Phils regroup, ponder what might have been
Despite game's best record and staff, driving in runs an issue
PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies had the Big Three and the best record in baseball.
It guaranteed them nothing in the postseason.
The San Francisco Giants clinched the National League pennant Saturday with a 3-2 victory over the Phillies in Game 6 of the NL Championship Series at Citizens Bank Park.
The Phillies finished the regular season with the best record in baseball for the first time in their 128-year history, but six months of success could not get them clutch hits in critical spots against the Giants.
"It's really difficult," Phillies closer Brad Lidge said. "Even when it seems like you're the team to beat and you've got everything for you, it's a funny game and it doesn't mean a whole lot. Getting to three World Series in a row obviously hasn't been done in a long time because it isn't any easy thing to do. We feel like we should have been there this year, but we aren't."
Philadelphia had hoped to become the first NL team to play in three consecutive World Series since the 1942-44 St. Louis Cardinals. But a franchise that has won two World Series in 128 years knows nothing comes easy.
It isn't easy for anybody.
The No. 1 team in each league has reached the World Series just eight out of 26 times since 1998.
Consider that for a second.
The best NL and American League teams -- the teams that played the best baseball over a grueling six-month, 162-game schedule -- have made the World Series just 30.7 percent of the time in the past 13 years.
It means there is almost no advantage for the two best teams once the postseason starts. Just once in the past 13 years have the best teams in both leagues advanced to the World Series. It happened in 1999, when the New York Yankees swept the Atlanta Braves.
Just six times in the past 13 years have one of the best teams reached the World Series.
|1999||Mets-Braves||Atl. in 6||5|
|1991||Braves-Pirates||Atl. in 7||4|
|1990||Reds-Pirates||Cin. in 6||4|
|1986||Mets-Astros||NYM in 6||4|
|2010||Giants-Phillies||S.F. in 6||3|
|2005||Astros-Cardinals||Hou. in 6||3|
|2002||Giants-Cardinals||S.F. in 5||3|
|1993||Phillies-Braves||Phi. in 6||3|
That means in six of the past 13 seasons, including this season's World Series between the Giants and Texas Rangers, neither of the best teams reached the World Series.
"We knew how tough it was," Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins said. "The first year [in 2008], getting back last year -- we just didn't do it this year. It wasn't going to be easier because we've been there. That's baseball. You're going to run up against good teams. You had two good teams with great arms battling and good offenses. They found a way to keep getting that big hit."
The Phillies lost three one-run games in the NLCS against the Giants. The offense takes the hit for that. It hit just .178 (8-for-45) with runners in scoring position in the NLCS. The Phils hit just .186 (13-for-70) with runners in scoring position in the entire postseason.
One hit can mean a lot.
The Phillies hit just .201 (27-for-134) with runners in scoring position in the 2008 postseason, when they won the World Series. The difference between a .186 average and a .201 average with runners in scoring position in 70 at-bats, which the Phillies had this postseason?
One hit Saturday against the Giants could have won the game, or at least kept the game tied after Juan Uribe hit a solo home run to right field in the eighth inning.
"I know our guys, and I know we can hit better than that," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "And we definitely have got to improve on it next year, and come back and hit like we can. We're capable of putting up more runs and having higher on-base percentages and the whole works.
"We had injuries and things like that, but there again, excuses don't hold up. We've got to do it, we've got to do what we're capable of doing. And I think when you look back at our team, that would probably be the downside of our club this year. We were very inconsistent in our hitting, and at times we didn't score enough runs. [It was the] best pitching that we've had. We've got a bright future for us. I see a big future. We're right in the period of two or three years, we definitely should compete and have a chance to go where we want to go."
But if the Phillies learned anything this year, it's that even after playing good baseball for six months, nothing is guaranteed.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.