to injury
as the years advance, and who might end up struggling to meet even the
modest offensive totals that some of them put up this season and/or
post-season.

102-win seasons don't come around every year, and they're
awful tough to replicate. Flawed though it may have ultimately been,
it's hard not to feel like this was the best team the Phils have had or
will have in this era, and to not even get past the DS with them...well,
it's not exactly encouraging for future incarnations, which may end up
being significantly more flawed. Though then again, considering that the
team has increased their win total each of the last four seasons, but
done worse in the post-season each time, maybe the correlation between
regular season success and post-season success isn't all that pronounced
after all—perhaps if we only win 90 games next year, we'll have better
chances again.

And really, that's the frustrating thing with this sport, isn't it?
You grind for 162 games, and then everything resets to best of fives and
sevens. Only twice since the year 2000 has the team with the best
overall record ended up winning the World Series. When you really got
down to it, the Phillies' chances of winning it all were only marginally
better than those of the Cardinals, or the Rays, Diamondbacks, Yankees
or any other team in the post-season. But because of the pre-season
hype, and the fact that the Phils' regular season actually lived up to
it, they were dubbed prohibitive post-season favorites in a sport where
such a concept barely even exists, and certainly didn't apply here. You
can't fault them for that.

One thing some might say you can fault them for, though, is allowing
the Cards to edge their way into the playoff picture at all, when by
merely dropping a game or two to the Braves at the end of the season,
they could have assured themselves a more favorable first-round matchup
against the Diamondbacks. And that, I really don't want to hear at all.
Maybe the D'backs would have been easier—though since they pushed the
Brewers to extra innings in a game five, you can't exactly expect that
they'd have been pushovers—but in my opinion, faulting a team for trying
to win ballgames is never OK. Besides, losing to a team whose back-door
playoff access you enabled is embarrassing, sure, but if they'd let the
Braves creep in and then lost to them down the line, that would be
downright shameful. Of all the things the Phils may end up kicking
themselves for over the course of the off-season, I sincerely hope that
eliminating the Braves from playoff contention is not one of them.

And personally, I hope the Phils rest easy this winter in general.
This is disappointing end to the season—crushingly so, some would
justifiably argue—but it was a hell of a season just the same. The
arrival of Hunter Pence. The emergence of John Mayberry Jr. The career
year for Shane Victorino. The ROY campaign from Vance Worley. The inning
of scoreless relief from Wilson Valdez. The 30 innings of scoreless
pitching in a row from Cliff Lee—twice! And the winning. My god, the
winning. I loved it. I never wanted it to stop. At times it seemed like
it never would stop. Even after nine shutout innings from Chris
Carpenter stopped the winning for good tonight, the memories still make
me smile.

There's a lot of questions to be asked in the off-season, and a lot
of hard decisions that are going to have to be made—starting, of course,
with what to do about Ryan Madson, Roy Oswalt and Jimmy Rollins, all of
whom conceivably could have just played their last game in a Phillies
uniform. Tonight, though, let's just try to be glad that that game five
is done with. The outcome certainly wasn't what we wanted, and a lot of
us won't be able to even think about baseball again for weeks or months,
but part of me is definitely elated that I don't have to feel that
dread anymore. I'll miss it soon enough, but at least I'm safe from
walking into traffic to avoid having to watch baseball games for the
time being.

Future Flyers Report: Welcome to North America, German Rubtsov

Future Flyers Report: Welcome to North America, German Rubtsov

Before this week begins, it's time for our weekly check-in on the Flyers’ prospects playing in the AHL, overseas and at the junior and college levels.

In this week’s report, we feature the Flyers’ 2016 first-round pick who escaped his motherland of Russia for a better situation — no, not the United States, Canada.

German Rubtsov, C, 6-0/190, Chicoutimi Saguenéens (QMJHL)
If there was any doubt as to why it was important for Rubtsov to terminate his KHL contract to relocate to North America, the questions were answered last week. Rubtsov made waves in his QMJHL debut tour for the Chicoutimi, quadrupling his KHL production in just three games for the Saguenéens, registering four points in three games.

