Phillies' NL supremacy to be tested
In era of relative parity, powerhouse peaking once again
All eight of the teams that have qualified for the postseason have already achieved something of obvious significance. But as a matter of historical interest, the Philadelphia Phillies are entering some truly unique territory.
You don't get much repeat championship business in this era of increased competitive balance. Even the Yankees had to wait nine years between their last two World Series titles.
This is why, of all the remarkable achievements that could occur in Postseason 2010, one of the most significant accomplishments could be within range for the Phillies. The last National League team to win the pennant three years in a row was the St. Louis Cardinals from 1942-44. The Phillies, already with four straight NL East titles in hand, could be the first NL team to reach this lofty level in 66 years.
Taking nothing away from those Cardinals, there were two paramount tasks in 1942-44, and neither was beating the Dodgers or the Giants. Many Major Leaguers, answering Uncle Sam's call, found themselves directly involved in the noble cause of defeating the Nazis in Europe and/or Japanese imperialism in the Pacific. Baseball may have been a pleasant diversion for the civilian population, but the National League wasn't exactly at its peak during World War II.
Why has no National League team since then managed a three-peat? This just in -- nobody makes a habit of this in either league, except for the Yankees. They have 28 World Series championships, and some of them have come in bunches (four straight from 1936-39; five straight from 1949-53; four of five from 1996-2000).
The Yankees are essentially the anti-parity team for reasons that have already been given extensive public airing. If you are a Yankees fan, this is the way things are and should be. If you are a Red Sox fan, this is evidence of life's fundamental imperfection. Either way, historically, they've been the Yankees and no one else has qualified.
But here come the Phillies, making a move to make some postseason history, National League category. This is an unlikely time for a team to rise above parity, since it is essentially the policy of Major League Baseball, during Bud Selig's time as Commissioner of Baseball, to push all 30 franchises toward a median point. Mechanisms such as revenue sharing and the luxury tax have been designed to at least partially level the economic playing field.
And by any objective measurement, the game has moved in that direction, although nothing short of a baseball Bolshevik revolution could wipe out the Yankees' economic edge. The Phillies have beaten this trend by astutely putting together a team of impressive offensive diversity, able to score with both power and speed. And they have found the kind of pitching that is good enough to make them not only consistent regular-season winners, but winners in the postseason as well. The dominant run of Cole Hamels in the 2008 postseason, when he led the Phils to a World Series championship, comes readily to mind.
This season, the Phillies battled through a wave of damaging injuries, and some atypical offensive struggles, to put together a superior second half. For the first time in franchise history, they recorded baseball's best record -- 97-65 -- and the difficulties they endured earlier just made that achievement doubly impressive. Are they set for another big postseason push?
Some Phillies fans remain ticked off by the trade of Cliff Lee, but the team now has three starting pitchers working at a very high level. Roy Halladay appears to be nothing less than the leading candidate for the NL Cy Young Award. Roy Oswalt was 7-1 with a 1.74 ERA after being obtained from the Houston Astros. Hamels posted a 2.23 ERA after the All-Star Game.
With these three working as well as they have, with their lineup returning to relatively good health, the Phillies went 21-6 in September. In doing so, they overcame the Atlanta Braves to win another division title. (The Braves' record of 14 straight division titles stands alone in the field of regular-season accomplishment, but October is a different category).
The Phillies have clinched home-field advantage throughout the postseason. With their trio of outstanding starters, with their lineup proven in the postseason, with manager Charlie Manuel adding to his reputation as a truly astute leader of men, this is a club that looks fully qualified to make some history. A three-peat pennant has never been tougher to achieve, but the Phillies provide evidence that they are the team capable of making it happen.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.