Inside the Phillies: Phils should be good for a long time

Phillies ace of aces Roy Halladay is bathed in beer and bubbly after the team clinched its fifth straight division title in 2011.
Phillies ace of aces Roy Halladay is bathed in beer and bubbly after the team clinched its fifth straight division title in 2011. (CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer)
Posted: January 22, 2012

As another spring training draws near, we offer a bit of warm news in the midst of this mild winter: The Phillies should never stink again.

To anyone not yet old enough to legally consume an alcoholic beverage, that might not seem like such a big deal. All you have are memories of a beautiful ballpark overflowing with fans eager to watch a team perpetually in contention.

It has been a decade since the Phillies last had a losing season and a dozen years since they finished lower than third in the division.

With Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels at the top of the starting rotation, there is every reason to believe the team's string of five straight National League East titles will reach six in 2012.

If you're old enough to remember Darren Daulton's last at-bat in a Phillies uniform you know things were not always this way. And if you're old enough to remember Dick Selma and Woodie Fryman, you know things used to be the polar opposite for the Phillies.

Eventually, of course, the Phillies' streak of division titles will come to an end.

But there is no reason to worry about windows closing or players aging.

Sure, there will be a year or maybe even two when the Phillies do not make the playoffs, but even that goal is going to become more easily attainable with the expanded playoff format.

High-payroll teams like the Phillies will benefit most from an additional wild-card team. The proof is in the history.

Of the 24 teams that would have qualified as a second wild card since the turn of the century, 10 of them ranked in the top five in the payroll department and 14 were in the top 10. All but five ranked in the top half among baseball's 30 teams.

You might also find it interesting that the Phillies' string of five straight playoff appearances would be seven if the two-team wild-card system had been in place in 2005 and 2006.

It really is fair now to compare the Phillies to the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.

Regardless of what happens on the field this season, the Phillies are going to lead the National League in the payroll department for the second straight season.

You'd have been accused of smoking AstroTurf if you thought that possible 15 years ago.

With all due respect to the success of the Moneyball A's, it is still trumped by the power of the high payroll because the guys with the best OBPs, OPSs, and WARs want to be paid.

You know how many losing seasons the Yankees and Red Sox have had in the 21st century?

Think low. Guess zero.

They did not always make the playoffs and they did not always win the World Series, but they went into every season with a fighting chance, and that's the way it should forever be for the Phillies, too.

Perhaps an even better role model for the Phillies than the Yankees and Red Sox is the St. Louis Cardinals, the premier team in the National League since the turn of the century.

Since Y2K, the Cardinals have won six division titles, two wild-card berths, and two World Series. They have missed the playoffs just four times in that span and had just one losing season. Their payroll has never come close to the roughly $175 million the Phillies are likely to dole out in 2012, but St. Louis has consistently ranked among the top 10 and been either first or second among NL Central teams.

You could argue that the Cardinals' two World Series seasons were a bit odd, and they were. Last year, they got in as a wild card on the last day of the season after being 101/2 games out in late August. And in 2006, they won their division with 83 victories. Two years later they finished fourth with 86 wins.

You could also argue that the Cardinals sustained success was a by-product of having Tony La Russa as their manager. Maybe that's true. We're certainly about to find out.

But if we've learned anything from the Cardinals, it's that if you keep getting into the playoffs, you have a better chance of eventually winning it all.

And as you look at the 21st- century Phillies, there is every reason to believe that they will continue to have a fighting chance to be a playoff team at the start of each season.

Sure, the Miami Marlins went on a spending spree and have a new ballpark, complete with a fish tank behind home plate. But they've won two World Series in the past without being able to persuade South Floridians to fill their ballpark.

And sure, the Washington Nationals have some good, young pitching and an owner willing to pump up the payroll, but there is still little evidence that baseball can be successful in the nation's capital.

The Atlanta Braves owned the National League in the '90s and the first half of the naughts, but the Phillies are far more equipped to reload should things go bad for even a brief period.

As bad as the New York Mets are right now, they are the one team that might eventually be able to match the Phillies in the payroll department. Run properly, the Mets are the greatest threat to the Phillies' future dominance.

But even with a renewed National League team in New York, there is reason to believe that the Phillies will never stink again.


Contact staff writer Bob Brookover

at bbrookover@phillynews.com or @brookob on Twitter.

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