WASHINGTON — Although the Phillies have done nothing more than guarantee three more games on the schedule, there is already a buzz whether the 2010 team is the best in club history. With 94 wins and a chance to be the first National League team since the 1942-44 Cardinals to make it to the World Series three years in a row, the Phillies aren’t flirting with just franchise greatness… this is all-time stuff.
Of course the hyperbole alarm sounds whenever anyone puts out the “best ever” line, and even in this case the players are leery of celebrating anything more than what has already been accomplished. In fact, Jimmy Rollins said for this Phillies team to be considered great they have to win the World Series.
However, in the same breath Rollins says the 2010 team is the best he’s ever played on.
“Definitely. We’re better all around—less question marks. Not that question marks ever bothered us because we like to prove skeptics wrong, but coming into this year there were only one or two things people were iffy about,” Rollins said. “Then we had a great acquisition in little Roy [Oswalt] and that took the pressure off of Cole [Hamels], and then Roy [Halladay] took the pressure off of everybody. He just came in and shut the door. Lights out.”
The weird part is general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. says there were internal discussions with the team’s brass over whether or not it was time to cut bait. Struggling to score runs during an extended stretch in July where the Phillies lost three out of four in Pittsburgh and Chicago, Amaro said the idea of trading some of the integral pieces to the fourth straight NL East title had been broached.
“There was some concern that maybe guys were getting older, less productive,” Amaro said. “If you look up and down our lineup, I don’t know if there is any guy, other than maybe Carlos Ruiz, who is having a career year. We talked about this internally and yet we still are creeping up on 95 wins, which is amazing to me. I would have been the first to be able to tell you that I didn’t think we were going to get to 90 wins when we were right around the middle of July. So for us to kind of turn on the way we’ve turned it on, is even surprising to me.
“What’s great about this is that, one, we really haven’t had the kind of production that we typically would have from even the guys in the middle [of the lineup]. Chase Utley hasn’t had his typical year. Ryan Howard hasn’t had his typical year. Jimmy Rollins obviously hasn’t had a great year, he’s had injury issues and such. We’ve got a lot of down production from a lot of guys and hopefully they can turn it on and come up with some offensive production as we get into the postseason.”
So call it the great break up that wasn’t. Following the team’s fourth straight loss and sixth in seven games to send its record to 48-46, the Phillies won eight in a row and 13 out of the next 15 games. They also made a deal to add Roy Oswalt to the rotation and became even more fearsome.
From that low point of 48-46 and seven games out in the NL East, the Phillies have gone 46-17 and six games up and winning games at a .730 clip. There was a game after a Friday afternoon loss in Chicago where Manuel sat at his desk in the cramped office and went over the math in his head while wondering aloud if his team could get it together. Less than a week later, hitting coach Milt Thompson was fired then, for whatever reason, the Phillies began winning at a rate that exceeded the more modest numbers Manuel charted in his head.
Yet paced by pitching with the hitters beginning to find their way, the Phillies are peaking at the right time. Still, the team knows that none of it matters unless they go the whole way. The great lesson learned during the current run is winning has a way of changing the way people look at things.
For history to judge the Phillies most favorably, they have to win.
After all, does anyone remember much about the Oakland teams that went to the postseason in four straight seasons but never made it past the ALDS? How about the Indians of the 1990s that made it the playoffs for five seasons in a row and the World Series twice, but never wore the ring?
Of course there are also the Braves that dominated divisional play for 14 years in a row, but have just one title—against the Indians in ’95—to show for it.
Going back a bit, the Orioles made it to the World Series three years in a row (1969, 1970, 1971), but won it once. The same thing happened with Oakland in 1988, 1989 and 1990. Those teams are remembered as dynasties that might have been had it been able to finish the deal.
Are the Phillies worried about how history might judge them?
“You play this game to try and win championships and that’s our focus,” Howard said. “We stay focused on the task at hand and let you guys tell us where it fits into the history books. That will sort itself out.”
Like Howard, Rollins isn’t ready for reflection. Just winning.
“I haven’t thought about it like that, but it’s something I’ll go through when it’s all said and done,” Rollins said. “It’s hard to do. Everything has to go your way, you have to have a good team, you have to have great pitching, you have to have timely hitting, you have to have guys who are having career years who are coming together where things are going your way. You don’t think too far into the future. You just try and blaze your own trail right now. And when the light is out, then you look back.”