The Phillies are playing much better baseball. Anyone who watches the team on a daily basis can see that.
Since Ryne Sandberg took over as manager, the Phils are 7-4, having won 7 of their last 9 games. That’s a nice little run for a team that is playing mostly youngsters and dealing with a slew of injuries.
But of course, the pressure is off. The Phillies are 60-71, 18 1/2 games out of first place in the NL East and 13 1/2 games out of the wild card. There is nothing left to play for in 2013, and that makes playing the games a whole lot easier. That was also the case last year when the Phillies went 35-24 after August 1 and entered play that night 13 1/2 games behind the Nationals.
Of course, that late season run did eventually put the Phils into the fringes of the playoff conversation, but it was short-lived. It was a late-season surge that, as it turns out, didn’t mean squat once the 2013 season started.
Bad teams do this a lot. Heck, even the 1997 Phillies started 30-72 through July 27th that year. They had gotten off to one of the worst starts in baseball history and had people wondering if the team would lose 100 games or even approach the ’62 Mets, as one of the all-time worst teams ever. Then, starting on July 28th, with the Phillies 34 1/2 games out of first, the team finished the year 38-22, 16 games over .500.
So, this kind of thing happens when all hope is lost and the kids are trying to win roster spots.
Which brings us to the most random, enjoyable, yet completely pointless late-season winning streak in Phillies history. It was a streak which, if you only started watching games in the mid-80s, like me, was something you had never experienced before and didn’t quite know what to make of it.
In 1991, the Phillies entered play on July 30, 19 1/2 games out of first place behind the Pittsburgh Pirates in the NL East. Their lineup that night looked like this:
- CF Lenny Dykstra
- C Darren Daulton
- 3B Dave Hollins
- 1B John Kruk
- RF Dale Murphy
- 2B Randy Ready
- LF Wes Chamberlain
- SS Dickie Thon
And the evening’s starting pitcher against the San Diego Padres was 26-year-old Jose de Jesus. De Jesus went on to pitch eight innings of one-run ball, sending the Phils to a 2-1 win over the Padres at Veterans Stadium.
That seemingly innocuous game started a wild, ridiculous 13-game winning streak that got a lot of people excited, but didn’t really amount to very much in the grand scheme of things.
Why do I say that? Because the ’91 Phils finished with a record of 78-84, finishing 3rd in the NL East, 20 games behind the Pirates. Then, the 1992 Phillies went 70-92 and finished dead last in the NL East once again.
Still, for that 13-game stretch, Phils fans were in paradise. Their team could do no wrong. For the first time in eight years, things actually started to right on a nightly basis. And, as former Phillies beat writer Jayson Stark noted in the Philadelphia Inquirer the night after the streak stopped, that Phils team did some special things.
The Phillies are only the third National League team (at that time) since 1965 to do it. The others were Dale Murphy’s ’82 Braves, who started a pennant-winning season by going 13-0, and those ’77 Phillies. That’s it. Since 1965. Wes Chamberlain, Tommy Greene, Mickey Morandini and Dave Hollins weren’t even born yet. And Mitch Williams, Jose DeJesus, Charlie Hayes and Ricky Jordan were less than 1 year old.
The Phillies are also just the ninth National League team to have a streak this long in the last 50 years. And nearly half of the teams in their league (five of 12) have never done it.
Not only that…
In the last six decades, for example, every National League team that has had a winning streak that long has finished either first or second. Every one of those teams also came home at least 20 games over .500.
Meanwhile, no National League team with a losing record has ever done it. And only one sub-.500 American League team ever has – the 1942 Indians, who finished 75-79.
So yeah, it was really rare, really weird, and kinda cool. It came out of nowhere, like a summer storm, and then blew away, just as quickly.
Of course, it also probably hurt the team, too. When the streak started, the Phillies were in last place in the East, at 40-58. The last-place Astros, in the NL West, the team who ended up with the #1 overall pick, was 40-59.
In other words, when the streak started, the Phils were only a 1/2 game better than the team that ended up with the top overall pick. A last place finish would have guaranteed them a spot in the top four.
Derek Jeter was taken #6 overall that year. The Phillies selected Chad McConnell with the 13th pick, earned largely in part to that 13-game winning streak.
I knew 13 was an unlucky number.
And one other note… as good as the Phillies have been since 2007, none of the five NL East champs ever won 13 games in a row.
So stick that in your pipe and smoke it, 2008!