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The Phillies Must Win This Year For It To Be Considered The Greatest Phillies Era Ever


Although our Philly boys were swept by the Astros last week, they went ontoWould you take Howard and Utley over Rose and Schmidt? Photo:http://poormansanalyst.wordpress.com/2008/12/02/the-ryan-howard-debate/  sweep the Padres, take two out of three from the Dodgers, and win a heart-stopper of a makeup game against the Rockies that will surely have us talking for years about the team's "phantom" offense which scored nine runs in the seventh inning.

That should bode well for September and onto October as this resilient group inches closer to indelible history. This specific group of players is about to become the best era that the Phillies have ever had.

Even with the two straight World Series appearances and one championship under their belts, it can't yet be said that they are the best.

Here's why:

From 1976-1983 the Phillies went to the playoffs six times in eight years, winning two NL pennants and one World Series title. However, if this group returns to the playoffs this year, that will be four consecutive appearances. No group of Phightin's has ever done that.

Starting in 1976, the Phils won a string of three straight division titles. However, there was only an LCS back then. These days we have the Wild Card and that pesky NLDS. The 2007 playoff euphoria, sparked by our old pal Brett Myers' division-clinching save on that wonderful Sunday afternoon in September, was short lived. The Rockies quickly tempered our hopes by sweeping the Phils in the NLDS.

After coming up short in three straight NLCS appearances, there was a fourth place finish in 1979 before the team came back in 1980 to win it all. The Phils again made the playoffs in the strike-shortened season of 1981. However, history did not repeat, and this precursor to division series play was won by the Expos (Stephen Strasburg's ancestors) in a best-of-five series.

After finishing second to the World Champion Cardinals in 1982, the “Wheez Kids” made it to the post season after rarely losing at all in September of 1983. However, the team made up for it by losing the World Series to the Orioles in five games.

Here is the difference between the two best eras of Phillies baseball. If matters continues to play out, we will more than likely see dramatic pitching highlights as opposed to long bombs and high scores. As heavily scrutinized as GM Ruben Amaro Jr has been, he has acquired three of the best starting pitchers in baseball within the past year in Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, and Roy Oswalt. He saw the shift towards pitching dominance league-wide and went out and got it- thrice. And yes, if the team goes on another playoff run this year, Oswalt makes the Lee issue all good, so you're forgiven as well.

Now, in order for Charlie's boys to do more than just make the playoffs, they have to continue to pitch consistently. Halladay, Cole Hamels, and Oswalt is our version of the old Braves super trio of Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz. Name any other top three starters who played together in the same season in Phils history, who conjure comparisons to those three? Two pieces of Roy (with Hamels in the middle) is rock solid.

But what about those eight guys that bat in front of the pitcher? Is this offensive group streaky, or just showing signs of age? Or would you take Schmidt's squads from the 1970's and 80's? Photo:http://zozone.mlblogs.com A review of any of baseball geek sites such as www.baseballprospectus.com, www.baseball-reference.com, and www.fangraphs.com  indicates the decline in production for players as they hit their early thirties. With the exception of Shane Victorino, everyone of the team's core starting eight was born in 1979 or before. So as tough as these guys have been, they are starting to wear down.

Great teams can keep winning with age. Steinbrenner Nation is the most prominent case of this. A core of superior talent overcomes mediocre talent in many cases. However, because the talent is so deep, a great player can still be very good. We may have possibly seen the last dominant offensive performance from the Rollins through Ruiz lineup last season. What we may have been watching this season is a league transition to pitching dominance, with the Phils' staff as part of that trend. Even Joe Blanton's ERA (with the exception of Thursday night) has been drinking Slimfast in recent weeks.

The regular rant is that this team has a window for winning that opened in 2007 and will close in the fall of 2011. Better recheck that double pane, as organizations that represent the “Gold Standard”  often extend their windows by reshuffling the talent deck during great eras and actually still win championships. No apologies to Joe Banner for using that lingo, as your organization came up too short too often, which explains why there is silver with that Eagles green.

Come to think of it Mr. Banner, we aren't hearing too many E-A-G-L-E-S chants at Citizens Bank Park lately. Those seemed to quickly diminish on Halloween 2008 as your neighbors, the World Champion Phillies, marched into the house that false hope built, otherwise known as the LINC. Even during these great times, people in this region are comforted by railing against something. That diminishing attitude seems to be a sign of our transitioning from a region that did not win a major championship for twenty-five years to one that is fresh off restored prominence.

If this Phillies team is to become the greatest that we have ever seen, they need to win again this year. Make the playoffs, win the division series, and play hard in the NLCS. If they return to the World Series, the familiar names we have come to love will dominate even more of those Wall of Fame plaques that are out beyond center field. This time around however, their big offense might not power the victories. Instead, the arms of Halladay, Hamels, Oswalt, Durbin, Romero, Madson, and yes, Brad Lidge, will need to step up. Great teams learn how to win in different ways.

Contact Sean O'Brien at seanboru68@yahoo.com