Let's compare three franchises over the course of an 8 year stretch.
Franchise 1 won 744 games, averaging 93 wins per year. This franchise appeared in the post-season 5 times and won the World Series twice. In its other three playoff appearances, the franchise didn't make it out of the Division Series twice and lost in the Championship Series once.
Franchise 2 won 732 games, averaging 91.5 wins per year. This franchise also appeared in the post-season 5 times over the course of these 8 years and won the World Series once. In the other four playoff years, the franchise lost the World Series once, lost in the Championship Series once, and lost in the Division Series twice.
Franchise 3 won 719 games, averaging 89.9 wins per year. This franchise, like the other two, appeared in the post-season 5 times. It made it to the World Series three times, winning two and losing one. It also lost one Championship Series and one Division Series.
Over this eight year period, these three franchises are among the best in baseball. Who are they and when is this 8 year period? In order, they are the Red Sox, Phillies, and Cardinals, and the eight year period is from 2004 through 2011.
Over this time period, these three franchises dominated the game of baseball. They were competitive almost every year (only the Cardinals 2007 were under .500 with 78 wins). Collectively, they had 3 seasons with 100 or more wins and 9 seasons with 95 or more wins. They won 5 of the 8 World Series and made 15 playoff appearances.
For these eight years, the Phillies were part of the baseball elite. For five years in a row, they won their division and appeared in the playoffs. This was the best Phillies baseball ever.
But looking at the current World Series teams, who were also dominant during the same time period, makes it appear that the Phillies' success was nothing other than dumb luck rather than anything about organizational design. And that is what makes this World Series so painful to watch.
The Red Sox and Cardinals have been able to sustain their success beyond this 8 year window. The Cardinals were in the post-season in 2000 through 2002, and they've been there in 2012 and 2013 as well. The Red Sox were in the post-season in 2003 and are leading the World Series this year. Both teams have dominant players in the height of their careers, some older veterans who are showing they still have it, and a great mix of exciting young talent.
The Phillies, on the other hand, are a complete mess with very few options for improvement this off-season. They have bloated contracts for aging injury-prone veterans, a couple of pitching stars on the downside of the baseball aging curve, and a crop of mediocre-at-best youngsters. Their minor league is depleted by years of poor drafting and missed first-round picks.
In other words, although all three franchises have the money and fan support to put winning teams on the field, only the Red Sox and Cardinals seem to have the organizational competence to do so by design rather than by luck.
Of course, I hope as much as I can as a fan that I am proven wrong and that the Phillies figure out how to turn this ship around this off-season. But, until they do that, it seems that, in retrospect, their success from 2004 through 2011 came from getting lucky with their crop of draft picks from the late 1990s and early 2000s all panning out at the same time while a couple of picks from the scrapheap turned into gems. We wanted to believe this was by organizational design, but can we really say that at this point? Can we really look at where the Phillies major and minor league talent is right now and say that the same franchise that produced this mess knew what it was doing just a few years back?
Or was it all just luck? When we look at how the Cardinals have sustained their excellence for such a long time. When we look at how the Red Sox bounced back from last year's disaster. When we look at the young guys both teams have drafted who are turning into top prospects. When we look at the fact that both franchises have front offices that have plans, systems, and people who are competent enough to carry them out.
When we look at all that, how can we see our Phillies as anything other than a franchise that has all the resources to field a top flight team but none of the competence to do so . . . other than when the occasional lightning strike occurs?