It did not take long for the 6-foot forward to make noise for Chicoutimi, which had the center playing on the wing as he gets acclimated to the North American game. In a 4-3 shootout win over Halifax, Rubtsov immediately put his stamp on the Saguenéens with a two-assist, six-shot performance in which he was named the game’s third star.

Both of Rubtsov’s apples were nothing to write home about, though he made strong hockey plays on both, his second assist in particular in which he scooped up the puck along the boards and pushed it to the blue line. In the overtime period, he twice had serious scoring chances on the same shift, displaying his speed and power on one and failing to score on a breakaway the other. It was a quiet night for Rubtsov on Friday in Chicoutimi’s 1-0 loss to Saint John, but the Russian showered the stat sheet Saturday.

In his third contest, Rubtsov registered his first career QMJHL goal, a power-play tally, and another assist in a 6-4 win over Acadie-Bathurst. Outside of the points, there was plenty else to like from Rubtsov from last week. Touted as a 200-foot player, he showcased his defensive prowess Friday against the Sea Dogs, taking away a passing lane that resulted in a Chicoutimi rush.

There was much to like about Rubtsov’s first week in the Q. Considering the frustrating start to this season with HC Vityaz, Rubtsov will finally get a fair shake at playing time.

Anthony Stolarz, G, 6-6/210, Lehigh Valley (AHL)
Stolarz missed both weekend games against Providence and Hershey because of a lower-body injury believed to have been suffered in his 5-3 win over Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Friday, which was also his 23rd birthday. Head coach Scott Gordon said Saturday night he was “waiting to hear from the doctor.” Lehigh Valley called up Mark Dekanich from Reading to fill in as Alex Lyon’s backup — Dekanich did see game action Saturday.

It looked like Stolarz was on track to start at least three of the Phantoms’ four games last week before the injury. He stopped 25 of 28 shots in Lehigh Valley’s 4-3 over Springfield on Monday, and followed that outing up with 35 saves in a 5-3 victory to the Penguins on Friday night. It’s unclear if Stolarz will miss any time this week.

Battling for the net with Lyon, Stolarz is 9-3 with a 2.43 goals-against average and .921 save percentage and one shutout in 12 games this season. His competition, Lyon, has been strong as well, despite a clunker on Saturday night against the Bruins.

Lyon was yanked against Providence after 27:02 and allowing four goals on 16 shots, but rebounded well Sunday night against Hershey. Lyon stopped 25 of 26 shots against the Bears, and lost his shutout bid about seven minutes into the third period.

The crease is crowded at Lehigh Valley, but if Stolarz should miss time, Lyon has shown this season he’s more than capable of handling the workload.

Carter Hart, G, 6-1/181, Everett (WHL)
Another strong week for Hart, the Flyers’ top goaltending prospect. The 2016 second-round pick picked up two more wins in four games last week for Everett, stopping 113 of 94 shots he faced. On Friday, Hart picked up his sixth shutout of the season, a 33-save blanking of the Seattle Thunderbirds in a 1-0 victory of the Silvertips. In Everett’s 4-3 shootout loss to Spokane on Sunday night, Hart stopped 16 of 19 shots, but did give up 2-0 and 3-2 leads in the loss. He was beaten just once in the shootout. Hart is now 19-4-5 on the season, with a 1.90 goals-against average and .927 save percentage.

Scott Laughton, C, 6-1,190 , Lehigh Valley (AHL)
Remember Laughton? The 2012 first-round pick had a huge week for the Phantoms last week, as he’s continuing to work his way back into the Flyers’ future plans. Laughton turned in a five-point week, recording points in all four games and picking up his third multi-point game of the season Sunday. He had a goal in three of those four games, and tallied an assist in the Phantoms’ 9-1 blowout loss to Providence Saturday. He helped the Phantoms to a 5-1 win over Hershey on Sunday with a goal and an assist. He’s now up to eight goals and 18 points in 26 games this season at Lehigh Valley.

Quick hits
Tanner Laczynski missed both of No. 11 Ohio State’s showdowns with No. 1 Penn State last weekend. The Buckeyes and Nittany Lions split the weekend series.

