With the Baseball Prospectus giving the Phillies a 99% chance of reaching the playoffs, both analysts and fans have been looking towards the postseason, figuring out pitching rotations and scouting possible playoff matchups. However, as a fan who has watched the last two seasons with amazement and delight, I’m here to say hold on, we’re not there just yet.
The Phils still have a few hurdles to climb before the club drapes the lockers with plastic and pull out the four dollar champagne bottles. First of all, their upcoming schedule is not exactly a cakewalk. After one final game against the Brewers this afternoon, the Phillies have four at home against the Houston Astros, a team who recently swept the Phillies in Houston, and then three at home with the Marlins, who the Phillies seem to beat only when down in Land Shark Stadium. The Astros have lost five of their last six, so hopefully they will continue their losing ways once they get to Citizens Bank Park. If the Astros do come in playing a little downtrodden, then the Phils could easily take three of four from Houston. A series victory would most likely mean that the Phillies can bust out the 2009 NL East Champions gear, while a sweep would guarantee it.
The Marlins could possibly be eliminated by the time they get into Philadelphia, but that hasn’t stopped them in the past two years from ruining the Mets’ playoff chances on the last weekend of the season. If the Phils can’t get it done against the Astros, then they will likely face a Marlins team looking to play the spoiler once again in 2009.
To go along with a tricky schedule are the issues in the bullpen. Injuries and bad performances have left the Phillies without a solid bridge to victory. JC Romero and Scott Eyre, both key pieces to the Phillies’ World Championship run, are struggling to get off of the DL in time for the postseason. Ryan Madson has proved to be arguably the most consistent of the group, if you call blowing six saves in fourteen opportunities consistent, and then there is Brad Lidge. Ruben Amaro’s decision to take Lidge out of the closing spot is about as shocking as Cookie Monster deciding that cookies are a sometimes food: a long time coming and probably a bit overdue. In a seventh-inning mop-up appearance against the Brewers, Lidge gave up yet another run, driving his season ERA to 7.51. While his pitches and knee both appear to be fine, his head seems to be in another time zone.
On top of all this, there is the faint sound of the Tomahawk Chop creeping up behind the Phillies. While most people have focused on the upcoming postseason, the Braves have quietly continued to win, taking 13 of their last 15 games and reducing the Phillies’ lead in the East to five games. If the Phillies can’t finish the deal and win the division, the Braves are lying in wait to take the crown right out of the defending champs’ hands.
Of course, if the Phillies go on a winning streak and win their next four games, all of this worry flies out the window. Plus, when the final week of the season is simulated one million times, the Phillies still make the playoffs 99.67 percent of the time. However, I saw 2007 and 2008 with my own eyes, and I have heard the horror stories of the 1964 season. While some may say I’m just being overly superstitious, I know that I won’t be happy until I see a white 2009 flag flying in South Philadelphia.
-Tom Hagan ’11