It’s worth remembering that the 2008 Philadelphia Phillies team didn’t become the ’08 team until after ’08.
Before then, they were a group of guys who were 3.5 games out of first place with 16 left to play, an odd assortment of spare-part veterans and homegrown talent who did not clinch a playoff berth until the second-to-last day of the season.
It’s worth remembering this because a lot of the talk you heard emanating from the Phillies clubhouse this weekend might sound a bit fantastical within the context of the modern-day mythology that now surrounds the organization’s last World Series champion.
Take Rhys Hoskins, for instance. After a 5-3 win that moved the Phillies to 14 games over .500 and maintained their lead in the NL East at 1.5 games, the 25-year-old slugger recounted conversations he’d had with a couple of members of that 2008 team who were in town for the weekend-long celebration of the 10-year anniversary of their title-winning season.
“They see a lot of themselves in this team,” he said.
Or how about Tommy Hunter? After nailing down the ninth inning as the latest closer to appear in Gabe Kapler’s bullpen rotation, the veteran reliever entertained the possibility that, 10 years from now, he could be one of those guys returning to town for an anniversary celebration.
“You’ve got a chance to do something very special,” he said. “Winning a World Series and being able to have your team, your name enshrined in a city for the rest of your life. I don’t think it gets any better than that.”
Opportunity is there: To those whose belief in this year’s team has yet to fully vest, the notion might seem sacrilegious. But opportunity is something that rarely announces itself ahead of time. One of the many lessons we should have learned from that last era of Phillies greatness is the degree to which fate is situationally dependent. Talent wise, that 2008 roster was the worst of the bunch. But it was a roster that was good enough at the best possible time.
After a regular season in which there was no dominant National League team, all it took was a divisional-round win over a similarly upstart Brewers squad to leave the Phillies needing only to beat the 84-win Dodgers to qualify for the World Series.
You have to squint awful hard to see an exact parallel between 2008 and 2018. This year’s Cubs and Dodgers are infinitely more talented between the versions that stood in the Phillies’ way 10 years ago. As poorly as the Marlins and the Mets have performed this season, the road to the division title is tougher than it was back in 2008, with the Braves on pace for 90 wins and the Nationals still lurking six games back.
Even if you equate Rhys Hoskins with Ryan Howard, and Odubel Herrera with Shane Victorino, and Cesar Hernandez with Jimmy Rollins, and Carlos Santana with Pat Burrell, that still leaves this lineup lacking a Chase Utley and Jayson Werth.
Williams, Franco step up: At the same time, Werth was not Werth until the end of the season, spending much of the first four months sharing time with Geoff Jenkins. There’s a chance that we will look back on the last six weeks as the start of Nick Williams’ Werthian breakout. His numbers since June 14 — a .301 batting average, .386 on base percentage, and .507 slugging percentage and eight home runs in 166 plate appearances — are remarkably similar to the .287/.383/.537 and nine home runs that Werth posted over his last 193 plate appearances of 2008.
And while nobody will suggest that Maikel Franco’s .829 OPS and 16 home runs since April 28 make him the centerpiece that Utley was, it does represent significantly better production that the Phillies got out of Pedro Feliz.
Pitching comparisons: At 25 years old, Aaron Nola is in the midst of a season that is even better than the one Cole Hamels produced in 2008 at the age of 24. Jake Arrieta has been better than Jamie Moyer. Nick Pivetta has been better than Kyle Kendrick or Adam Eaton. Is Vince Velasquez any less reliable than Brett Myers was that season? In fact, both he and Zach Eflin have a better ERA and peripherals than Joe Blanton finished with 10 years ago.
“I think (Phillies television analyst John) Kruk and somebody else were saying it last night: what’s going to happen when this team really clicks?” said Hunter, who ended up pitching the ninth inning on Sunday after Kapler called on rookie sensation Seranthony Dominguez to face the heart of the Marlins order in the seventh. “I mean, we’ve sucked and we’re still winning. I think it’s OK to say that. I mean, I’ve sucked for a month-and-a-half ... There’s been multiple predominant players that have struggled. Seranthony came in and saved my ass how many times in May and June when he came up?
"The fun thing is going to happen when everybody starts clicking at the same time, and we haven’t had that. It’s been one guy here and one guy here, just piecing it together. I think there’s a lot of things to look forward to with this team, especially if everybody starts clicking.”
The one inarguable characteristic of this 2018 team is that, one week into August, it has a significant opportunity. And you never really know what a team might do with such a thing until the doing has been done.