• Harvard goalie Merrick Madsen rebounded well after a rough outing last Tuesday in an 8-4 loss to Dartmouth, in which he yielded six goals on 18 shots before being pulled.

Madsen responded with a 26-save shutout in No. 6 Harvard’s 3-0 win over Brown University on Friday, and then stopped 27 of 28 shots in a 1-1 tie with Yale.

• Michigan forward Cooper Marody went pointless in the Wolverines’ weekend home-and-home with Michigan State, but did score the shootout winner Saturday night.

Mark Friedman added two assists in Bowling Green’s 3-2 loss to Alaska on Friday, and was pointless Saturday, as the Falcons split the weekend with the Aces with a 2-1 win. With 19 points, the junior blueliner is third on Bowling Green in points.

• Brynäs IF netminder Felix Sandstrom gave up four goals on 24 shots in a 4-3 overtime win over Orebro on Thursday night in his lone game last week.

• Sandstrom’s teammate, Oskar Lindblom, added another goal last week, also in Thursday’s game against Orebro. Lindblom had three shots on net in 20:52 against Orebro. He now leads Brynäs with 31 points and is tied for third in the SHL.

David Kase found himself playing fourth-line center for Piráti Chomutov on Friday and Sunday, partially because of a team need down the middle. Kase did have an assist Tuesday. Sunday, he played just 3:35 against HC Vítkovice Rider and was 3 for 3 in the faceoff dot. He played more Friday (9:25) and saw some PP time vs. HC Karlovy Vary.

Connor Bunnaman had a productive week for Kitchener, adding two goals and three assists in four games. He had a goal and an assist Tuesday in a 4-3 win over Windsor, and then a goal in the Rangers’ 5-3 win over Ottawa on Sunday.

• Phantoms All-Star Taylor Leier had a goal and two assists Friday vs. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, an assist Saturday against Providence Saturday and another Sunday against Hershey. He now has 19 assists and 27 points in 31 games.

Eagles storylines to watch this week at Senior Bowl

Eagles storylines to watch this week at Senior Bowl

It's time again for the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama. 

This is the week where the NFL world converges into the smallish Alabama city and takes it over until the game. The North and South squads will practice on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, leading up to the game Saturday. 

This offseason hasn't been as crazy as the last one for the Eagles, but there are still plenty of organizational questions left to be answered. 

Maybe we'll start to get those answers this week: 

Play nice, Howie
Eagles vice president of football operations Howie Roseman said at his season-ending press conference that new personnel head Joe Douglas will be the guy who sets the draft board, but Roseman said the responsibility still falls on him. 

That, theoretically, means the Eagles could find themselves in a situation where on draft day, they go against their draft board. 

Douglas came to the Eagles as the result of a long search for a personnel head and comes with an impressive pedigree. But he can only be as successful as Roseman lets him be. Now, we'll have to try to figure out if their relationship is really working. 

Doug's role
The last time Doug Pederson was in Alabama for the Senior Bowl, his full staff was just coming together and he was pretty consumed with trying to learn how to become a head coach and implement his scheme. So he answered a few questions about the players he wanted on the team — and very likely let his opinion be known about the quarterbacks — and went back to his business. 

But as this season wrapped up, Pederson said he'd like to play a bigger role in the entire process. Will the Eagles let him? 

If nothing else, Pederson should at least be more available to give his opinion on players and spend time with them during the pre-draft process. 

Filling the holes 
The Eagles have had decent success finding players at the Senior Bowl. Last year, they got their first extended look at a quarterback from North Dakota State who was soaring up draft boards. 

Aside from Carson Wentz, they've drafted plenty of other Senior Bowl players in recent years: Jordan Hicks, Eric Rowe, Lane Johnson, Jordan Matthews and Marcus Smith. 

There are plenty of interesting prospects at this year's Senior Bowl, too. Four possible first-round corners will be in attendance: Cordrea Tankersley, Tre’Davious White, Cameron Sutton and Jourdan Lewis. There are also a few wide receivers to keep an eye on: Cooper Kupp, Zay Jones, Taywan Taylor, among them.