Writing at Grantland, my friend Rany Jazayerli runs through some big chunks of Phillies history, and observes that the franchise went through a period of sustained success in the late 1970s and early '80s with a veteran roster, got even older on their way to the World Series in 1983 ... and then basically collapsed.
Well, these current Phillies, heading toward more than 100 wins and (presumably) another World Series, look a lot like that squad from nearly 30 years ago. Rany:
History will not necessarily repeat itself. So long as Halladay and Lee and Hamels are competing with each other for Cy Young Awards, the Phillies are almost guaranteed to be competitive. But for a team on the verge of its greatest season ever, the future is murky at best. The Phillies have climbed to the top of the mountain. There might be a cliff up ahead.
The subtitle of Rany's piece is:
The 2011 Phillies are great, but an aging lineup makes their future look bleak
... which is overstating the case, I think.
The Phillies' future will certainly be challenging ... but in the short run, there's not really so much to worry about.
After missing the first two months of the season, Chase Utley is healthy and productive.
Hunter Pence will spend only two months with the Phillies this season; next season, it'll probably be six months.
Domonic Brown has struggled this season, both in the minors and majors. But there are good reasons to think he'll eventually become a good major-league hitter, at least. Better than Raúl Ibañez, anyway.
The Phillies will have to deal with the general decline of their aging hitters, and Shane Victorino will never play this well again. But it shouldn't be all that surprising if they score more runs next season than this season.
But Ryan Howard is the only starting infielder the Phillies have under contract beyond 2013; Jimmy Rollins is a free agent after this season, Placido Polanco after 2012, Utley after 2013. If and when they leave, money will be freed up. But somebody has to play those positions, and there's no guarantee that management will find worthy replacements. Especially considering -- as Rany notes -- how few good prospects remain in the organization.
The Braves are really good. But the Phillies have been so good for so long that I'm reluctant to start writing a rough draft of their obituary. Nothing lasts forever, and one of these years they're going to miss the playoffs, just as the Red Sox and Yankees have. But when it comes to 2012, they still look pretty good to me.