Do Phillies have any room for September swoon?

Charlie Manuel knows the value of momentum.
Charlie Manuel knows the value of momentum. (YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: September 23, 2011

Oops. What looked like a coronation is now threatening to cause coronaries. Those cold chills aren't just because autumn is settling in. The Phillies are suddenly lurching toward the finish line, every wart fully on display.

Is this any way for a World-Series-or-bust team to approach the playoffs?

Of course not. Logic and common sense dictate that. As manager Charlie Manuel has pointed out several times lately, baseball is a game of momentum. And there are certainly plenty of historical precedents to support the conventional wisdom that a team that roars through the final weeks will be primed to do real damage during the postseason.

The 1969 Mets played .767 ball in September and then upset the Orioles in the World Series. The 2003 wild-card Marlins had a .692 winning percentage the final month, then rode the wave all the way to a world championship. The 2007 Rockies were so hot that it actually ended up hurting them. They dispatched their opponents so easily in the division and championship series that they endured a layoff of more than a week between games that mattered and couldn't recapture the magic when play resumed against the Red Sox.

So every bit of agita Phillies fans are experiencing while watching their favorite team stagger around like a bunch of revelers at last call is completely justified.

The thing is, though, that there are also a multitude of examples of teams shrugging off September swoons as if they were bad dreams.

The 2000 New York Yankees, for one, seem to offer some interesting parallels.

Like this year's Phillies, those Bronx Bombers were coming off successful seasons. They'd won the World Series each of the previous two Octobers. Like this year's Phillies, they had some older players. Like this year's Phillies, they appeared to be on cruise control.

But after winning on Sept. 2, they went 11-18 the rest of the way. They were outscored 111-177 in that span. And it got worse. Accompanied by screaming tabloid headlines, they dropped 13 of their final 15 including closing out the regular season being swept by the division's last-place and next-to-last-place teams, Tampa Bay and Baltimore.

Then, of course, they marched through the A's, Mariners and Mets to win another World Series.

Two reasons why these Phillies are even better positioned to turn things around than those Yankees. New York lost all the games with a largely healthy lineup. The Phils can hope that the production will improve when Ryan Howard and Hunter Pence return and that Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley will get their timing down in the final week.

The other factor, of course, is that the Phillies' rotation should keep them in every game.

Look at the 2001 Diamondbacks. They had a losing record in the final month but rode Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling to a world championship.

Manuel is right. Baseball is a game of momentum. More than that, though, it's a game of streaks, both hot and cold. And they tend to start and end with no real logic.

The 1977 Royals were 25-5 in September and then were beaten in the ALCS. And it's not a stretch to suggest that the Phillies were the hottest team in baseball last fall, right up until the time they played the Giants.

That's baseball.

So, yeah, if the Phillies don't play better beginning a week from tomorrow, they'll probably make an early exit from the postseason and will face a long, cold winter of disappointment, second-guessing and recriminations.

If they do, there could well be another parade down Broad Street.

Unfortunately, there's no real way of knowing which Phillies team will show up until the playoffs start.

OUTSIDE PERSPECTIVE:

Here's what Brewers manager Ron Roenicke had to say about the Phillies' recent tribulations:

"Look at their schedule [33 games in the last 31 days of the regular season]; it's brutal. It's a time of year when they should be resting guys and they're playing them in two games. I look at their losing strictly because of the number of games they've played."

NL FEAR FACTOR:

Jeff Neuman, columnist for realclearsports.com, poses an interesting trivia question: Which National League team has given up the fewest runs, has the highest OPS among likely playoff contenders and the best record in baseball since the All-Star break?

That would be your Milwaukee Brewers.

ADD FEAR FACTOR:

Here's one opinion on how the Phillies should look at the rest of the NLDS and NLCS contenders, ranked by descending order of degree of difficulty:

2. Giants: The defending world champions remain a longshot, and that's good news for the Phillies, who should want no parts of Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum.

3. Diamondbacks: Arizona doesn't have big names but has shown its mettle all season. Lack of playoff experience is the biggest drawback.

4. Cardinals: Even though they beat the Phillies three out of four last weekend, they're not as deep top to bottom, especially if Matt Holliday is still hurt.

5. Braves: Without Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson and with a worn-down back of the bullpen, Atlanta is very beatable.

So, really, there's no question about which team the Phillies should least want to face in October. See above.

LOOKING AHEAD:

If the Phillies were to end up playing Texas in the World Series, an interesting angle would be that Rangers manager Ron Washington is likely to use three lefthanded starters in the postseason: C.J. Wilson, Derek Holland and Matt Harrison. The only righthander, who would be slotted between Wilson and Holland, is Colby Lewis.

AROUND THE BASES

BRING 'EM IN:

The Mets are seriously considering shrinking the dimensions of Citi Field next season, according to the New York Post. General manager Sandy Alderson said no final decision has been reached, but described the proposed changes as "not subtle" and added: "To some extent it's a question of entertainment. The hard-core baseball fan, I think, enjoys the 2-1, the 3-2 [game]. We're appealing to a little broader segment and I think offense is appealing. Offense sells."

HAIRY SITUATIONS:

Braves utility man Eric Hinske got a mohawk before Tuesday's game in an attempt to help the team stop its skid. The last time he did it was 2008 for the Rays and Tampa Bay went all the way to the World Series.

Meanwhile, Rays manager Joe Maddon says that if his team completes its improbable comeback and makes it to the playoffs he'll wear his hair in a ponytail.

MAKING HIS PITCH:

The debate over whether pitchers should win the Most Valuable Player Award continues to bubble, with Tigers ace Justin Verlander continuing to build his case.

"I've never seen anyone as good as this guy," said manager Jim Leyland. And Verlander isn't above doing a little campaigning, either. "If I get a vote, me," he told Yahoo.com.

BY THE NUMBERS:

8: Catchers used by the Pirates this season.

25: Consecutive scoreless innings pitched by veteran Marlins righthander Javier Vazquez. Despite that, he says he's sticking with his decision to retire at the end of the season.

29: Years since the Dodgers last drew fewer then 3 million to Chavez Ravine in a full season, which they'll do this year.

REALLY?

In 2008, the Pirates made Pedro Alvarez the second overall draft choice and gave him $6.335 million to sign. In 94 games this year he's batting .194 with four homers and 16 RBI.

Yet, when the team asked him to further hone his skills in winter ball, he declined.

Publicly, team officials said all the right things. Privately, they're rumored to be fuming.

FINALLY:

The Mariners unveiled a statue of late announcer Dave Niehaus outside Safeco Field last Friday. How lifelike was it? "I half expected him to get up and tell me to clean my room or go wash his car and mow the lawn," his son Andy said.

Nice.

To read David Murphy's 5 reasons to have angst, click here.

For his 5 reasons to give thanks, click here.

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