For the last few seasons, it was usually sometime in July or August that you had to start searching for reasons to watch the Phillies after the team fell deeper in the playoff chase and another losing season rolled on.
Perhaps you hung around in 2015 to watch Aaron Nola, or in 2016 you enjoyed Ryan Howard's farewell, or you stayed hooked last year to see Rhys Hoskins emerge. This year, the Phillies kept your interest with a surprising playoff race all the way until the middle of September.
You didn't have to search for a reason to watch. And now with two weeks left, you do. Here's one: J.P. Crawford.
The Phillies will go heavily this offseason after Manny Machado, who expects to stay at shortstop wherever he plays next season. Crawford, who started the season as the opening-day shortstop before spending most of it on the disabled list, has an uncertain future.
No, a strong two weeks from Crawford will not dissuade the Phillies from signing Machado. But it could be enough to force them to keep Crawford in their plans. He looked good earlier this season at third base, and perhaps he could play there next season if the team elects to move on from Maikel Franco. Or Crawford could find a way as a reserve, a role he assumed for the first time in his career earlier this month when he returned from the minors.
There is so much uncertainty about next season's infield. Scott Kingery and perhaps Carlos Santana are the only players on the infield who can confidently say they will be with the team next season. It will be an interesting offseason, and how the team views Crawford could be altered if he finishes strong.
"The one thing I'll say is the confidence level in J.P.'s talent is through the roof," manager Gabe Kapler said. "We know what sort of pedigree he has. We know what sort of on-base history he has. We know how good of a defender he's been. We're also thinking about this as a 10-year stretch for J.P. Crawford. It's a long-term vision for him."
Crawford was the team's can't-miss prospect until, well, he missed. This season was supposed to be his arrival. Instead, it was the most challenging season of his career. He strained his right forearm in April and broke his left hand in June. He returned to the majors when rosters expanded, but he seemed to be lost in the team's crowded bench. Crawford, for the first time since being drafted in 2013, had to earn his playing time.
He started Wednesday for the first time in three months and finished the night with his first three-hit game. He's just here to help his team win, Crawford said afterward. He's also here to help keep his position. Crawford was batting just .194 with a .312 on-base percentage when he broke his hand. He was never expected to hit for a high average, but he was expected to reach base. He struggled to do either.
Crawford made some adjustments last month at triple A. He lowered his hands to shorten his swing, and he thinks that has helped him with his timing. Kapler noticed an improved swing path and said Crawford's at-bats since returning were "really strong." But Crawford still didn't have much of a role. Crawford has always been a solid, athletic defender. If he can prove he can hit and reach base, a role will be guaranteed.
"I think it's really important to finish the season strong," Crawford said. "I'm just trying to give my team a spark and try to help our team win some games this last stretch and finish strong. It'd be great."
The first five months were a challenge, and a strong final month will not erase those struggles. But if Crawford finishes well, it will be easy to think of him differently when the team reflects back on the season.
The playoff race might have fizzled out, but there still are a few reasons to watch.