PHILADELPHIA -- Nobody could have predicted a fall like this.
The Phillies won a franchise-record 102 games in 2011, and while it would have been safe to assume they would win fewer games this year, nobody could have imagined they would be fighting the final month of the season just to finish with a winning record. It was the first time since '04 that the Phillies entered the final week of the season without a legitimate chance to make the playoffs, falling short of the National League Wild Card in 2005 and '06 before beginning a run of five consecutive NL East championships in '07.
But that sixth consecutive division championship appeared doomed in March, when the Phillies revealed Ryan Howard and Chase Utley would open the season on the disabled list.
Utley remained there until June 27.
Howard finally joined the team July 6.
Like a perfect storm, injuries and underachievement sank the Phillies' postseason chances. They had 18 players on the DL, including many of their stars. They also had plenty of players perform below their career averages.
They treaded water the first two months of the season, sitting 25-23 and four games behind the first-place Nationals on May 26. But the reality of the situation finally caught up to them, and they crashed from that point through the All-Star break.
The Phillies traded Hunter Pence to the Giants and Shane Victorino to the Dodgers before the July 31 Trade Deadline, signaling that Philadelphia had begun to look to 2013.
In the rotation, Roy Halladay suffered one of the worst seasons of his career, battling back and shoulder problems. Cliff Lee had plenty of bad luck and poor run support, picking up his first win of the season on July 4. Vance Worley, who finished third in NL Rookie of the Year voting in 2011, had elbow surgery, ending his season in August. In the bullpen, injuries to Jose Contreras, Mike Stutes and David Herndon left the team shorthanded early. Chad Qualls failed as a potential setup man. Antonio Bastardo proved to be wildly inconsistent. And a host of young pitchers showed flashes of brilliance at times, but also offered countless reminders they lacked experience.
In the lineup, the Phillies badly missed Howard and Utley. Placido Polanco struggled when he was on the field. The outfield struggled early.
The Phillies had problems everywhere.
But they rebounded following the Trade Deadline, giving fans and the organization some reason for optimism. The Phils finished 36-24 (.600) following the Deadline, which was the fifth-best record in the National League and the ninth-best record in baseball.
Record: 81-81 (3rd place in National League East)
Defining moment: Halladay lasted just two innings May 27 in an 8-3 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium. He landed on the DL the next day with a strained right latissimus dorsi and remained there through July 16. The Phillies stumbled to a 15-27 (.357) record with Halladay on the DL, which was the second-worst record in baseball in that span. The Phillies simply couldn't overcome the injuries to Howard, Utley and Halladay, even with Halladay struggling through much of the first half of the season.
What went right: Carlos Ruiz would have earned some legitimate National League Most Valuable Player Award consideration, except he landed on the DL on Aug. 3 because of an injured left foot and played sparingly the final month of the season. Utley and Howard finished the season relatively healthy, and the Phillies are hopeful they can begin next season healthy and improve their offensive production. Cole Hamels and Jonathan Papelbon did their jobs, both earning spots on the National League All-Star team.
What went wrong: The Phillies suffered injuries to players like Howard, Utley, Halladay, Lee, Worley, Polanco, Contreras, Jim Thome, Freddy Galvis, Stutes and Herndon. They erred badly on Qualls. John Mayberry Jr. could not take advantage of a regular role the first few months of the season. Things got so bad that the Phillies traded Pence and Victorino before the July 31 Trade Deadline.
Biggest surprise: Once the Phillies got healthy, they showed signs they can bounce back next season. But there are plenty of ifs heading into the offseason: Who will play third base? Who will play in the outfield? Can Halladay return to form? Can the bullpen pitch more consistently? Those questions aren't easily answered, but they at least showed some fight and flashes they have enough talent to compete in 2013.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.