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18 Lean Years: the Phillies in Interleague Play

Yes, the Phillies really have been as lousy in interleague play as you think. But it only got really bad when the team got really good.

Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Following last night's agonizing loss to the Angels, the Phillies' 2014 record in interleague games fell to 1-7. Among those seven defeats have been some doozies: the Cody Asche disasterpiece Tuesday night, the Jonathan Papelbon opening-series meltdown in Texas, a shameful loss to J.A. Happ, and things that occurred in Toronto last week that I seem to have successfully erased from my memory. Take away those games, and the team would be sitting three games over .500. This isn't atypical: since interleague play began in 1997, the team has a cumulative record of 128-165, a winning percentage of .437. Only the Pirates have a worse mark--and, as you might recall, the Bucs have been pretty lousy overall during most of the last couple decades.

What's particularly strange is how the Phillies' interleague fortunes plunged right around when the team overall got really good. In 1997, the first year of interleague play, the Phils dropped 10 of 15 interleague games (though they did sweep the Yankees, in a late-season series highlighted by Curt Schilling's 16-strikeout masterpiece). But over the next eight seasons, as the team rose from doormat to disappointing near-contender, they played exactly .500 ball against the American League (68-68). The 2006 season was the Phillies' second-worst in interleague play, as they dropped 13 of 18 games; overall, the club finished three games out of the wild card.

Their worst season? 2008, when the Phillies posted an interleague record of 4-11. (Adding in the World Series, it looks a lot better.) The Phils went 23-40 in interleague from 2006-2009, for a winning percentage of .365. Their overall record during those four seasons was 359-289 (.554). This is actually tough to do.

As the Phillies posted the NL's best record in both 2010 and 2011, they managed to go over .500 in interleague, albeit barely: 10-8 in 2010, 9-6 a year later. But when their fortunes fell in 2012, AL teams took advantage: the Phils won just five of 15 interleague games that season, and went 7-13 last year. Of course, to reach that mark this season they'll have to go .500 in their remaining interleague games.

My colleague David Cohen has pointed out that the Phils have gotten a raw deal in interleague play because of MLB's silly "rivalry" idea. Basically, they've seen much more of the Red Sox than you'd want during that club's great run over the last decade-plus. In 53 games against the Sox, the Phils have gone 22-31, for a .415 winning percentage--their sixth-worst winning percentage against any opponent. The bottom four? The Tigers (.400), Rays (.333), Mariners (.222) and... today's opponent, the Angels (.143).

Thanks, Commissioner Selig. The great Scott Eyre had you pegged.