On Worrying

The Phillies ended an eight-game losing streak yesterday, running over the Mets 9-4. The city of Philadelphia let out a collective sigh of relief as the Phillies may actually get to 100 wins after all. Over the course of the losing streak, the Phillies averaged just two runs per game. The offense’s collective slash line was a depressing .225/.284/.285.

At some point during the slide, around the fifth game or so, you had two parties within the Phillies fan camp: worriers and non-worriers. The worriers cited things like the team’s health, the recent lack of offense, and the bullpen struggles. The non-worriers negated those claims by referencing the small sample sizes and the fact that recent teams have won the World Series despite a mediocre finish to the regular season (e.g. the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals).

It’s in our nature to tie a narrative to what we see. In baseball, you will never read the literary equivalent of a shoulder shrug after an eight-game losing streak in late September because we perceive the games to have more importance. In 2008, the year the Phillies won a championship, they lost their sixth game in a row on June 24. They had just six more wins than losses and held on to first place by a game in the standings. But there was no panic because we don’t perceive the middle of the season to have as much importance as the beginning or end of the season.

Compare that to the 2-10 start the Boston Red Sox had to start the 2011 season. The same people who, before the season, predicted the Red Sox to become one of the greatest teams of all time were ready to write them off as dead after just 12 games. At that time, the Sox were in fifth place, five games out in the division. They were in the same spot at the end of April, only reinforcing the narrative. By the end of May, the Red Sox were back in first place where they were predicted to be all along. The narrative changed to casting the Red Sox as resilient, rather than simply playing up to their true talent level.

The Phillies have now lost eight out of their last nine games. Do you think we would be seeing nearly as much worrying if the Phillies lost four in a row, won a game, then lost another four in a row? I doubt it because the latter feels better than losing eight consecutively. As you watch the team lose again and again, you become more cognizant of their flaws. Eventually, you start looking specifically for flaws, ignoring any positives or putting the flaws in their proper perspective. This doesn’t make you stupid and irrational, as many would have you think; it just makes you human.

Half of the Phillies losses were by a margin of one or two runs. A couple extra bounces their way, whether as hitters or pitchers, and we may be talking about a completely different narrative.

Having said that, there are some unsettling trends and we do not have the luxury of waiting around for the sample size to become sufficient. Antonio Bastardo has walked eight of the last 37 batters he has faced, while posting a 6.75 ERA. Chase Utley has six hits in his last 52 at-bats against left-handed pitching (h/t Mark Simon @msimonespn). Cole Hamels has allowed ten home runs in his last nine starts after allowing just eight in his first 22 starts. Shane Victorino‘s OPS sat at .926 on September 2, but is now down to .845 (prior to yesterday afternoon’s game).

Worrying is fine. It is your right as a fan to be concerned with the well-being of your team, whether rational or irrational. Just be cognizant of the limitations of the information on which you are basing these worries, and your limitations as a human being. The Phillies still enter the playoffs as the odds-on favorite to win it all. If the Phillies don’t walk out with the trophy, it may or may not be because of these recent story lines; sometimes, a team just comes out of nowhere to steal the prize. To win it all, the Phillies need to have plenty of favorable dice rolls, regardless of the team’s talent.

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26 comments

  1. Richard

    September 26, 2011 07:45 AM

    Well said, Bill. Positives I took from this last week-plus of games: the starting pitching has, Hamels HRs included, been generally excellent; Madson’s been fine; Rollins is hitting; Ruiz is hitting; Howard got some time off, then came back and has gotten some hits and RBI (fwiw); Pence was able to rest, then came back hitting yesterday; Ibanez has been hitting; Mayberry has been hitting. While Utley and Victorino have, for sure, been struggling, I’ve seen positive signs in them both. Etc.

    For all that losing 8 games in a row undoubtedly sucks, as you point out, about half of them could easily have gone the other way, and that’s with the half-scrubs lineup.

  2. LTG

    September 26, 2011 09:03 AM

    So is CBP getting the NHL winter classic? Is that why phillies.com is telling me to watch for an NHL news conference?

  3. mratfink

    September 26, 2011 09:50 AM

    Honestly the thing that is worrying me is the bullpen. They have been getting hit hard over this losing streak and guys who have previously looked good and reliable like Bastardo are getting rocked.

