October 1, 2007
A 13-4 Run
With so much focus on the Mets' collapse, blowing a-all together now-seven-game lead with 17 to play, I think the Phillies have been getting a bit shorted. After all, they closed 13-4, and if they'd closed 11-6, which would have been a blistering .648 pace, we wouldn't be talking about this today. It takes two to make history, and as poorly as the Mets played over the last few weeks in September, the Phillies played just that well.
Actually, I should clarify that. The Phillies' pitched just that well. See, the little pitching staff that couldn't, the one that looked to have more guys named "Kyle" than quality starters, shut down the opposition just as the Mets' pitching staff was devolving into a bigger train wreck than the final season of "Alias." On September 11 and 12, the Phillies dropped home games to the Rockies 8-2 and 12-0, running their seasonal ERA to 4.89. Cole Hamels-and three other members of the Opening Day rotation-were memories, and the team's playoff hopes were on the verge of joining them.
And then, just like that, it was the pitching, not the vaunted Phillies offense, that turned the team's season around. Over those last 17 games, the Phillies posted a 3.44 ERA and allowed just four runs per game in all. They struck out 120 men and walked 56 in 159 2/3 innings. The key number? Just 11 home runs allowed over that stretch; opponents hit just .247/.318/.342 overall.
Go a little deeper. The Phillies' starters were better down the stretch, but hardly dominant: 44 runs allowed in 84 2/3 innings, hardly award-winning stuff. They were critical to the final push over the last week, of course. For just the second time since the All-Star break, the Phillies got three straight quality starts, enabling them to pass the Mets last Friday. I can make fun of the Kyles, but both Lohse and Kendrick turned in solid outings last week against the Braves, and Cole Hamels followed with an absolute gem against the Nationals on Friday.
It was the bullpen, however, that made all the difference. Take a look at these numbers during the 17-game stretch that saved the season:
The Phillies' bullpen, so problematic throughout the season, morphed into the 2002 Angels at the perfect time. Antonio Alfonseca pitched just once in the team's last 12 games, as Charlie Manuel identified his best relievers, and then worked them hard.
The offense was still productive, in line with what it had been doing all season. Having all the starters healthy and available for the first time in a while, the Phillies hit .245/.345/.441, well below their season averages. They still managed to score six runs a game, in some part because they went a fantastic 17-for-18 on the basepaths, and hit 26 home runs, 13 of them with runners on base. The team's core strengths on offense, plate discipline and power, buoyed them in a month when their batting averages went south.
There's very little the Phillies didn't do right over the season's last three weeks. If the history books declare this a Mets "choke," while glossing over the team that closed 13-4 and made up the ground that was left uncovered, it will be missing a huge part of the story. The Phillies won the NL East; it wasn't just handed to them.
(Baseball-reference.com was invaluable in preparing this piece. Sean Forman makes it easy to be happy for Phillies fans.)
The Padres and Rockies take the field tonight for one last game, one last chance to extend their seasons. You've heard me say over and over that short series are unpredictable; one game is even more so. Christina Kahrl breaks down the matchup elsewhere; I'll point you to her analysis while noting that the one factor not to pay any attention to is momentum. In baseball, momentum is tomorrow's starting pitcher, to quote Earl Weaver. That the Padres were two games up with two to play, or the Rockies 13-1 in their last 14, doesn't mean anything. Two teams, one game, and anything is possible.
I'll be back tonight to chat throughout the game beginning at 7:30 ET.