It has been a few days since the Phillies have been eliminated from the 2011 MLB Playoffs, and I am not going to lie, I am still disappointed. Disappointed to think the best team in the league will not have a chance at a parade. Disappointed to think the Philadelphia Phillies will not play baseball again until 2012. Disappointed that one of the greatest teams in franchise history has been reduced to a laughing stock because of a bunch of idiots.
But we can't let personal feelings dictate what the Phillies have accomplished in 2011. The franchise was established in 1883, but 2011 was the first time they won 102 games in a single season. That is a record that stands alone. And while some will think that only increases the amount of failure and makes it even more of a laughable "choke job" than the past couple years, it not only is not a "choke job," but what happens in a five-game series is not revealing about a team in any way shape or form. The difference between a 102-win team (Phillies) and a 90-win team (Cardinals) is not significant enough to ensure that the better team will win said series.
In a recent article, Joe Posnanski in a round about way illustrates this point. It is staggering to think how rare the best team wins a pennant in baseball's modern format. I have explained this before, but the variance of outcomes in baseball is too luck dependent in a five game series (or seven game series) for everything to even out. If you want to do that, then you are looking at upwards of 650 plate appearances, something players in a playoff series won't even come close to attaining.
If you want to label a team a "choker," label the Boston Red Sox, a team that once claimed they had a 99.7% chance of making the playoffs and wound up not making it. Do not label the Phillies "chokers," simply because they are nowhere near in the same ballpark as the Red Sox. Entering the playoffs, the Phillies had at best a roughly 24% chance to win the World Series, if I am being generous. That is a 76% of not winning the World Series. How can one call not winning a World Series a failure when there was a 76% chance it was going to happen. Entering the series with the St. Louis Cardinals, the Phillies had only a 59% chance of winning the series, according to coolstandings.com. How is something a "failure" when an outcome that is 41% likely to happen, happens? Consider this thought experiment from FuquaManuel of TheGoodPhight.com. What would you be saying now if the deep fly balls by Ibanez and Utley carried just a few more feet?
If you want to be mad, do not be mad at Ryan Howard. Or Raul Ibanez. Or Chase Utley. Or Cliff Lee. Or Roy Halladay. Or Roy Oswalt. Or any single member of the Phillies. If you want to get angry, get angry at baseball.
For baseball is a journey. A long, beautiful summer long journey. A 162-game journey where fathers bond with sons. Friends bond with friends. Family bonds with family. It is not where you end up, but how you get there, the memories you make, and the memories that you carry on. For me, I will never forget July 26, 2011. It was the first game the Phillies played against the San Francisco Giants since the 2010 NLCS. Barry Zito was on the mound. Chase Utley was at the plate. Deep fly ball, center field, off the top of the wall.
I am in attendance, standing, cheering. Then Chase Utley approaches third. Just a few feet in front of me, Juan Samuel motions to Utley, go! Go! Go home!
But in the end, 162-games boils down to a five game series. Then a seven game series. Then another seven game series. And for those that only get joy at the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, then I truly feel sorry for you, because baseball is a rainbow that is meant to be enjoyed from start to finish.
Everyone wants to win the World Series, but only one team out of 30 does. And for the other 29, not all are failures. The team that comes out on top is not always the best team. In fact, under the current system, that is seemingly a rare occurrence, certainly more so in comparison to other sports. An intelligent argument can be made that the worst Philadelphia Phillies team in the last four years is the team that won the World Series. There are so many factors that come to play in a five or seven game series that you simply cannot expect to win, no matter how good the team is. This Phillies season really helped me grow a greater appreciation for just how good the 2001 Seattle Mariners were. They won 116 games (14 more than the 2011 Phillies) and lost in the ALCS to the New York Yankees. The false narrative at the time was the upstart Mariners could not over come the "Yankee aura." But the truth is, in the baseball post-season, shit happens. No matter how good a team you are, there are too many variables for the better team to always win. It is unfortunate, but it is also what makes playoffs baseball so exciting. Any team can win in the playoffs. The best teams in each league this year, the Phillies and the Yankees respecitvely, have both been eliminated. This year in particular, any team can win. The 2004 St. Louis Cardinals went 105-57 and lost in the World Series. The 2006 St. Louis Cardinals went 83-78 and won the World Series. Doesn't that say it all?
Next year, the Phillies will be back. They may not win 102 games again, but barring a team-wide plague of injuries, they will likely be back in the playoffs. Even if their win total is somewhere in the 90s, in all likelihood that will still be enough to get them into the playoffs and something hovering around a 1-in-8 (or 10 if Selig does in fact expand the playoffs) shot at winning the World Series. But most importantly, next year there will be another journey. A journey with some old faces, some new faces, and 162-days of highs, lows, and moments that we will share forever.
And maybe, when all is said and done, as October 2012 gets ready to morph into November 2012, the Phillies can once again have their names pulled from the lottery, just like in 2008. And all the journeys the Phillies took you on over the years will once again all be worth it.