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Jonathan Papelbon says the most talented team he played on was with Phillies, not Red Sox


Jonathan Papelbon spent three-and-a-half seasons with the Phillies. (Derik Hamilton/Icon Sportswire)

Jonathan Papelbon closed out the 2007 World Series for a Boston Red Sox team that included David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Mike Lowell, Josh Beckett, Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, J.D. Drew, Jason Varitek, Curt Schilling and Daisuke Matsuzaka.

But in a recent interview, the six-time All-Star went off script when asked what the best team he ever played on was.

“The best team I played on was the very first team I got in Philadelphia [2012],” Papelbon told Rob Bradford on WEEI‘s Live BP Show. “Oh yeah, by far, as far as players go. But now the best team and the ability to come together and win despite anything was obviously the ’07 team. We didn’t all get along, but we didn’t care — we all had a common goal. But in Philadelphia, we didn’t all have that common goal. Does that make sense?

“But I had Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels, myself … I mean, there’s like eight Hall of Famers right there. I was like ‘Hey, I’m about to go win me three or four more championships. And it’s gonna be cake.’

“And then, Utley plays like 60 games. Ryan Howard is still coming back from the torn achilles. It was like ‘Oh, crap.’ … I mean, every year they were in the playoffs, just like us [the Red Sox]. But, what are you gonna do, man?”

In a sense, there’s some truth to Papelbon’s perspective. When you look at the 2012 Phillies roster, it’s a who’s who of some of the greatest players from the 2000s. Beyond the six players Papelbon mentioned, the 2012 roster also included Jim Thome, Carlos Ruiz, Hunter Pence, Placido Polanco, Shane Victorino and Juan Pierre. If everyone on the 2012 team had career years, the Phillies probably would have blown past the franchise-record 102 wins they had posted in 2011.

The problem is, much of the roster all hit a wall after a deflating loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2011 NLCS, prematurely ending a season where the Phillies were the overwhelming favorites to win a World Series.

Following two of the greatest seasons in franchise history in 2010 and 2011, Halladay finished 2012 with a 4.49 ERA and 3.69 FIP in 25 starts. Halladay’s wife, Brandy, would later reveal that the once-dominant righty shrunk three inches during the 2012 season as he dealt with spinal compression.

Utley was still pretty productive when he played — he posted a 2.6 fWAR in 2012 — but was limited to just 83 games as he battled chronic knee injuries.

After tearing his left achilles on the final play in Game 5 of the 2011 NLDS, Howard didn’t make his season debut until July 6. The former National League MVP was never the same player after the devastating leg injury, but 2012 was almost certainly the worst season in his 13-year career. In 71 games, Howard slashed .219/.295/.423, striking out in over 33% of his at-bats and finishing the season with a -0.9 fWAR.

Lee — who had finished third in National League Cy Young Award voting in 2011 — had one of the stranger seasons you’ll ever seen in 2012. The lefty didn’t earn his first win of the season until July 4, his 14th start of the season. By most metrics, he was still one of the better pitchers in the senior circuit in 2012, finishing the year 3.16 ERA, 3.13 FIP and 5.0 fWAR across 211 innings. But despite making 30 starts in 2012, Lee finished the year with just a 6-9 record.

To his credit, Papelbon, like he was for the overwhelming majority of his time with the Phillies, was excellent in 2012. He led the National League with 64 games pitched, converting on 38 of 42 save opportunities. He was joined by Ruiz and Hamels at the All-Star Game in 2012, one of two All-Star Game appearances he would make during parts of four seasons as a Phillie.

Despite all the talent on the 2012 Phillies, they finished the season at just 81-81, third in the National League East. In an attempt to retool the roster, then-general manager Rubén Amaro Jr. traded Pence and Victorino in advance of the trade deadline. Thome, who really didn’t fit in the National League anymore, had been traded to the Baltimore Orioles in late June.

What’s crazy is that over the lifetime of his four-year/$50 million deal that Papelbon signed to come to the Phillies, the 2012 team actually turned in the best results. Papelbon held up his end of the deal, becoming the franchise’s all-time leader with 123 saves. The Phillies never sniffed the playoffs during his tenure, however.

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