This week Matt Gelb of The Inquirer posted a warning to all Phillies fans: Don’t forget about the Braves. It’s true that with all the noise made by the Nationals and the Marlins, the Braves had fallen out of our immediate interest. Reading Gelb’s assertion that the Braves pitching depth trumps the big moves made by the Nationals and Marlins got thinking: who among these teams (if any) is the Phillies biggest rival?
All of the other Philadelphia teams have true rivals that deserve our hatred (see Cowboys, Rangers, Celtics). When it comes to the Phils however, there really isn’t a clear-cut adversary. Part of the problem is that so many years of futility have stifled the Phillies ability to develop deep-seeded rivalries with other teams. Watching Duke rip the hearts out of UNC fans this week, my girlfriend’s especially, reminded me of the anguish and joy that comes with a hated rivalry. Duke-UNC embodies the prefect rivalry due to the passionate fans, years of unforgettable games, and most importantly they are both competitive nearly every year.
Every team has its rival that makes your blood boil a little higher than the rest, and the Phillies should too! I’ve broken down the Phillies’ rivalry history with each NL East foe to find the answer.
Regular Season: 124-107 Playoffs: NA
The Marlins have only been around since 1993, so the rivalry is still relatively young. The teams have never met in the playoffs, but there is still plenty to dislike about the Fish. It only took the Marlins ten seasons to pass the Phillies in world championships (thankfully, we’ve caught up). 2003 was particularly brutal, as they were neck-and-neck with the Marlins until a late-season sweep sealed the Phillies’ fate.
What the Marlins rivalry lacks is a fan base that fights back. The Phillies have been on a hot streak in Florida of late, but if no one is there to see it, did it really happen? Their fan base will be lured back by the Marlins’ fancy new digs, but let’s see how long it lasts.
With no playoff battles to speak of, and with only nineteen seasons of games, the rivalry lacks a little bite. After all, they are Marlins not Piranhas.
Regular Season: 336 – 315 Playoffs: L 2-3 1981 Division Series
The Nationals’ rivalry is quite new, however, the Phillies and Expos tussled for many years before their move to DC. Both teams shared many years of futility together, except for a brief period in the early eighties. The Expos stymied the Phillies chances of back-to-back championships, but the two teams didn’t play any meaningful games afterwards, with the 1993 being an exception to their shared abysmal seasons.
The rivalry on the field has been pretty one-sided lately, to put it nicely. Who can forget Rollins’ and Utely’s double play to clinch the division in 2008? The Nats have tried to keep pace with the Phillies by poaching some of their players, namely Jason Werth, and recently Brad Lidge. Werth appears to be a BIG financial mistake, but it does make things more interesting between the teams.
Adding more fuel to the fire is the recent PR plan by the Nationals to “Take back the stadium”. If you watch any Phillies-Nationals game in DC you’re bound to see more Phils fans than Nats fans in the stands. The Nats certainly seemed poised to do something about it as their COO Andy Feffer told the Washington Post, “Forget you Philly. This is our park, this is our town, these are our fans, and it’s our time right now.”
The only thing that’ll truly light a fire to this rivalry is if the Nats players are up to the challenge. They’ve made improvements, and they have phenom, Bryce Harper, knocking on the door, however there just isn’t enough meaningful history behind the recent feuding to crown the Nationals the Phillies’ biggest rival.
New York Mets
Regular Season: 419 – 364 Playoffs: NA
Ah New York, is their any bigger rival for Philadelphia? The Rangers-Flyers rivalry has heated up recently, and it was extremely painful to watch (SH)Eli Manning celebrate another super bowl title with the Birds idly in their nests. The Mets have hit on hard times lately, but does that mean they deserve any relief from our loathing? Some of my most vivid memories of the 700 hundred section in Veterans Stadium involved heated battles between fans.
The on-field fights have left something to be desired, though. Despite the natural rivalry between the two cities, the Mets and Phillies just haven’t had very good timing. Both franchises have had their droughts, but they never seem to peak at the same time. The Mets had their run in the early part of the last decade, but have trailed off since the Phillies took hold of the division. I enjoy watching the Mets flounder just like any other fan, but the Mets will have to find a way to improve their ball-club for this rivalry to heat back up.
Regular Season: 941-1,016 Playoffs: W 4-2 1993 NLCS
The Braves have been in the NL East since baseball re-aligned to the 3-Division format in the nineties. They seemed to win the division every year, 14 years consecutively to be precise, making us hate them even more. They sported the original Big-3 in Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz, who were as good, if not better, than the one the Phillies have now. All of those years of winning certainly created their fare share of contempt, which painted a big target on the Braves’ backs for every other team trying to compete in the division.
As far as the fans are concerned, they are certainly more reasonable than those from Queens, but that tomahawk chant makes me sick to my stomach (not to mention the political correctness). On top of that, when Ted Turner purchased the team we were all subjected to Braves games on TBS nation-wide.
The biggest battle between the two teams came in the miracle season of 1993, when the Phillies dismissed the favored Braves in 6 games on their way to the World Series. The Braves dominated the Phillies for the next decade, but now the tables have turned. The Phillies are building their own divisional dynasty having won five straight NL East titles, but the Braves are still nipping at their heals.
In the end, the Braves stack up pretty well as the evil villain. History of winning, check. Heated playoff battles, check. Annoying fans (see tomahawk chop), check. Through it all the Braves have done the most important thing to stoke the flames of the rivalry, remain competitive. The Braves are once again the Phillies biggest obstacle to win the division, and as their biggest rival, I wouldn’t have it any other way.