  4. Bliz

    September 26, 2011 10:25 AM

    Here is my question. If guys like Stutes, Bastardo, and Lidge are getting hit around and struggle in the post season, would Charlie use his starters out of the bullpen for an inning or two (like how Arizona used Randy Johnson out of the pen in the 2001 world series against the Yanks)? I guess that’s what you would consider Worley for. But would you consider using one of the 4 aces out of the pen in a tight game if you need them (especially if its their bullpen day or something)?

  5. Dan

    September 26, 2011 10:40 AM

    Charlie has already shown that he WILL use one of the aces out of the ‘pen if needed. He used Oswalt in relief last year.

    It may or may not work, but when it comes down to it Manuel will do what he thinks will give the team the best chance to win. I just hope he doesn’t think that means using Herndon in a high leverage situation. And if he does, here’s hoping Herndon is the dominant Herndon, and not the one that seems to think giving up runs helps us.

  6. Phillie697

    September 26, 2011 11:12 AM

    Guys, they haven’t had anything to play for for like two weeks now. This is literally like spring training for these guys. In fact, with the number of games Ben Francisco has started, it’s being played like spring training as well. Let’s not get all panicky just yet. I have paid ZERO attention to the losing streak, instead I have been enjoying myself watching the Braves and their fans getting ready to jump off whatever bridge they have to jump off from in Atlanta. To think, after all that analyzing who we rather play, the Brewers or the Snakes, we might get… The Cards.

  7. KH

    September 26, 2011 11:49 AM

    I’m not convinced the Phillies are better then the Yankees personally and it has nothing to do with slide they were on. I know the Yankees do not have the starting pitching the Phillies do but you have to admit there run deferential is pretty impressive and there offense is much better then anything the Phillies have faced from the National League. They will be a formidable roadblock if they meet in the World Series.

  8. hk

    September 26, 2011 12:11 PM

    KH,

    I think Bill’s point about the Phils being odds-on favorites to win it all has more to do with the Phils having an easier road to the World Series than the Yankees have. If the Phillies and Yankees get there, I suspect that the odds will be close to 50/50.

  9. SABR

    September 26, 2011 12:48 PM

    I think he is just stating a fact. If you walk into Vegas and want to take the Phillies to win it all, you will get about 3:2 on your money. The next highest odds are for the Yankees, which are about 4:1. So the Phillies are substantial favorites to win it all and are implied to be favorites over the AL winner (they are over 50% to win the NL, so that does have a lot to do with it)

  10. Phillie697

    September 26, 2011 01:01 PM

    The impressive run differential is partly the by-product of the DH, which will be somewhat more even’ed out in the WS should two team meet because 1) for four games the Yankees can’t trot out a DH and their pitchers are not used to hitting as Halladay/Lee/Hamels, and 2) for the other three games the Phillies can use a DH of their own. Don’t let that Yankee’s run differential fool you.

  11. jauer

    September 26, 2011 01:02 PM

    Its funny. The people who state that the sky is falling are saying “THEY WILL LOSE IN 4 TO ARIZONA!!!”, when the only legitimate thing to “worry about” with this team is the possibility that they may face Milwaukee in the NLDS. The Brewers do not own the tiebreaker over Arizona. The dbacks only need to make up one game in the standings, and all of a sudden the Phillies may be heading to Miller Park for game 3 with the NLDS tied at 1.

    That possibility alone is more to worry about than how the team performs with Pete Orr and Eric Kratz in the lineup.

  12. CPM

    September 26, 2011 01:05 PM

    I was tearing my hair out listening to people freak the eff out for the past week, and I became — to my real discredit — really aggressive in belittling the thinking that lies behind those worries.

    But we can all agree that Bastardo has gone from ‘a couple bad outings’ into full-fledged ‘uh-oh’ territory, right?

  13. Phillie697

    September 26, 2011 01:09 PM

    @jauer,

    What makes you think it’s going to be the Brewers or the Diamondbacks? As the team with the best record, we’re suppose to play the WC team, which isn’t necessarily the Braves (who we can’t face in the first round because they are in the same division as us). That is what I’m rooting for actually. I want neither the Brewers nor the Diamondbacks.

  14. Phillie697

    September 26, 2011 01:10 PM

    @CPM,

    No, because expecting Bastardo to keep up what he was doing was a little unrealistic. Okay, fine, it would be lunacy.

  15. jauer

    September 26, 2011 01:41 PM

    I completely agree with you, Phillie697; I’m rooting for St. Louis as well. However, the doomsday people don’t realize just how close a possibility of a Milwaukee-Philly NLDS truly is.

