How many times have we heard announcers or popular SCREAM-AT-YOU-ALL-DAY-LONG sports station personalities say it? Or heard our friends and phellow phans state it with certainty? For us, it's "the Phillies are never going to make the playoffs because playoff teams don't [insert recent bad occurrence here]." But it is said elsewhere as well, substituting whatever team happened to stumble badly the day before.
Is there any validity to these pronouncements? Well, if the September performances of the six remaining legitimate playoff possibilities in the NL are any indication, there's none whatsoever. Let's take a look at the Cardinals, Braves, Padres, Astros, Phillies, and Marlins (four of whom will constitute the NL playoff contingent come October) and some simple problems that any emotional fan or bumbling sports critic would say disqualifies a team from the playoffs.
Playoff teams don't....
...Allow opposing hitters in September to rake: The Braves and the Marlins have pitched terribly in September. The Braves have allowed opposing hitters a .770 OPS (the equivalent of Yankee darling Robinson Cano), while the Marlins have allowed opposing batters an even more generous .831 OPS (the equivalent of Randy Winn). The Marlins have a 5.59 September ERA (28th in the majors) along with a 1.63 WHIP (30th in the majors). Playoff teams have better pitching down the stretch.
...Hit like Endy Chavez in September: The Cardinals have a .704 OPS for the month of September, worse than every team in baseball's season OPS (yes, worse than Washington's, Pittsburgh's, and Houston's season-long futility on offense). They are tied with two other teams for 12th in the NL in runs scored in September. Likewise, the Padres have an even worse .693 OPS for the month of September, the worst in the NL. Playoff teams hit better with the chips on the line.
...Lose important games to rookies: With a chance to put the Phillies and Marlins even deeper into a hole, the Astros were shut out last night by a rookie with a 6.83 ERA going into the game. Last week, the Braves lost two consecutive games against the Phillies who were forced to throw two rookie starting pitchers in a row. Playoff teams don't let rookies beat them in important games.
...Suffer a losing streak in the midst of the battle: The Phillies lost 5 in a row to Washington and Houston from September 3-7. The Braves have gone 2-5 in their last 7 games, allowing the Phillies a very miniscule opening for the NL East crown. The Astros came away from CBP on September 7 with a chance to put a nail in the Phillies' coffin but proceeded to lose 4 of their next 5. The Marlins took the wild card lead against the Astros on September 13 and then lost 4 in a row. Playoff teams don't lose consistently when they need to win.
...Let crucial games slip away in dramatic, heartbreaking fashion: The Phillies were devastated by the Astros on September 7, who beat Billy Wagner with a two-out 3-run home run in the ninth. The Marlins gave up 10 runs to the Phils on September 17, making 4 errors and countless other misplays in the field in the process. The Braves lost a 6-2 lead on September 8, giving up 4 runs in the bottom of the 8th to the Nationals. On September 2 against Houston, St. Louis lost a ninth inning 3-2 lead, then a tenth inning 4-3 lead, then eventually lost the game and a 5-4 lead in the 13th. Playoff teams don't let crucial games slip away from them.
...Barely play .500 ball in September (or the season for that matter): I would have believed this one before this season. However, the Padres have played one game over .500 ball in September (9-8) and for the season (75-74). They are 6 games under .500 for the second half (27-33). Playoff teams play better than .500.
If we listen to the wizened commentators of the day or our neighborhood know-it-all, we'd hear resounding choruses that "playoff teams just don't do these things" and certainly that "they don't do these things down the stretch, either in a tight playoff race or gearing up for post-season play."
But, just looking at this list we know that statements like that are worse than worthless. There's only one statement that we can make universally: playoff teams are those that qualify for the playoffs by winning their division or having the best record of the remaining teams. Isolated failings have nothing to do with what playoff teams are or aren't.
We know that four of the six teams with the problems described here will be in the playoffs. And they've all suffered these follies in September, when their post-season spot is on the line or when they've been gearing up for October baseball. That's the beauty of a 162 game season played day-in, day-out. That's the beauty of baseball.