The Philadelphia Phillies are expected to be one of MLB’s worst teams in 2015. That is the expectation playing against the likes of the Washington Nationals, Los Angeles Dodgers, and other Major League teams. The Phillies did something that an MLB has not done since 2011 – lose to an NCAA affiliated team.
Philadelphia lost to the University of Tampa, a Division II NCAA program, 6-2 on Sunday. It was the first exhibition game for the Phillies this season, and there was plenty of scrutiny to be found after the game. There are one of two ways to look at this loss for the Phillies: it is the first game and involves mostly non-roster invitees and other players who are not on the Major League roster; it is the first game and the start to a long and dreadful season with similar results looming ahead.
It is always a big deal when a lower tier team defeats a supposedly better opponent in sports. For football, this is usually FCS schools playing non-FCS schools. With no exhibition games in football, it is highly unlikely that any Division II or III school would ever warrant a game with a Division I opponent. In basketball, DI programs often schedule exhibition games against D2 schools as warm-ups for the regular season. The difference in playing ability in basketball is different from baseball, as there are hundreds of D1 basketball programs. The size of players is a bigger component for basketball than it is for baseball.
For baseball, the talent level depends on what league, conference, and team you are looking at. People not familiar with college baseball other than D1 will automatically assume that the University of Tampa is second-class to any higher-level opponent. Many players on D2 teams have transferred from D1 schools and have the ability to play at any collegiate level.
Philadelphia Phillies not alone
Many MLB teams play collegiate teams and come out on top. The last team to lose to college amateurs was the Florida Marlins in 2011, which lost to the Miami Hurricanes. What people may not realize is that the University of Tampa could very well compete with D1 teams. Baseball is a game where anything can happen, whether you are playing a winless team of benchwarmers or the New York Yankees.
The Phillies should not have too many worries after their loss to the Spartans. Philadelphia played a handful of non-roster invitees alongside some of their 40-man roster. There were no multi-million dollar superstars around, such as Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Ryan Howard, or Chase Utley. The closest thing to a Major Leaguer was Darin Ruf who was 1-for-3 in the ballgame.
Although many of the players on Philadelphia’s roster have had Major League experience, the loss is still not weighted enough to write off the entire 2015 season. Manager Ryne Sandberg will have his team ready to compete come April, and nobody will remember what happened in the opening exhibition. There are plenty of at-bats and innings to be pitched over the next month that will get the players into game mode. Sandberg referred to his team as “getting the cobwebs out,” playing against Tampa. The Opening Day Philadelphia Phillies will look much different than the March 1st version.
The Spartans were 54-4 a year ago and were the NCAA DII National Runners-Up. They were national champions two years ago, winning 47 games. It is not like the Philadelphia Phillies lost to a struggling team. They even drafted one of their players, Andrew Amaro. He was a 47th-round draft pick in 2011 and is the nephew of Phillies’ general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. Talent runs in the family and the GM would be happy to have that success continue under his watch in future years.
Other schools to have games against Major League teams include Florida Southern (Detroit Tigers), Florida International (Marlins), Miami (Marlins), Boston College (Red Sox), Northeastern (Red Sox), and Arizona State (Diamondbacks), UW-Milwaukee (Brewers), and Minnesota (Twins). Expect the big name players to start making their way onto the diamond later in the week when they take on opponents their own size.