Can the Phillies do it?

As the Philadelphia Phillies are playing in their 141st game, it is tough not to think about the playoffs.  It seems crazy, I know.  The Phillies find themselves at 69-71 and only 6 games out of the final wildcard spot in the National League.

How could this be?  The team has been done since early June.  But things have clearly changed.  Ryan Howard is back with 10 home runs and 40 runs batted in through 54 games (which is exactly a third of a season, putting him on a 30 home run and 120 runs batted in pace).  Chase Utley is back with his vintage hustle and 2.2 WAR (good for third on the team according to Fangraphs).  The pitching staff is throwing how everyone expected them to from the start, and Cliff Lee’s reemergence is surely helping.  Kevin Frandsen and Erik Kratz have provided a spark in the lineup after starting the season in Triple-A.  Even their best hitter this year, Carlos Ruiz, is coming off the disabled list at just the right time.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for the playoff push.  I’m a fan, and it would be wrong to root against the fightin’ Phils.  However, I’m a little cautious on this.  I want the Phillies to make the playoffs, but I want the Ruben Amaro Jr. and the rest of the front office to remember the struggles.  They need to see the issues with this team.  The issue with this team is age.

All you have to do is look at the ages of some of the key guys in the Phillies’ second half resurgence.  Howard turns 32 in November.  Utley turns 34 in December.  Jimmy Rollins turns 34 in November.  Ruiz is 32.  Frandsen is 30.  Kratz is 32.  Cliff Lee is 34.  Roy Halladay is 35.  Ok, so you get it.  The Phillies are old.  All I ask is that the front office remembers that.

In terms of position players, the Phillies’ farm system is gravely thin.  The Freddy Galvis experiment was met with suspect results.  Darin Ruf has shown a big bat in Double-A breaking Ryan Howard’s Double-A home run record, but is he ready for major league at bats?  We will get a preview of the answer this month (he was recently called up), but I don’t see him as any quick fix.

The Phillies have big, immediate holes to fill this offseason.  Third base is a glaring need.  Let’s be honest here… Frandsen is not the answer.  He’s a 30 year old, bounce-around guy that’s in the midst of a hot streak, to be frank.  Does the team have the payroll to go out and get an impact bat at the hot corner (something the Phillies haven’t had since, gulp, Scott Rolen)?  Unless the ownership wants to open up the checkbooks further, I don’t see it happening.

Let’s all remember the bullpen struggles throughout most of the season as well.  It hasn’t been pretty by any stretch of the imagination even when factoring in the recent relative effectiveness.  Is too much of the bullpen payroll allotment tied up with Jonathan Papelbon?  Phillies fans should hope not (I never agreed with the signing in the first place).  Paps’ mammoth contract may rear its ugly head this offseason when bullpen money is tough to come by.

By all means, a Phillies playoff run would be awesome.  After four years of taking the playoffs for granted, this season has really put the team and its fans in their place.  A playoff run now, through all of the injuries and doubts, would be equally improbably and magical.  Even if the playoffs are in the sights of the Phillies, the front office must remember that there is work to do… big work to do.  Even if the Phillies make the playoffs, let’s all hope the front office doesn’t hold off on making the aging Phillies younger.

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