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Sweeping Success? —Part Two
2007-09-17 09:24
by Mike Carminati

Can the Phils just play the Mets everyday?

The Phils completed their third sweep of the Mets yesterday with a 10-6 induced by a Greg Dobbs-pinch hit grand slam in the sixth. The Phils are now 3-1/2 games behind the Mets for the NL East title and 1.5 behind San Diego in wild card with 13 games left to play. Whatever the Phils do, they are 12-6 for the season against the Mets.

But I do not know what to the think. After completing their last Mets sweep on August 30, they were two games out of first place and out of the wild card lead with a 71-62 record. Then the Phils went 6-7 in two series against the worst team in the NL (the Marlins), one against the floundering Braves, and another against the fourth-place Rockies. And then they sweep the Mets again!?!

I just don't get it. Is this team for real?

Sweeping an opponent three times in a season is not that rare. It had been done 343 times as of the end of the 2006 season (including series of at least . Three teams did it last year: Houston swept Pittsburgh three times, Boston swept Baltimore three times, and the A's swept the M's four times.

However, what the Phils did is somewhat rare. It is just the sixth time in baseball history that one of the top two teams in a division or league swept the other top two team three times over the course of a season. The last time it was done was 1996. The only other time the second-place team was within striking distance (five games) was in the historic 1951 Dodger-Giant pennant race:

1996St. Louis Cardinals88741Houston Astros828023006
1995Cleveland Indians100441Kansas City Royals7074230030
1995Cincinnati Reds85591Houston Astros766823009
1953Cleveland Indians92622New York Yankees99521300-9
1951Brooklyn Dodgers97602New York Giants98591300-1
1946Boston Red Sox104501Detroit Tigers9262230012

As for the Phils beating the Mets twelve times this year, there has only been one other second-place team (the '76 O's) that beat the first-place team more times (assuming the Mets hold on to win the division). Here are the most wins:

1976Baltimore Orioles88742New York Yankees97621411135
2003Seattle Mariners93692Oakland Athletics96661312127
1971Los Angeles Dodgers89732San Francisco Giants90721430126
2007Philadelphia Phillies 2New York Mets 126
1991Los Angeles Dodgers93692Atlanta Braves94681420117
1982Los Angeles Dodgers88742Atlanta Braves89731321117
1975Philadelphia Phillies86762Pittsburgh Pirates92691321117
1974St. Louis Cardinals86752Pittsburgh Pirates88741321117
2002San Francisco Giants95662Arizona Diamondbacks98641204118
1973Boston Red Sox89732Baltimore Orioles97651303117
2004Boston Red Sox98642New York Yankees101611420118
2006Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim89732Oakland Athletics93691420118
2006Detroit Tigers95672Minnesota Twins96661330118

So what does this mean for the Phillies? Remember that no team has ever come back to win its division/league after trailing by more than six games as late in the season as the Phils did. They Phils were 6-1/2 games back when their series with the Mets began (Sept. 13).

History is not in the Phils corner even after the sweep. Teams that were 3-1/2 games out of a playoff spot on September 17 have won that spot just 3% of the time (i.e., 1 out of 32). Teams 1-1/2 games from a playoff spot, as the Phils are in the wild card race, won just 18% of the time (4 out of 22). Overall any team not in possession of a playoff spot on September 17 but within six games of one have a 12% chance of getting it. No team trailing by more than six games on this date has come back to win a playoff spot.

Here are the breakdowns by games back (for league, division, and wild card races). Note the big dropoff after three games back:

GBMade POs#Tms%

Things look bright with the team ace, Cole Hamels, ready to come off the DL and start in the upcoming Cards series, his first start in a month. But one still has to be realistic and admit that the Phils are still swimming upstream. History is not on their side.

2007-09-17 12:37:57
1.   mbtn01
Understanding how long the odds are I wouldn't put anything past the Mets right now. I don't think it was possible for a first-place team to play any worse than the Mets did in the 4-gamer at CBP -- and yet they did at home; now they're off to Washington behind Brian Lawrence and Mike Pelfrey -- neither of whom inspire confidence -- and with Jose Reyes playing as badly as I've ever seen.

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