Did the Phillies Collapse?
When referring to sports teams, the word “collapse” is usually brought out when a team has a lead in its division very late in the season, but inexplicably defies the odds to miss the post-season. The Phillies have been a part of a few over the years, some good and some bad. Most recently, the Phillies were the beneficiaries of the Mets’ late-season woes. In 2008, the Mets had a 3.5-game lead in the division with 17 games to go, but went 7-10 while the Phillies won 13 of their final 17 games to seal the deal. The previous year was very similar, but the Mets squandered an even bigger division lead. With 17 games left, the Mets had a seven-game cushion in the NL East, but finished out the schedule 5-12 while the Phillies went 13-4, clinching on the last day of the season.
The most famous collapse in Phillies history, though, came in 1964. Gene Mauch’s squad had a 6.5-game lead with 17 games remaining and their manager could see the finish line in sight. Mauch leaned on his two aces Jim Bunning and Chris Short on short rest to seal the deal, but it turned out to be the wrong strategy. Bunning never had more than three days rest in the month of September while posting a 4.06 ERA, including a 7.36 ERA in the five starts during the collapse. Short also never had more than three days of rest in September despite posting a 3.00 ERA in the month. However, he posted a 4.40 ERA in his final five starts to close out the year. The Phillies went 4-13, including ten consecutive losses, to close out the season, squandering their near-certain playoff berth to the St. Louis Cardinals.
Timing is important in the storyline, of course. Teams have lost 13 of 17 before, but few of them timed them perfectly with the end of a season while desperately holding on to first place. It makes for a very intriguing story, one that will be passed down from generation to generation. Another part of baseball’s narrative machine is the saying, “you can’t win the division in April, but you can lose it.” Obviously, that’s true of any month, really. For example, the Phillies’ 17-8 record in September 2008 certainly helped, but it would have been nice in April or May as well.
This year’s iteration of the Phillies have lost 12 of 16 games in June, falling from 2.5 games out of first place to nine games. Because it happened in June and not at the end of September, this can’t be described as a “collapse”. However, this recent nightmare makes it likely that the Phillies will not be in a position to collapse in September. They may even return from the All-Star break as sellers, saying goodbye to franchise stalwarts like Cole Hamels, Shane Victorino, and Joe Blanton. Under these unique circumstances, can we refer to the recent stretch of games as a collapse? Given how much further down in the division the Phillies sunk and how poorly the Phillies have played on both sides of the ball, so to speak, it’s debatable.
I compared the final 17 games of 1964 and the most recent 17 games to get a feel for how both teams fared. I also compared their performances to the league average. Below, you’ll see hitting and pitching stats. In the “scale” rows, 100 is average; below 100 is below-average and above 100 is above-average. Remember that higher is worse for ERA, walks, and home runs.
|1964 NL AVG||.254||.311||.374||.685||.120|
|2012 NL AVG||.252||.318||.398||.716||.146|
The 2012 Phillies have hit ever so slightly better than the league in most categories while the 1964 Phillies were significantly below the league average.
|1964 NL AVG||3.54||5.7||2.7||2.11||0.8|
|2012 NL AVG||3.93||7.7||3.2||2.43||0.9|
The Phillies’ pitching has been worse despite better components, and they have had problems all over. Vance Worley is the only starter with an ERA below 4.50 since June 2. In the bullpen, everyone not named Jonathan Papelbon or Antonio Bastardo has had trouble recording outs as well.
Although the 2012 Phillies haven’t performed as badly as the 1964 Phillies at the end of the season and it may not be colloquially referred to as a collapse, their 4-12 run will be the stake in the Phillies’ heart if they indeed approach the July 31 trading deadline as sellers. It is certainly not how the Phillies saw the 2012 season unfolding, even with the first-half absences of Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. As Matt Mullin tweeted to me recently, the Phillies are proving Murphy’s Law with the ever-increasing adversity standing between them and defending their five-year run atop the NL East.