Phall Phancy

Tennyson famously wrote that, “In the spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.” But as summer draws to a close now that Labor Day is behind us, what do we think about?

The answer is two things: Baseball playoffs and the start of the NFL season.

As a lifelong fan of both the Philadelphia Phillies and Eagles, these are heady days indeed. The Phillies have spent most of the season holding the best record in baseball and the Eagles have been many prognosticators’ “it” team for the upcoming season. I can tell you as a Philadelphia fan, the idea of – the expectation of – success doesn’t rest easily.

Let’s get the easy one out of the way. The Eagles. For what seems like the first time in 5 or 6 years, the Eagles enter the season without a quarterback controversy. Mike Vick’s back with a fat new contract and hopes to lead the Green to the Promised Land. The Birdz have added a number of new free agents, including shut-down corner Nnamdi Asomugha and so the feeling is that the offense will be potent (like last year) but the defense will be stronger (it was a bit porous at times last season). On the other hand, you could also say that they have an entire offensive line and linebacking corps that has never played together and had a shortened pre-season to prepare.

Upright for how long?

In the best scenario, everyone gels and they ride to a 12-win season and duke it out with the Packers for the NFC spot in the Superbowl. Of course, you could perhaps more easily imagine the offensive line not being ready, leading to a Vick-season-ending injury, which leads to season-long squabbling and limping in at 7-9. In reality, even with the overhaul, I think this will be another good, but not quite good enough Andy Reid team that will win a somewhat down year in the NFC East and bow out by getting out-coached somewhere right before or during the NFC Championship Game.

Okay, the hard one. The Phillies. Coming into this season, the Phillies resigned ace pitcher Cliff Lee to create the most formidable starting pitching staff in the Major Leagues. Expectations were sky high. Then people started getting hurt even before the season started. Chase Utley – out for 2+ months, Brad Lidge – out for half a season, Jose Contreras – out for the whole season, Roy Oswalt – out for half a season, Jimmy Rollins – on the DL 4 times this season, et cetera. All of a sudden, the line-up wasn’t dangerous enough and the bullpen seemed like it would be the team’s Achilles Heel.

Lee

What happened? Nothing. The subs in both the line-up and on the mound have performed better than expected and the Phillies have plowed through the National League at a brutal 0.650 winning percentage – on pace for an astonishing 105 wins.

So, what’s to worry about? Well, the truth is that the best team doesn’t always win the World Series. In fact, you can see that since expanding to the wild-card format, the best team most often doesn’t win the World Series. This great graphic from Flip Flop Fly Ball indicates that only in three cases since 1995 did the team with the best record prevail.

The Winningest Team Rarely Wins

In 2008, the Phillies got hot in September, squeaked into the playoffs on the last weekend of the season thanks to the Mets collapse, and rode it all the way to the title. Conversely last year, the Phillies had the best record in baseball (97 wins) and were Series favorites, but ran into the San Francisco Giants buzzsaw who followed the Phils’ 2008 formula (substitute collapsing Padres for Mets) all the way to their own title.

So, barring major injuries or an epic collapse, the Phils will likely enter this postseason as favorites again. Hopefully, they will find a way to get just a little bit hotter as September turns into October.

10 thoughts on “Phall Phancy

  1. Hooray for Phall!
    I love football so much more than baseball. But either way, the Detroit Tigers and the Detroit Lions are both looking oh so hopeful this year! Yay! :)

  2. Wonderful commentary, Steve! I loved your comment about The Eagles’ offence being potent and defence being porous – so beautifully put! I don’t follow baseball much, though I played it with friends when I was in middle school. Sometime back I read a book called ‘Playing Hardball’ by E.T.Smith, which compares baseball and its cousin cricket. I am a cricket fan and after reading this book got fascinated by baseball again. Now your post is inspiring me to follow my favourite game in middle school :)

  3. One thing in the Eagles favor is that if Vick goes down they have Vince Young to step in. The only good thing about that is that he plays basically the same as Vick … except slower and not as athletic …

  4. Last year was pretty sad for the Phils postseason after how hot they were all year, though we were definitely outplayed by the Giants so it wasn’t exactly heartbreaking, in that moment, for me. This year, it’s similar to last year in that the injuries are widespread and the bench guys have contributed beautifully yet again. The difference of course, is the pitching. It’s hard to imagine (at this point) anyone getting to our pitchers night after night to win a series.It could happen but with 3 guys who would be deserving of the Cy Young, Oswalt back at the top of his game (or close) and Vance Worley and even Kyle Kendrick for relief in the postseason, it’s really hard to imagine any kind of a defensive meltdown, and it’s the pitching that kept them winning when the offense was flat earlier in the season. I don’t think many of us EXPECT a WS win…but we certainly like our chances. I’m just trying to soak in this historical season. These are the glory days to remember in my old age. :)

    • cranky — I think after sweeping the Braves and starting off with two solid wins against the Brewers, there’s really not much more that they can really do for this season, except stay focused and stay (get) healthy.

      The 1976 Phillies team was probably the best one that I’ve ever seen personally — I think this team eclipses them.

      • They always talk about the teams of the mid-70s, and that was when i was a kid starting to watch them, so I don’t really remember it, nor did I get how good they were since I had nothing for comparison, plus I was 7 or 8…hahah. But this team does have it all. I am a bit concerned about our relief pitchers right now. The kids who were so good for most of the season (Stutes and Bastardo) are showing signs of wear and tear, plus they haven’t experienced the pressure of the postseason, but our starting rotation should be able to keep things going long enough to get Lidge and Madson in there, plus, as I mentioned the extra starters (Worley, Blanton, Kendrick) before that if needed. Make that 3 wins vs. the Brewers (who still worry me) AND without Utley, Rollins and Howard for a lot of that. It’s funny, we worry when we really have little to worry about, we get all upset if we lose 2 games in a row. We are so spoiled!

      • cranky — i was 7 when I watched the 1972 team be one of the worst teams EVER. Except for Steve Carlton, who won half their games. It was hard to believe that they were actually GOOD — but they ran into the last remnants of the Big Red Machine and lost a winnable series versus the Dodgers in ’77 that hurt worse.

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