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The Legacy of the 2011 Phillies: Another Thought Experiment

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I am still seeing a number of people on this site and elsewhere who can't quite seem to accept that the Phillies realized their roughly 80 percent chance of not winning a World Series. In the minds of these people (and I should note that this is certainly the majority opinion) a 102 win season is considered void owing to the team's failure to win three out of five games against the Cardinals

David did a wonderful job of setting the record straight on the 2011 season, so my intention here is only to augment his fine work with another thought experiment. 

So imagine, if you will, that in the bottom of the fourth of Friday's game, with runners on the corners and two outs, Raul Ibanez's deep flyball to right field isn't tracked down by Lance Berkman against the wall, but rather carries an additional five feet and either just clears the fence for a three run homer or bounces off of it for a two run double. In either case, the lead holds and the Phillies advance to their fourth consecutive NLCS. For at least another week, the talk of the Phillies' season being a failure is forestalled. 

And this is precisely why declaring a 162 game season a failure on the basis of the outcome of a five game series is ridiculous. If a stray gust of wind had blown out to right field as Ibanez's fly ball was in the air, we would very likely not even be having this discussion. If Ibanez's bat had made contact with the ball a millimeter above where it actually did, the Phillies could be four wins away from another National League Pennant right now. In a five game series, small, random events can carry an undue influence on the series outcome. Such minute details can have no less an impact on the outcomes of individual regular season games, but the difference is that over the course of 162 games they have a chance to even out. When you think of it in terms of a millimeter here and a millimeter there being decisive, does it still make sense to call the 2011 season a failure? That's a rhetorical question. The answer is "No."

So, knowing this why do we continue to stake a team's legacy on the outcome of a few series at the end of the season? Very few people would even bother to argue that the playoffs are an effective way of determining who the best team was in a given season. Some may respond by saying something along the lines of "Nobody remembers teams that are dominant in the regular season but fizzle out in the playoffs." However, this is more a diagnosis of the very problem than it is a counterargument. Others may acknowledge the validity of my point while saying "Yeah, but for me, the season is a failure because they couldn't win a World Series." But just because you claim something applies only to you does not mean it is not illogical or that it should be immune from criticism.

Look, I am as disappointed as the next man that the Phillies' playoff run ended early again this year. I would love to see another parade as much as anyone. But drawing a distinction between disappointment with the outcome of a series in which randomness rules and disappointment with a full 162 game season is essential.

The 2011 Phillies were objectively the best team in the league. This team was one of a handful of the best teams in the franchise's 129 year history. Over the course of the regular season this team provided you with hundreds of hours of enjoyment. It's a damn shame that a couple of millimeters are all it takes for people to declare it a failure.