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Momentum Revisited: Can a Team This Bad Over the Last Two Weeks Win the World Series?

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With the Phillies' lackluster performance coming into the end of the season, many Phillies fans are undoubtedly wondering whether the team is doomed in the post-season.  Well, it's safe to say that, while they may be doomed in the post-season, it won't be because of their recent performance.

Last week I tackled this question by looking at the teams that made it to the playoffs over the past five years, their records for the last 7 and 21 games, and the result.  It was quite obvious that good teams at the end of the year can stumble in the playoffs and bad teams at the end of the year can do quite well, even win the World Series.

Today, with the regular season in the books, I'm going to look at this question a bit differently.  Last week's analysis wouldn't really capture how bad it feels like the Phillies have been recently.  Believe it or not, the Phils are 12-9 over their last 21 games.  And, in their last 7, they've been mediocre (by record), going 3-4.

So, to capture what really feels like a pretty crappy end to the season, I'll look at the last 13 games, when the Phillies were 5-8.  Yes, I know this is a bit arbitrary, but since this is the stretch of baseball that has gotten many Phillies fans concerned, this will be the comparison.

I'll also switch up the comparison a bit.  Instead of looking at all the playoff teams, I'll look at the World Series winners since the advent of the Wild Card.  Here's a chart that lists each World Series winner's performance over the last 13 games of the season.  The top line (in italics) is what the Phillies have done this year.

Year Team Record RS/G RA/G
2009 Phillies 5-8 4.9 5.5
2008 Phillies 10-3 5.5 4.2
2007 Red Sox 6-7 4.8 4.2
2006 Cardinals 4-9 4.8 5.0
2005 White Sox 9-4 3.8 2.9
2004 Red Sox 9-4 6.8 5.2
2003 Marlins 8-5 4.4 5.0
2002 Angels 5-8 4.6 4.2
2001 D Backs 9-4 6.5 4.9
2000 Yankees 2-11 3.5 8.8
1999 Yankees 8-5 5.1 4.5
1998 Yankees 10-3 5.6 3.2
1997 Marlins 5-8 4.8 5.1
1996 Yankees 7-6 6.5 4.7
1995 Braves 7-6 3.9 3.5
 

As you can see from the chart, the 2009 Phillies are in fine company.  Two World Series winners have had worse records over the last 13 (the 2006 Cardinals and 2000 Yankees), two others have had the same record (2002 Angels and 1997 Marlins), and one other was just slightly better but still had a losing record (the 2004 Red Sox).

Concerned about our offense?  Only 6 of these 14 teams have had more productive offenses over the last 13 games.

Concerned about our pitching?  The 2000 Yankees were worse, much worse (8.8 runs per game?!).  And four other teams also gave up 5 or more runs per game in their last 13.

But maybe, you're saying, the teams that have been bad over the last 13 games had the post-season clinched, so they didn't care.  Well, that does seem plausible . . . but it's just not true.  The worst teams here are the 2000 Yankees (2-11 in last 13) and 2006 Cardinals (4-9).  The Yankees clinched in 2000 with 3 games to go, and the Cardinals clinched with 1.  Those teams played horribly even though the post-season was on the line.  And yet, despite playing terribly when it mattered in the regular season, when they got to the post-season, they won it all.

There's no doubt the Phillies haven't looked good recently.  But, once again, the Phillies' performance in the last month is no barrier to the team getting hot in October and winning it all.  Other teams have done it before.  There's no reason the Phillies can't.