Dr. Strangeglove: One Chance in Three

Posted by Michael Baumann, Mon, September 26, 2011 08:00 AM | Comments: 8
Dr. Strangeglove, Opinion, Posts

“You’re afraid of our fleet. Well, you should be. Personally, I’d give us one chance in three. More tea anyone?”

Sean Connery as Capt. Marko Ramius, The Hunt for Red October

I’ll go out and say it: I think the Phillies are the best team in the playoff hunt, and have been all year. It’s hard to imagine the possibility that their starting pitching wouldn’t carry them three-quarters of the way to a title, and the bullpen and offense will do as well as is needed. Here’s a warning: I’m about to say that it’s more likely than not that the Phillies, despite having assembled a great team and despite having embarked on a great season, will once again fall short of a World Series title. So if you reject that premise out of hand and can’t be bothered to read the argument behind it, you know where to go. But I’m not saying that to be all doom-and-gloom, or even because I’m worried by the recent eight-game losing streak (I’m not). I’m saying it because the facts support the argument.

If you asked me to bet money on any one team to win the World Series, I’d put it on the Phillies. They’ve got the best record, the best pitching staff, a pretty decent offense that has all its starters back for the first time in weeks, and the easiest road to the Fall Classic. The logical conclusion is that the Phillies would win, but because of the vagaries of small sample size and the whoopee cushions and banana peels that shroud playoff baseball year in and year out, nothing is for certain.

Am I optimistic? Sure. But there’s a long way to go. Just like the crew of the Red October, I give us….about one chance in three.

Online oddsmakers are a little higher on the Phillies, making them about a 1.5-to-1 favorite to win it all, give or take, as things stand now. That puts their odds, when you factor in all the idiosyncrasies of sports gambling, more or less where I would: about one chance in three. So if the Phillies are the best team, with a relatively easy route to the World Series, why am I not making parade plans?

Well, a few reasons:

Random Variance

I can’t stress this one enough. So much of what makes baseball’s gears turn is random. A batter hits a screaming line drive that, if struck a fraction of a second later, would have fallen for a hit rather instead of ending up in a fielder’s glove. A Vance Worley two-seamer tails back over the black, and the umpire gives him the borderline call. These things tend to even out over 162 games, but over a best-of-five or best-of-seven series? Not so much.

The Cody Ross Effect

Of course, a bad bounce or a creative strike zone isn’t the end of the story–individual performances vary wildly from game to game. This is how Don Larsen, a pitcher with a career ERA+ of 99, threw a perfect game in the World Series. This is how Cody Ross, in last year’s NLCS, and countless others (Mike Deveraux is the name that always gets stuck in my head) throughout time always pop up out of nowhere to carry their teams to glory while Evan Longoria goes 1-for-20 in the 2008 World Series. I hate to say that many teams lose because of bad luck, but they do, and there’s nothing more complicated than that. The Phillies could enter a playoff series superior to their opponent in every way and still lose, and if you don’t believe me, remember that these Phillies lost two of three to Pittsburgh, Seattle, and Houston at different points this season.

Other Good Teams

You know who else is making parade plans, apart from Phillies fans? Yankees fans. Brewers fans. The Phillies aren’t the only good team in this hunt, and the teams I’ve mentioned are closely enough matched that a short series becomes a total crapshoot. The Brewers’ top three starting pitchers, Zack Greinke, Yovani Gallardo, and Shaun Marcum, aren’t exactly Halladay, Lee, and Hamels, but they’re good enough to make any game interesting, no matter the opponent. Then there’s Rickie Weeks, Ryan Braun, and Prince Fielder.

Or how about the Yankees? Sure, their starting pitchers are CC Sabathia and the Four Seasons, but they’ve got a lineup capable of bothering any pitching staff, including one as good as the Phillies’. The point remains: in the playoffs, being clearly better than one’s opponent isn’t enough. That’s why they play the games–it’s not fair, but it’s entertaining, and that’s the tradeoff we make. If the best team won all the time, the Phillies would probably still have a World Series ring, but it would have come last year, not in 2008, when the Cubs, Angels, and Red Sox were all better teams.

So while I hope for the best, I’m under no illusion that this playoff run is a sure thing. And if it goes bad, there may not even be any use in pointing fingers. The playoffs are incredibly unpredictable. Try to bear that in mind if everything starts to go wrong.

Avatar of Michael Baumann

About Michael Baumann

Michael Baumann has written 229 articles on Phillies Nation.

