Now that the Phillies are officially in the playoffs, we can start discussing what might happen when they get there. I’m a big fan of typologies, particularly ones with arbitrary boundaries, so let’s have one here. There are four types of teams, broadly speaking, that win the World Series:
- Teams with great offenses and enough pitching to get by. The 2008 Phillies were one of those teams, but the exemplar of this philosophy, for me, is the 1993 Blue Jays. Jack Morris and Dave Stewart were just hanging on by then, and no one would confuse Juan Guzman, Duane Ward, Todd Stottlemyre and Pat Hentgen with Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, and Mark Wohlers. However, they had three Hall of Fame position players, plus John Olerud (.363/.473/.599), Tony Fernandez, Devon White, Joe Carter…lots of good hitters.
- Teams with great pitching and enough offense to get by. Consider, for instance, the Hank Bauer/Earl Weaver Orioles that ran roughshod over the American League in the late 1960s and early 1970s, or the National League teams they ran into, the Koufax/Drysdale Dodgers and the Seaver/Koosman Mets.
- Teams with both great pitching and great pitching. The 1998 Yankees and a few others. These teams just sort of sleepwalk to the title (the 2004 Red Sox excepted), because it’s really hard to score more runs off Cone, Wells, Pettitte, and Rivera than their lineup of Derek Jeter and a million other guys who always get on base will score off you.
- The 2010 San Francisco Giants, who had great pitching and the combined karmic magnetism of a million plucky underdogs. The 2010 Giants had four very good starting pitchers, Buster Posey, and a bunch of guys who either hadn’t been any good in five years or had never really been good to begin with. To quote Ryan Sommers of Crashburn Alley, “But hey, sometimes the batless fleck of roster garbage stumbles upon success. That’s baseball. Charlie Manuel can’t defend against that.” Batless fleck of roster garbage, indeed. And yes, I’m still bitter. Lucky bastards.
I think you’ve figured out where this is going by now. We’ve seen a Phillies team with a great offense and decent pitching win a title, and we’re about to see a Phillies team with great pitching and a decent offense try to do the same. I like the chances of La Furia Roja, insofar as it’s possible to like a team’s playoff chances, what with the postseason being a total crapshoot and all. But let’s say the Phillies make a run–how would 2011 be different than 2008 from a fan’s perspective? Here’s a hint: it’s going to be awesome, but we’ll all be lucky to live through it.
Let me make two things abundantly clear before we start:
- I think the Phillies have a better chance of winning the World Series than any other team, but because the Red Sox, Yankees, Brewers, and Braves are almost as good as the Phillies, anyone who says they have better than, say, one chance in three, is a fool. The Phillies have lost two of three to the Astros and Pirates this season. They can certainly lose three of five to the Diamondbacks or four of seven to the Brewers or Yankees if thing start to go wrong.
- I am in no way complaining about a lack of drama in the 2008 playoffs. While the 2008 Phillies didn’t have as bizarrely heartstopping a route to the title as, say, the 1986 Mets or 2004 Red Sox, there were dramatic moments in abundance. I’m just saying that a playoff run can only be so nerve-racking if your team never faces elimination or even trails in a series.
Okay, so a team like the 2008 Phillies, with a great bullpen, a better offense, and one stud starting pitcher, tends to win games by scores like 10-3 or 8-5 and lose by similar scores. They tended to jump on top early, and Romero/Durbin/Madson/Lidge didn’t give those leads up. And on nights they didn’t have it going offensively, or the likes of Jamie Moyer or Joe Blanton got lit up, it was fairly obvious by the fourth inning or so that they were going to lose. In a lot of those playoff games that ended 5-3 or 8-5, the team that lost came back a little bit in garbage time, but on the whole it was a pretty boring playoffs for people who weren’t Phillies or Rays fans. There were certainly nail-biters (both Hamels World Series starts, and the Matt Stairs game), but those are the exception, not the norm.
A team with great pitching and a decent offense is going to do the opposite–win a lot of games in the late innings (which the Phillies have done at a far higher rate than any other team in baseball), and by low scores. Consider Wednesday afternoon’s game, where the only run of the game was scored before a single out was recorded. Can you imagine that, but instead of facing Bud Norris in a meaningless game in Houston, it’s against Zack Greinke in Game 5 of the NLCS, in Milwaukee, the series tied at 2. Ryan Braun, Rickie Weeks and Prince Fielder would come to the plate four times each, with the ability to tie or win the game with one swing every single time.
That’s the difference between a 3-2 or 2-1 game (of which I’d imagine we’d see a lot, given the quality of pitching in the National League playoffs) and an 8-4 game. “Sphincter-tightening” is the modifier that comes to mind. Now, with great consternation comes great catharsis, so if it all ends in a parade, the victory would be all the more satisfying, but imagine the journey.
We could sit through, potentially, as many as 19 exquisitely-pitched one-run games, curled into the fetal position, trying not to imagine what happens if Chase Utley gets the yips again or Roy Oswalt hangs a curveball to Justin Upton. It gives me a stomachache just to think about it. I’m picturing the floats going down Broad Street, the sidewalks lined with two million unshaven souls, each clutching a fifth of bourbon in a paper bag like it’s the One Ring.
Nineteen exquisitely-pitched one-run games extrapolates to about 60 hours of baseball. Imagine spending two and a half days of your life on your sofa, or at your corner pub, sitting with your legs crossed and eyes screwed shut because if you get up to pee it might upset the cosmic balance in such a way that makes a Vance Worley two-seamer fail to tail back over the plate at a critical moment. Two and a half days of “Get me to the plate, boys,” of World Series Game Five, Part Two, of Chase Utley derisively waving at Jonathan Sanchez. It’s going to be like watching the director’s cut of The Exorcist every day for three weeks.
And it’s going to be awesome.
Of course, I could be wrong. The Phillies could lose three in a row to Arizona to start the playoffs and never be heard from again, or they could roll up the competition in convincing fashion without ever being seriously challenged, as the 2001 Lakers did. But the spectre of 19 exquisitely pitched one-run games looms large, so I’d go out and stock up on antacids and brown liquor and set up an IV bag of both before we get going here. Because it’s going to be fun, but it’s going to be absolutely nerve-racking.