    It’s almost been assumed that (assuming the Braves hang on) Arizona will be the opponent, but an Arizona sweep and one Brewers loss will create the (arguably) worst possible opponent

  16. Tmc

    September 26, 2011 02:55 PM

    That’s true about Bastardo, phillie697, but your post seems to suggest a simple regression, a couple bad pitches, maybe an unlucky bounce or two, dropping him from record-breaking to “pretty good.” But what has actually happened is that he’s been unreliable and mostly awful for about 3 weeks now. It seems like a legit concern.

  17. Cutter

    September 26, 2011 03:10 PM

    Basically, once the Phillies clinched, they reached the “only bad things can happen” phase, which can be very trying for a fanbase.

    They had accomplished all they possibly could, so any wins from that point really had no meaning.

    On the other hand, players could get hurt or go into slumps, which would make the postseason outlook much more pessimistic.

  18. Phillie697

    September 26, 2011 03:58 PM

    @Cutter,

    All the more important to not pay any attention during the “there is absolutely nothing to gain from here on out” phase, because whatever “observation” you make during this period is at best unreliable.

  19. Phillie697

    September 26, 2011 04:04 PM

    @Tmc,

    Bastardo in Sept. has a BABIP of .389 after not having it above .200 the entire season (which of course was unsustainable) and a HR/FB rate of 18.2%, way above league average. The walk rate is atrocious yes, but his K/9 is still hovering around 10. And we are talking a total of 7 walks the entire month here btw. Let’s not over-react and forget the REST of his 2011 season.

  20. BrandonG

    September 26, 2011 08:20 PM

    RE: Bastardo…Regression to the mean

  21. LTG

    September 26, 2011 10:33 PM

    Things I’m not looking forward to:

    Having to hear about what Ozzie Guillen said about the (future) previous nights’ Marlins-Phillies tangle.

    (At least if ESPN is right.)

  22. Greg

    September 27, 2011 01:00 AM

    Is no one else rooting for the Braves to hold off the Cards? I’d much rather face AZ than STL. The phils haven’t scored off their starting pitching all year, and I think they have an overall better lineup than AZ right now.

  23. Scotch Man

    September 27, 2011 08:20 AM

    In a must-win game, I’m totally putting in whichever ace is off that night if the situation demands it.

  24. Phillie697

    September 27, 2011 08:37 AM

    @Greg,

    Maybe it’s because in the 5 games that Phillies played against the Cards BEFORE their second spring training started, they scored 31 runs? Again, let’s not over-react to the 4 games during which Phillies were only half-serious.

  25. hk

    September 27, 2011 08:58 AM

    @ Greg,

    Further to Phillie697’s point, if STL gets in, it will do so with Carpenter pitching tomorrow, which means he will either have to pitch Games 2 and 5, each on 3 days rest, or only Game 3. Either way, not having Carpenter pitching with full rest should significantly weaken STL’s prospects in the NLDS. FWIW, Carpenter is 2-0 with a 0.60 ERA vs. the Phillies this year.

  26. Angelica

    September 29, 2011 05:04 AM

    What’s sad about tonight’s down-to-the-wire finish in baseball is that plenty of quirky stories from non-contenders are being overshadowed: the end of the Florida Marlins Era, the feel-good redemption story of Val Pascucci and Jim Thome’s great send-off in possibly his final Cleveland home game. What’s awesome about tonight’s down-to-the-wire finish is pretty much everything else.

    Eight teams are involved in four games that will determine two playoff spots. Still feel the need for quirky stories? Look no further than Red Sox rookie catcher Ryan Lavarnway, who hit two home runs Tuesday night to keep Boston tied with Tampa Bay for the wild card lead. Want weird twists of fate? Matt Joyce’s home run in Wednesday night’s Rays victory came off Yankees reliever Rafael Soriano, who was the best closer in baseball last season … while pitching for Tampa Bay. Hankering for a story with some sense of irony? In July, Atlanta made a deadline deal for Houston’s Michael Bourn, thereby weakening the team that they now badly need to defeat the Cardinals in order to claim the National League wild card spot. Need a breather from all the confusion? So do we.

    The regular season may or may not end tonight. To know for sure, check back in at 7 p.m. ET, when the live blogging will begin, with reports from Baltimore and Tampa, and detailed coverage of all the wild card action.

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