Wait - is it really that time of year again? It looks like it's time to get this puppy cranked up. You all know the drill; one by one, we'll bid adieu to the each of the twenty teams who simply weren't playoff material, starting with the two that were mathematically eliminated last night: Expectations were low for the Phillies this year, and the Phillies certainly delivered. Unlike last year, where the Phillies miraculously played well for fifty games to start the season, the 2017 Phils only took about a month to show their true colors, as a 12-12 start quickly gave way to 5-23 stretch that dispelled any illusions of mediocrity, and by the time the All-Star Game rolled around, the Phillies were the only team in the majors who still hadn’t recorded 30 wins. In fact, the only thing standing between the Phillies and a historically awful year may have been the Braves; take out their 12-4 record against the Braves, and the Phillies would be sitting at 41-84. Of course, none of this was a surprise. Two years ago, after Ruben Amaro, Jr. became the first person ever to be demoted from GM to first base coach, new GM Matt Klentak sensibly decided that the Phillies’ way forward would be a complete tear-down, so he cleared out most of his veterans in trades and waited patiently while untradeables like Ryan Howard played out their contracts. Now, they have as close to a clean slate as one can have in baseball, with a paltry $5.8 million in contract obligations to their 2018 team and just one player (25 year-old Odubel Herrera) whose contract extends past December. As is the case for most rebuilding teams, the Phillies' major league club served two purposes this year; it was 1.) a kindergarten where young players could figure out how the major leagues work, and 2.) a holding pen for fringy, rebounding, or rehabbing major leaguers who might get hot and then flipped to a contender at the deadline. The Phillies had pretty decent success with the second one, as fliers on Joaquin Benoit, Howie Kendrick (.329 BA!), Jeremy Hellickson, and Pat Neshek netted the Phillies a bevy of prospects at the deadline. (Fliers on Daniel Nava and Clay Buchholz were less successful - especially the latter, who only pitched 7.1 innings this season.) For the first one...the youth movement wasn’t quite the unequivocal success of last year when the farm teams won at a nearly .600 clip, but that’s to be expected; after all, transitioning to the majors is hard (unless you’re Rhys Hoskins, apparently). The important thing for the Phillies is that a core is beginning to emerge, as Hoskins, Herrera, Cesar Hernandez, Aaron Altherr, and Nick Williams have all demonstrated that they can satisfactorily hit major league pitching. The pitching is still a fiasco, as most of the starting pitchers not named Aaron Nola aren’t yet any good, but most of them are also under the age of 26 and would still be in Triple A on most teams. One way or the other, the future is finally taking shape, and after years of watching Ruben Amaro drive the team into the ground, the denizens of Citizens’ Bank Park can start to dream about what the next good Philly team might look like. Of course, that team is still probably a few years off, and there are still a few remaining years of the kindergarten/holding pen Phillies between now and then, but hey - one doesn’t undo seven years of mismanagement overnight…. Philly last made the playoffs in 2011. Their last world championship was in 2008. Ladies and gentlemen...your runaway winner for Most Disappointing Team of 2017! The defending wildcard-game winners were already off to a rocky 6-10 start when Madison Bumgarner decided to celebrate the 15th anniversary of Jeff Kent’s infamous motorcycle/”car washing” injury with a bike injury of his own. Sadly, Bumgarner wasn’t doing anything quite as exciting as Kent’s ill-fated wheelies when he lost control of his dirtbike; even more sadly, the initial prognosis of 6-8 weeks was far too optimistic, and Maddy ended up being shelved until the All-Star Break. Now, losing an ace for three months is certainly difficult for a team, and it obviously puts pressure on the rest of the staff to step up. Giants pitchers however, decided instead to play a game called, “Who can do the best impression of a #5 starter?”, a contest wherein Jeff Samardzija, Matt Moore, Johnny Cueto, and Matt Cain all put up ERA’s north of 4.30 (they were all over 4.50 until a recent "hot" streak) at a combined cost of $60 million for the season despite playing in a gigantic park where home runs are more of a theoretical concept than an actual thing that happens. Madison has been his usual self since his return, but even the Great Madison Bumgarner can only pitch once every five days (during the regular season, anyway), and there’s not a whole lot he can do when the other four starters (five if you include Bumgarner replacement Ty Blach and his 88 ERA+) are in the midst of an ongoing quest to put baseballs into McCovey Cove. The good news, if it can be called that, is that the pitching staff wasn’t really squandering the work of the lineup because the lineup wasn’t really doing any work. It’s probably not enough to say that the hitters have been bad; their 82 OPS+ is easily the worst in the NL. Other than Buster Posey (who is doing his usual superhuman Posey thing), Brandon Belt (who was doing his usual Three True Outcomes thing until his concussion), and perhaps Joe Panik and Denard Span, the lineup has been abysmal, led by the massively inconsistent Hunter Pence (month-by-month BA: .266/.190/.310/.186/.290/.167), Gorkys Hernandez (who hit .175/.261/.223 for April and May before finding his stroke in June), and Brandon Crawford (.225/.266/.369 pre-ASB, .287/.350/.463 after). So bad has been the Giants offense this year that the Giants even decided to give Kung Fu Panda another try; the results from Pablo can’t really be described as good (his 0-39 streak made national baseball news), but he’s at least managed to keep his belt from exploding, which is progress. Anyway, put bad starting pitching together with bad hitting, throw in some fielding woes (the Giants are 21st in baseball by UZR/150)....and you end up with a team that's 17.5 games out of the wildcard by the All-Star break and 30 games out of the NL West lead by July 24 (and 37.5 out of the division today). It's worth noting that the Giants have never finished more than 42 games behind the division or league leader; if the Giants have a rest-of-September that's more than five games worse than the Dodgers, they will break a franchise "games back" record that has stood since 1899. So what do you do if you’re a team with the third-oldest opening day roster, no starting pitchers behind Madison Bumgarner (and $150 million still owed to Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto), two hitters, and a bottom-ten farm? Well, step 1 is obviously to keep Maddy away from the dirt bikes. (That’s probably the easy part.) As far as step 2….that’s a good question. The Giants have enough money to paper over a whole lot of mistakes, and, as we’ve seen from the Angels this year, the gap between contender and disaster is a small one in baseball, especially when your team has a superstar or two. San Francisco’s best bet, though, is simply to wait until the calendar turns to 2018 - the Giants seem to have an awful lot more luck in even years….. The Giants last World Series victory was 2014.