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The Phillies' first pennant and this year's different kind of race

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The 1915 Phillies won the franchise's first pennant, but this year's Phillies have much more in common with the Philadelphia A's of a hundred years ago.

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100 Years Ago Today

The Phillies franchise was in its 33rd season in 1915. They had been moderately successful overall up to that point, with a .510 winning percentage, and were about to complete their 20th winning season out of 33. But while they had finished second three times in that period, they had never won anything so far.

That all changed one hundred years ago today, on September 29, 1915, when the Phillies beat the second place Braves 5-0 in Boston to clinch the National League pennant. Grover Cleveland Alexander was masterful again that day, throwing his 4th one-hitter (and 12th shutout) of the season.

From the newspapers of the day:

The Philadelphia club today won the National League championship of 1915, with Alexander pitching a one-hit game against the pretest title-holding Braves. The score was 5 to 0. The defeat of the Braves makes it possible for the league leaders to lose all their remaining games and still have clear title to first place.

Among the spectators of the game were some of the Boston American players, the probable competitors of Philadelphia in the world series. Manager Carrigan of the Red Sox watched them carefully. "It seems to be a well-rounded combination, but I’m sure we can beat them," he remarked.

The Braves apparently honored Phillies manager and Massachusetts native Pat Moran before the game:

It was "Patsy Moran Day" at Braves Field and several thousand persons turned out especially to honor the visiting manager. Most of them came from Fitchburg, his home town. Among them was David I. Walsh, Governor of the State, who presented Moran, with a large floral horseshoe. The new champions clinched their honors in the first inning. Bancroft’s single to right and Rudolph’s pass to Paskert was followed by Cravath’s home run, which brought the latter’s home run record to 23. A triple by Paskert sent another home in the fourth, and Cravath cracked a double to left and Luderus a single to the same spot for a fifth run in the seventh inning.

And Philadelphia rejoiced:

A wave of wild enthusiasm swept through the business.section of this city today, with the announcement, flashed on many scoreboards, that the "Phillies" had finally clinched a pennant and would be contenders for the world’s baseball title. Old and middle-aged men who have been faithful rooters of the local club for thirty-two years hugged each other, and. even total strangers on City Hall Plaza cheered when the electric lights on the scoreboards, which had told the story of the same to a multitude of spectators, flashed Compton’s final fruitless swing.

Thousands of fans crowded every available spot on the broad sidewalk around City Hall to view the progress of the game. Cravath’s home run, clearing the bases, caused a shout which brought the clerks and others in offices in the vicinity to the windows, and apprised them Intuitively that the National League flag had been won for this city. Manager Pat Moran has worked wonders with the Phillies, a: bunch of ball players many of whom were dropped from other clubs because they were not considered good enough.

With this collection to work with Manager Moran has welded a formidable baseball machine which has played steady, consistent ball all season. It is not a flashy team, and outside of Alexander’s pitching and Cravath’s long-distance batting, there is nothing wonderful about it. Manager Moran developed team work and harmony and has had the team playing at top speed for two months.

Meanwhile...

The other Philadelphia team had already made history that season, but of a different sort. The A's had already lost 106 games at this point, on the way to a final total of 109, only four years after winning 101 (and the World Series) in 1911. No other team has gone from 100+ wins to 100+ losses in only four years, but the Phillies have a very good chance of matching that record this year, unless they can manage to win at least four of their remaining six games.

However as precipitous as the Phillies' recent decline has been, the A's' fall from baseball's elite was far more dramatic. While the Phillies have declined from 102 wins to 81, and then 73, 73, and finally the 60-some they'll likely finish with this year, the A's followed their 101 wins in 1911 with 90 in 1912, 96 in 1913 (when they won the WS), and 99 in 1914 (winning the AL pennant but losing the WS to the "miracle" Boston Braves). Connie Mack however sold, released, or traded most stars, and the A's swiftly collapsed in 1915, and would win only 43 games.

For the 2015 Phillies, trying to avoid 100 losses is competing with the allure of finishing at least tied with the worst record in baseball, and so securing the first pick overall in the 2016 draft.

Battle for the 2016 #1 Pick

With two three-game series left for each team, this is where the Phillies and Braves stand in the "battle" for last place:

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There are certainly scenarios that will allow the Phillies to both avoid 100 losses and get the #1 pick (by winning at least four of six), as long as the Braves won't completely collapse, but eke out one or two wins out of their remaining six games.

And while the Braves are closest, the one other team that still has a (slim) shot of overtaking the Phillies is the Reds. Cincinnati is four back, at 63-93, and the Phils' magic number for eliminating the Reds is two.