Never mind that the A's, winners of 14 straight, have springboarded from third to first (by 3 games) in the AL West. The Phillies story is even more remarkable. The Phillies reached .500 yesterday afte winning 6 straight. This is a team that has not been at .500 since April 11 and has been over .500 a total of 1 day (April 10) all year.
They traded their All-Star third baseman during the year. They have labored with a major-league caliber center fielder or first baseman. Three-fifths of their rotation from the start of the year has been recycled. Their one offseason free agent signee, Terry Adams, is now relagated to the bullpen. Much has been made of the Devil Rays opening starter Tanyon Sturtze puny win total. The Phils opening day starter, Robert Person, has only 4 wins on the season (he has been injured often this year, but he has also been ineffective when not injured).
That this team has made it to .500 is a testment to the Peter Principle. Let's look at the lowlights:
- On April 29, the Phillies lose their sixth straight (and 10th of their last 11) to fall to ten games under .500 at 8-18.
- The Phillies go on a seven-game win streak to get within three games of .500 at 16-19 (and then 17-20).
- They then lose 17-3 at Houston on May 15 (a game in which reliever Hector Mercado eventually takes one for the team giving up 8 runs, 7 earned, in two-thirds of an inning) to start a six-game losing streak.
- The Phils end May with an 8-7 loss to Montreal at home (after allowing 5 runs to lead off the night and struggling all night to catch up) and are 11 games under .500, their nadir of the year.
- On July 22, the Phillies travel to Wrigley and extend their win-less streak to five games losing 5-4. It will be the last time (so far) this year that the Phillies are at least 10 games under .500.
- On August 2, the Phils beat the Dodgers at home 3-1 to run their record to 52-56. It is the first time since the May 13 drubbing at the hands of the Astros that they are only 4 games under .500. They then lose two straight.
- The Phillies enter the August 7th game only four games under .500 and proceed to lose 4 straight.
- On August 16 the Phillies win their fifth straight to get to 3 games under .500 for the first time in more than three months. They then lose three straight.
- On Saturday the Phils win 4-0 at St. Louis. They pull within 2 games of .500 for the first time since April 18.
- On Sunday they complete a sweep of the Cards 5-3 an pull within 1 game of .500. This makes the fourteenth day, that's 2 weeks out of almost five months of play, that they Phillies are at one game under .500 or better this season.
- On Tuesday on the strength of a 4-2 win over the Expos the Phillies find the .500 promised land. They are lead by Joe Roa, apitcher who had not pitched in the majors in five years.
Given the streaky history of the Phillies (and the fact that they are already down 4-0 to Montreal tonight), expect a nice fat losing streak from this team. Having lived in both places, I now see the Phils as a cut-rate version of the Red Sox. Neither team seems to let themselves go through a full rebuilding process. Each year the Red Sox play just well enough to think that that one missing piece will put them over the top. The Phils have no illusions of such grandeur: each year they surge towards the end, promote a pitching prospect or two that they are expecting to build from, and then fall apart come the next spring, only to go through the surge again by the end of the next year. (This goes back to Marty Bystrom's 5-0 September, 1980, which won him the Pitcher of the Month award). So every year they are 2-3 years away from competing, at least in their minds.
Comparisons to New York are inevitable for both cities, but at least in the Phillies' case their New York team is anything but a dynasty. Maybe both the Red Sox and the Phillies are guilty of playing second fiddle to while attempting to emulate their New York counterparts. The Red Sox have just had a more successful analogue to follow.