Phillies have crashed after 5 straight NL East titles

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PHILADELPHIA — The kind of magic that fans in Washington hope will fill Nationals Park this fall is something those in Philadelphia are used to at Citizens Bank Park. From a magical run in 2007 through a 102-win campaign in 2011, the Phillies set the standard.

“They were one of the best teams in baseball for the last five or six years,” MLB Network analyst and ex-Phillies reliever Dan Plesac said. “They have been a juggernaut in the NL East.”

Not anymore.

Now the Phillies are wallowing in last place, the result of just about everything going wrong. After winning the World Series in 2008 and piling up five straight National League East titles, 2012 is about missing Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, losing Roy Halladay to a shoulder injury and the rest of a $180 million roster being wholly unable to pick up the slack.

“The bottom line is, this was the perfect storm of things that could possibly go wrong for the Phillies in 2012,” Plesac said. “With the exception of Carlos Ruiz, you could go up and down and look at the rest of the lineup and say ‘They haven’t been as good as they were expected to be when the season started.’”

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It’s a stark contrast from preseason expectations, the lofty ones built on the capital of being a consistent factor in the pennant race for years. The Phillies are 16½ games back of the Nationals in the division and went into Monday 12½ games back of the second wild card as they prepare to open a three-game series at Nationals Park on Tuesday.

As a result, there are more questions than answers amid what could be the ruins of a once-feared dynasty.

Glory days

When the Phillies beat the Tampa Bay Rays for the 2008 World Series, it would’ve been hard to envision that parade down Broad Street would be the last for this core. World Series MVP Cole Hamels was entering his prime, and Utley, Howard andJimmy Rollins already were at or near the top of their games.

Along the way came trades for Halladay and Cliff Lee to strengthen the starting rotation and the acquisition of outfielder Hunter Pence to beef up an already potent lineup. Lee led the Phillies to the 2009 World Series, and even after he was dealt to Seattle that winter, Halladay helped them reach the National League Championship Series in 2010.

But the price for that success was steep, not just in money paid to those stars but also in prospects. Gone from the system are catcher Travis D’Arnaud, first baseman Jonathan Singleton, outfielder Anthony Gose and pitcher Jarred Cosart, all of whom are top-50 prospects as ranked by Baseball America.

General manager Ruben Amaro Jr., who succeeded three-time World Series-winning Pat Gillick, had a win-at-all-costs mentality that hurt the future but is hard to second-guess even now.

“At the time, they’re going for a pennant. There’s no guarantees when you give away prospects that they’re going be in the big leagues,” MLB Network analyst and ex-Phillies shortstop and manager Larry Bowa said. “No one can sit here and tell me, ‘Oh, this guy’s going to be in the big leagues; he’s going to be a top-of-the-rotation type player.’ If anybody’s got that kind of hindsight, they’re the greatest baseball person I’ve ever seen. You don’t know.”

Just as no one knew for sure that the Nationals would be this good right away, no one knew how the Phillies would progress as they aged.

“You had all these young players coming together at the same time, and you knew they were going to get better. And they did,” Plesac said. “But what’s happening is it happens with every team in baseball. It’s the fine line you walk between having the right amount of veteran players and the right amount of up-and-coming young guys that can take the place of the guys that have carried the load for so long.”

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