Seeking Gravy: The Current Phillies Post-Season Run

That the Phillies exited the playoffs Friday night before any of us wanted doesn't change the fact that we are still in the midst of the golden era of Phillies baseball.  This year, the team won its fifth straight NL East title, which put it in the playoffs for the fifth straight season.

This is cause for celebration, especially for those of us old enough to remember 1984 through 2003 (excepting 1993, of course).  But some fans aren't celebrating.  In fact, some fans are complaining that, given five playoff appearances in a row, the Phillies should have more to show for themselves than just one World Series win.

Given that you're reading this blog, the following won't surprise you: That's nonsense.  In fact, what the Phillies have done so far during this run of playoff appearances is spectacular, and anything else they get from playoff appearances in the immediate future is just gravy.

Let's start with what the Phillies have done so far.  In their five consecutive post-season appearances, the Phillies have amassed the following record:  one World Series win, one World Series loss, one NLCS loss, and two NLDS losses.

Written that way, the post-seasons seem to have one success and four failures.  But, missing from that description are the following wins that got the team to the next round:  three NLDS wins, and two NLCS wins.  So, in essence, the Phillies have the following post-season record over the past five years:

NLDS:  3-2
NLCS: 2-1
World Series: 1-1

How do we evaluate that?  Is it all terrible considering that's just one World Series win out of five years?  If you think of baseball that way, you're going to be a miserable person who never enjoys this sport.

Rather, let's look at it a different way.  Let's postulate a hypothetical team that gets into the playoffs for eight consecutive years.  Given that eight years is a long stretch of time and a team is bound to suffer from varying levels of performance as well as numbers of injuries over that period of time, it's unreasonable to assume that the team, even a team that is this consistent, would be the best team in baseball each year of the eight.  In fact, it's reasonable to assume that the team would vary in quality each year.  For this reason, as well as because of varying home-field advantages, short series, and simplicity's sake, let's assume that the team has a 50/50 chance in each post-season series.  In this scenario, the team would perform as follows over the 8 years:

Division Series:  4-4
Championship Series:  2-2
World Series: 1-1

Now compare that record to the Phillies' record over the past five years.  The Phillies have already won the major prizes - they've won their two Championship Series, and they've won the World Series.  Compared to the hypothetical team, the Phillies, if they make the playoffs another three years in a row, have two Division Series losses, one Division Series win, and one Championship Series loss to look forward to.  Anything beyond that is gravy.

The natural response to this is that the Phillies should have a better than 50/50 chance in each series.  After all, they had the four aces this year and at least three next.  They have prime talent up the middle that most teams envy.  They have a payroll that is beginning to rival the Yankees.

This is all true, but even during this fantastic run, the Phillies have been all over the map in terms of overall record.  It's easy to remember that the team was the best in baseball in 2010 and 2011, but it's just as easy to forget that it was only fifth in 2008 and 2009 and seventh in 2007.  Expecting "best in baseball" status in 2012 through 2014 is a tall order given the vagaries of the baseball season, let alone the game itself.

So yes, the 50/50 model I'm using here is simplistic and may not be entirely accurate, but it's a pretty good model for thinking about the post-season over a long stretch of time.  (In fact, it exactly describes the Yankees' post-season fortune over their last 8 appearances (which occurred over the last 9 years since they missed the post-season in 2008).)

And given this model, what people want from the Phillies for the remainder of this excellent run is, in fact, gravy.

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