Trea Turner in action during a baseball game against the New York Mets, Sunday, June 25, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson)

“Never again!” you cry, turning off the Phillies game. 

They’ve really gotten your goat this time, haven’t they? They dropped pop-ups, missed grounders, were bested by poor hitters, swung at low and away sliders they’d need to be swinging a floor lamp to touch. Maybe they got shut down by a guy with an ERA over nine, on a team well out of the playoff race. Every time a runner got in scoring position, the rest of the team hid in the clubhouse. And Rob Thomson made a lineup and/or bullpen decision that made you yell at that bobblehead of him as an elf you got at a Christmas in July promotion. 

Also, they won. 

But never again! With wildfire smoke pouring down our throats and shipping times for Eagles kelly green jerseys being something like 8-10 months, life is stressful/hazardous to our respiratory health enough. Why expose yourself to three hours of a $259 million roster generating a nickel’s worth of offense every night?

Well. Because there’s a game on tomorrow. 

Hauntingly incapable or not, the 2023 Phillies are in the playoff picture again. As hard as they can be to watch, you have to keep watching them. 

Yes, you do. 

You may not choose to do so, but at 6:40, that game’s going to be on and you’re going to be mad about it. Think you can avoid it by going out to a restaurant with no televisions? Think you can not think about it by listening to the thoughts of your friends, loved ones, or dates? 

You’ve got a phone in your pocket, don’t you? One with the score from the Phillies game on it and the alerts you forget how to turn off? 


The truth is, the Phillies aren’t going to change

Go ahead. Excuse yourself for a moment and then try to flush your phone down the toilet all you want. You’ll just be glancing in the windows of bars with the game on as you walk by. 

Look. No one’s judging you. Not with spoken words, anyway. They might be judging you for clogging the toilet at Zahav. The point is, you’ll keep watching the Phillies. It’s time to stop shouting “Never again!” every time you turn off the game and start figuring out how to watch them in a less self-damaging way.

Because the truth is, the Phillies aren’t going to change. 

They already have changed, from the power-hitting wrecking crew they were on paper to the quiet pitching and defense-focused strategists they apparently are now. In all of Major League Baseball, they are 21st in home runs (116), 16th in team SLG (.410), and 18th in ISO (.157). They hit fly balls 36.5% of the time, the same rate as the Rockies, a terrible team that plays in a stadium where the ball is basically weightless. The fly balls the Phillies aren’t hitting too often only go over the fence 11.6% of the time, which is also only slightly better than the Rockies, who again, are not a playoff team. 

“Average at best” was not the way you thought this team’s power would be described in August. Neither was “beatable by a guy making his third career big league start,” but we were all watching that series in Pittsburgh, weren’t we?

So, it’s time to adjust. The Phillies have. At the trade deadline, instead of packaging the Jersey Shore BlueClaws into a deal for Juan Soto, president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski avoided the hysterics sweeping through social media and acquired an experienced pitcher having a solid year for the Tigers. 

Michael Lorenzen had a 3.58 ERA through 18 starts this season with a bottoming-out Detroit team, is working with one of the highest strikeout-to-walk ratios of his career (3.07), and can function as a bullpen arm, as well. He deepens the 2023 Phillies’ biggest strength — the pitching staff — by simultaneously adding to their rotation and their relief corps. It’s a little like the Phillies acquired Shohei Ohtani, only not a hitter, and several hundred rankings below him on any list of “best major-league players.”

By deepening his pitching staff, Dombrowski is theoretically lightening the workload for everyone

Lorenzen has pitched more innings this season than since he was a rookie in 2015, and his arm is eight years older now. But by deepening his pitching staff, Dombrowski is theoretically lightening the workload for everyone, and all it cost him was a single-A prospect who was likely being blocked from the big leagues by Trea Turner for the foreseeable future. 

Offensively, the Phillies grabbed infielder Rodolfo Castro from the Pirates in exchange for Bailey Falter, a guy who can hit lefties effectively but should be nowhere near a batters’ box with a right-handed hurler on the mound. The Phillies as a team have hit .255 with a .316 OBP against lefties this year, so they have room for Castro to help them there, too. Which should come in handy as they finish up in Miami and begin a ten-game homestand against some of baseball’s most beatable teams — the Nationals, Royals, and Twins. 

Which brings us back to you. 

The Phillies seem to thrive against good teams (Orioles, Rays, Astros, Dodgers, Diamondbacks) and wilt against bad ones. They are not the first team to behave this way, but that doesn’t really matter when you’re watching them get no-hit by a toddler.

They will never be in first place in the NL East in 2023. You know why? Because they aren’t a first-place team. That doesn’t mean they aren’t a World Series contender — having a 2.9% chance is still contending — but they won’t get there by having the best record in baseball. 

They have spent the whole year without the 20-30 home runs they could typically get from Rhys Hoskins. They have watched Bryce Harper come back from Tommy John surgery with half an elbow and try to drag them into the playoffs. They have gotten nothing they expected to get from Trea Turner’s bat. June came and went without Kyle Schwarber finding his power stroke. And Nick Castellanos dipped out for a few weeks after the All-Star break. 

They are not dominators. They are survivors. It’s what makes them a part of the wild card race, but it does not make them easy to watch. 

Every night, you simply have to wait and see if someone is going to get that One Big Hit. On Aug. 1, you had to wait until the ninth inning, when Harper tied a 1-0 game with a double and Castellanos homered to win it. The pitching is typically doing its job, and the offense is selectively doing its own. Nothing you’re reading here will soothe your screaming mind, but it may, just a little, help you to become aware of this: eight-run outbursts are fun, but not likely. One-run games — and wins — are. 

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but if you want a historical comparison, take the 2010 Giants. Every team’s fan base has a vast and inexplicable victim complex: No fans have ever suffered like them, no fans have ever had to watch a team like theirs, blah blah blah. In 2010, as San Francisco was on its way to a World Series title, every game was considered “torture.” It became an unofficial motto and part of their persona, even after they’d cracked the postseason.

“The Giants, just as advertised, are a team that turns torment and angst into a scheduled daily activity,” wrote Mark Purdy in the San Jose Mercury News. 

This was during the NLDS that he wrote this — the Giants had made the playoffs and were still considered unwatchable. They’d played in 52 games decided by one run that year. The 2023 Phillies have played in 36 with two months left to go, and they have won 22 of them, with 26 comeback wins overall. 

The 2010 Giants aren’t the only team that’s “tortured” its fans all the way to a title. But as Phillies fans we do know that Giants team…pretty well (and I will conduct the proper amount of self-flagellating for bringing them up). But they offer those of us who can’t stop watching the 2023 Phillies a lesson in survival:

You don’t always have to feel hopeful. You just have to be there when the other team’s hope dies. 

Justin Klugh has been a Phillies fan since Mariano Duncan's Mother's Day grand slam. He is a columnist and features writer for Baseball Prospectus, and has written for The Inquirer, Baltimore Magazine,...