Michael is a graduate student at Temple University who lost his childlike innocence when, at the age of 6, his dad let him stay up for the end of Game 6 of the 1993 World Series. Unsettled by the Phillies' recent success, he has threatened over the years to leave the team he loves if they don't start losing again, but has so far been unable to follow through. Michael spent 4 years as an undercover agent in Braves territory at the University of South Carolina, where he covered football and soccer for The Daily Gamecock before moving back up north. He began writing for The Phrontiersman in June 2009 before moving to Phillies Nation in January 2010.

  • Posts: 2005 Brooks

    Avatar of Brooks

    truthfully Mike, was your opine the same prior to the 8 game schnide?

    I’m guessing not probably due to the same reasons my opinion has started to waive.

    A) The starters are supermen but, even the man of steel got kicked around a little before the final outcome. In other words, they are not always going to throw a gem or better yet a shut out. This is just plain truth. The best starting 4 in all of baseball and they should be able to get away with throwing the terrible moniker ‘a quality start’ – giving up 3 runs in 6 innings pitched and hopefully we could (no, SHOULD) expect a win there except for the next few items:

    B) How in the F*#@& can an entire offense shut down for an extended period of time like this? Rollins, Vic, Utley, Howard, Raul and even Pence are and have been so bad this month cummulatively, a near impossible feat. The top 3 in the lineup going 0 for an entire series??? I have been watching baseball for a long time friends and never saw anything like this happen – and finally;

    C) No LH relief out of the BP. This is a fact. Bastardo has seen a lot of action and has never had the ball this much. Unless his psyche is permanently affected, he will resume his march to stardom next year but I am afraid this guy is overdone for 2011. If the game is in reach for Madson to come in, they may be fine but this entire post season is leveled on the bats up front. Not Martinez, not Valdez, not Gload but our regulars, core of this team that once did instill fear into the opposition before the game even began.

    If the Offense continues to sputter, this could be a very, very dissapointing season.

    • Posts: 33 Michael Baumann

      Avatar of Michael Baumann

      Truthfully, yes. It’s been my opinion all along.

      • Posts: 2005 Brooks

        Avatar of Brooks

        Until these past few weeks, I thought it was impossible for this team to lose 4 consecutive games. Regardless of how ineffective the offense has been throughout the year, the BP collapse has concerned me most.

  • Posts: 0 Don M

    Off Topic – but Clayton Kershaw locked up that Cy Young yesterday

  • Posts: 0 bacardipr05

    Our offense doesnt really instill fear like they once used to. This had a lead to and overconfidence in the other team and seems to be working in the opposing team favor. Just get R-Roll to pop out, Howard will swing and although occasionally he will connect most part he will strike out. Utley the most rounded of all hitters appears to be injured and not up to par for the season. The only real threats appeared to be Shane (struggling) Chooch and Pence and perhaps Mayberry. All the guys are sporting sub .260 BA (exception Polly) and you not sure which Polanco is going to show up. The Bullpen is shot to hell Bastardo has only pitched 57 innings, i dont think he was overworked might of been periods in there he was used a lot. Also the guy has a history of injuries so who know there.

  • Posts: 0 Ray

    This isn’t an opinion as much as a very eloquent statement of the facts. Well written. Even if it’s not as fun as remembering that I had my son who was too young for the last parade, and as such my wife owes me one. And I’m going to this one… If they can beat the odds.

  • Posts: 2005 Brooks

    Avatar of Brooks

    The parade was overrated (ok, I went with my grand daughter). I want my seat in CBP.

  • Avatar of The Original Chuck P

    If any team can beat the odds, it’s this one… I know what you’re saying, Michael. More often than not (and especially since the introduction of the Wild Card), the best team does not win. I think about the 2001 Mariners that won 116 games and lost to the Yankees (who then lost to the Diamondbacks – a D’Backs team which won 92 games that season).


    I think that this team has the makeup of a champion. All along, we’ve been saying, “Just get us into the playoffs.” Why? Because this pitching staff is going to be very tough to beat in a 5-7 game series. Halladay, Lee and Hamels will each pitch twice in a 7 game series… it’s really hard to see anyone beating any of those guys twice. A short series against the Cardinals would worry me a little bit but only because Pujols has found his groove… you take him out of the equation, you mitigate the damage that their lineup can do. How do you do that? You do your damnedest to make sure that when he’s up, there is no one on base and walk him when there’s a base open and RISP. As for the bullpen, it’s the playoffs… Madson might have to pitch more than one inning. Bastardo becomes a LOOGY. Lidge has his leash shortened. Worley and Stutes are there if needed. Not a big deal, in my opinion. Our bullpen is good enough to hold up – might not seem as untouchable as they once were but the bright lights bring out the best in people and I am confident in those guys.

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