At the time of this writing, the Phillies are 18-21, tied for 3rd place and 4 games back in the NL East. It’s certainly a disappointing start, and the offense has been dreadful, but it’s not quite time for fans to panic. The Phils have consistently performed poorly at the start of the season during their recent successful seasons, and it’s far too early to draw any definite conclusions.
Still, the team’s struggled against a relatively easy April schedule, and has a brutal stretch of games coming up. They’re coming home to face two offensive powerhouses, the Cleveland Indians and the Cincinnati Reds—against whom they are 0-5 so far this year. After facing the awful Marlins, they then go to Washington (best record in baseball last year) and play four against the Boston Red Sox (best record in baseball this year until recently).
Actually, this tough stretch of schedule is a blessing in disguise, because it will reveal whether the Phils are a contender or a pretender. Perhaps they can surprise people and hold their own through this difficult stretch. But if not, the Phillies are a classic trade deadline seller: a team without enough talent to make the playoffs, but with enough good players to attract trading partners. Pitchers Cliff Lee and Jonathan Papelbon (why keep an elite closer on a non-contending team?), Second Baseman Chase Utley, Third Baseman Michael Young and Catcher Carlos Ruiz could potentially bring in a haul of prospects in trades.
Unless they make these trades, the Phillies could be heading toward long-term disaster, with an aging roster and a below-average farm system. Trading away their top players would probably jettison their ability to win in 2014 as well as 2013, but could set them up for success in the long-term future.
With the challenging schedule ahead, we’ll know if 2013 is a lost cause soon enough.