I’ve accepted the fact that Philadelphia is a sports town that must constantly be worrying about something. Team in first place? Well, they aren’t in first place the right way. The teams behind them, in a paradox of accepted standings, are actually better than the Phillies. Without worry, we are nothing, and so week to week we drum it up from various sources. The offense stinks, we’re too banged up, the bullpen is a joke, Charlie can’t manage a close game, depending on the day and the most recent box score, these are the refrains. It is going to be like this until the last day of the season. No amount of reason can change that. Because, not only are the fans prone to worry, but they’re wounded. Wounded from that NLCS last year and now suffering from a sports fan’s version of PTSD.
As I said, the cause for the worry is often fleeting and constantly changing. Chase Utley? Now he looks like about the healthiest guy on the team. The Marlins? They went from upstart with a dangerous rotation to winning 3 games in a month. We’ve forgotten about the Marlins. We’ve forgotten about Joe Blanton (no one cares if he comes back), and we can even shrug off a trip to the 15-day DL for just about anyone, but it doesn’t look like we’re going to shake the Braves. The Braves have people terrified. It’s a characteristic of the sports fans around here that bothers me. We should be telling the Braves to pound sand. They should be afraid of the Phillies. Instead we’re sitting around waiting to drop into 2nd place.
The Braves are hot. They’re finishing off a series with the depleted and dead Rockies this afternoon and could arrive in town just 2.5 games behind the Phillies. They are 13-3 in their last 16 games. The bad news? If the Braves keep playing at an .813 clip they are going to eventually pass the Phils. The good news? They aren’t going to keep playing at an .813 clip. They’ve just run off one of their better stretches of the season, and it still wasn’t enough to get them into first place. In fact, if the Braves win or lose today, the Phillies will still have the biggest division lead in baseball.
The interesting thing about how Phillies fans evaluate the Braves is that they do it in a biased manner and based solely on the standings. If you want a flowery version of what the Braves are as a team–go ask a frightened Phillies fan. You’ll hear of a great rotation, shutdown bullpen, young offensive talent, and of course you’ll be reminded they have won 13 of 16. When looking at the Braves the Phillies fan can’t see the warts that they are so eager to point out about their own squad. If they were judging the Phillies on the same criteria (strengths only and winning percentage) we’d have the happiest fan base in baseball.
In the simplest terms possible, the Phillies have scored more runs and given up fewer runs than the Braves. If you hate the Phillies offense, you shouldn’t be afraid of Atlanta’s. They have the worst free agent signing in the National League in Dan Uggla. They have an underperforming phenom in Jayson Heyward. They have a superstar who is a shell of his former self in Chipper Jones. They have a grand total of one dangerous hitter (Brian McCann) and some decent complimentary pieces. In what way is that different from what the Phillies have? The Braves will not beat anyone, especially the Phillies, because they out-hit them.
The Braves pitching is a different story. Jair Jurrgens is a documented Phillies killer. Their other starters have had mixed success against the Phils, but have shown the ability to shut them down. Their bullpen is loaded with power arms from both sides. They don’t cough up a lot of late leads. Of course, neither do the Phillies. Surely Ryan Madson/Jose Contreras and Antonio Bastardo’s 25 of 26 save conversions is at least as good as Craig Kimbrel’s 26 of 31. And, would you really take Jurrgens, Hudson and Hanson over Halladay, Lee and Hamels?
The Braves look like a lesser version of the Phillies to me. A team with similar strengths and weaknesses that comes up marginally short across the board. Of course, you could have said the same thing about the Giants last year, and maybe that is the source of all this Braves worry. It looks familiar. But, none of that can be resolved until the post-season if the Phillies make it there. So maybe it shouldn’t really matter how far back the Braves are. Maybe the most important number is Philly’s theoretical 8 game lead on the wild-card spot. Yes, the Phillies are 8 games inside the playoffs. Does that make you feel any better? Didn’t think so.
I don’t want to diminish this weekend series too much. It’s a big series. The Phillies have their rotation lined up exactly how they want it, and also get the pleasure of missing Jurrgens. It’s at home, the Phils are coming off an off-day and a 4-2 trip where they exploded for 37 runs. John Mayberry Jr. hit 2 homers in a game. Dom Brown looks a little better (at the plate, not doing anything else). And, even if Polanco and Victorino can’t go I think the Phils have the upper hand here. I’m expecting them to take 2 of 3, but if they don’t, it’ll just be something more to worry about.
Quiz of the Day: Which Happened First Part II. Category: Quick and Painless Guessing. My Score: 17/20.