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September Sizzle in Philadelphia

Posted By Christopher Rowe On Sep 11 2011 @ 11:59 am In Philadelphia,Philadelphia Phillies | 2 Comments

Baseball is a numbers game. Numbers are what we use to determine winners, losers, champions and develop perspective.  Statistics allow us to compare the 1927 Yankees with the 2005 Chicago White Sox and determine which champion was better. Statistics allow us to determine the top 10 starting rotations of all time – including entries from the nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Ultimately, statistics are the ruling force in baseball – both as metrics and to help define the laws of the game.

The Phillies record stands at 94-48 – best in the major leagues and just in time for the return of the NFL. Twelve games up on their next-closest divisional opponent, six games better than the second-best record in MLB and with a “magic number” of 7. They have spent 140 days in first place, have never fallen below .500 and have posted at least 17 wins in every month of the season (8 so far in September puts them ahead of pace). Philadelphia won their last six straight and 8 of their last 10 – including taking the first 3 games in Milwaukee, a series which closes this afternoon. Any combination of 7 Phillies wins or Atlanta Braves losses will officially clinch Philadelphia’s fifth straight NL East crown and launch them on the road to their third World Series appearance in four seasons. While it could take another week or more to mathematically make this official, there are other earmarks that prove what most already know – the Philadelphia Phillies are the best team in baseball.

Phillies have a 25-15 record in one run games (thanks to another nail-biter last night in Milwaukee), a .662 overall win percentage, a 27-8 record in “blowout” games, 20 shutouts on the season and sport a winning or even record against every opponent in 2011 save two teams (1-2 vs. Seattle, 2-3 vs. St. Louis). They lead the league in attendance (3.2 million sporting a season and a half of consecutive home sellouts), wins, wins by starters, ERA, WHIP, complete games (17) and fielding percentage (.988). Ryan Howard leads MLB with 111 RBI, three of the Phillies starters (Hamels, Lee, Halladay) are among the top pitchers in wins, ERA, shutouts and just about every meaningful pitching category.

Not the least of these efforts is that of Cliff Lee, who over his past 7 starts sports a 7-0 record and 0.99 ERA. All three of the Four Aces who have collected 28 or more starts are being considered for Cy Young Award candidacy – and that doesn’t include Vance Worley (11-1, 2.85 ERA in 18 starts and his team has won his last 14 consecutive starts) who is being considered strongly for Rookie of the Year.

The team has changed over this run as only 8 players (Howard, Utley, Rollins, Ruiz, Victorino, Hamels, Madsen, Lidge) remain from the 2008 Championship squad (JC Romero was released this summer while Kyle Kendrick was in the minors).

Brad Lidge who was perfect 41 for 41 in save opportunities that 2008 season has given way to Ryan Madson – who has become the 9th Phillie in history to post a 30-save season (Mesa, Williams, Lidge, Wagner, Bottalico, Gordon, Slocumb, Bedrosian and Madson) while players like Pat Burrell, Jayson Werth, Aaron Rowand, Scott Eyre and Matt Stairs have given way to Shane Victorino, Raul Ibanez, Placido Polanco and Hunter Pence. 

Philadelphia fans have witnessed an upgrade in talent never seen before. Kyle Lohse and Brett Myers have moved on from that rag-tag 2007 squad who were just happy to win the NL East flag. Chris Coste, Eric Bruntlett, Geoff Jenkins and Chan Ho Park are part of history while we have watched the turnover of nearly 70% of this roster – not to mention the ballooning payroll. Five years ago, Philadelphia was barely on the MLB map.

At 94 wins, this 2011 team has already eclipsed the regular season efforts of the 2007, 2008 and 2009 team and will surpass the 2010 win total with four more victories. This would also eclipse the efforts of the best teams in Phillies history such as 1993 (97 wins), 1983 (90 wins), 1980 (91 wins), 1976 (101), 1977 (101) and 1978 (90), 1964 (92 wins), 1950 (91 wins) and 1915 (90 wins) followed by 91 wins in 1916 but no World Series trip that season.

Their manager Charlie Manuel has passed Hall of Fame manager Harry Wright (636 wins from 1884-1893) and now trails legendary Gene Mauch (1960-1968) by just 8 victories. Manuel (2005-2011) already leads in win percentage (.573) for twentieth and twenty first century (Modern Era) Phillies managers and has presided over the most successful five year run in Phillies history (465 wins, averaging 93 per season over that stretch) – including four NL East flags, two National League pennants and the 2008 World Championship.

For a team that has won just two World Championships in 129 seasons (and it took 97 seasons just to get one) with both of them coming over the past 30 years (2 World Series appearances from 1883-1979, then 3 from 1980-2007) this has been a Renaissance for the Phillies franchise. Thanks to a revitalized farm system, a major change in organizational management and philosophy and an unyielding desire for greatness (paired with a $170M payroll), Philadelphia has become a sterling MLB franchise.

September used to be a depressing, moribund time of playing out the string, bringing up prospects in the hopes that future seasons would be better. A second World Championship in four seasons would be the crowning achievement for this group of Phillies but the franchise itself is forever changed into a winner!

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