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Monday, September 27, 2010

Narrative Likability Factor & The Philadelphia Phillies

As I write, the Phillies and Roy Halladay have taken a commanding lead over the Nationals and are now about a dozen outs from clinching their fourth consecutive NL East title.  The Phillies were clearly the NL favorites heading into the 2010 season and, sporting the best record in the league following another scorching September, there seems little cause for that to change.  The Phillies have won the last two NL pennants, as well as the World Series in 2008.  The lineup featuring Rollins, Utley, Howard, Werth, and Victorino is as familiar to fans across the nation as those in Boston and New York.  So, it's probably time for somebody else to get a chance, right?  "Likable narratives" don't generally feature dynasties like this.   However, there are still a few reasons to get behind the Phightin' Phils:

  •  A Little Piece of History:  If the Phillies represent the NL for the third consecutive season, they will be the first three-peat NL Champs since 1944 (Cardinals).  It's kind of an odd little piece of trivia, but the National League has not featured many true "dynasty"-type ballclubs, with the ability to go the distance year after year after year.  Even the Big Red Machine of the '70s couldn't manage three in a row, nor could the Bob Gibson's Cardinals or the We Are Family Pirates. No NL team in the integration era has done it, so it would be a pretty major accomplishment.
  • Injury Sminjury:  Most of the time, when a team that is expected to contend fails to do so, the explanation is a rash of ill-timed injuries.  In just this season, that excuse has been pervasively applied to the Red Sox, Rockies, Cubs, and Mets.  But arguably no team was more flea-bitten this year than the Phils.  Only two players in their starting lineup, Jayson Werth and Raul Ibanez, will manage to make over 150 starts, while their All-Star middle infielders, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins, have each been severely limited (less than 120 games apiece).  Through it all, the Phillies have not allowed themselves to play like an accursed team and they are going to end up posting their best record since 1993.
  • Polly, Ribby, & The Wizard of Oz: Placido Polanco, Raul Ibanez, and Roy Oswalt are all long-time major-league veterans who have played in several postseasons and at least one World Series, but haven't yet taken home the ultimate hardware.  The big draw of Philadelphia, for each of them, was the realistic opportunity to chase rings.  These are, by all accounts, gentlemen, each with underdog qualities - Polanco is a scrappy, undersized utility-man, Ibanez was a late-bloomer, Oswalt is short - and they are difficult to root against.
  • Doc Halladay:  Now, let me give you your monthly dose of Halladay hysteria.  He's definitely the best active pitcher who has never participated in a postseason game.  He's one of the greatest of all time.  He came to Philadelphia last winter confronted with the utmost of expectations.  With the vaunted Philadelphia offense, he was expected to win 20+ games.  Without the designated hitter, he was expected to throw 250+ innings and have an ERA under 2.50.  And, with his long history of playing in the AL East, he was expected to be Philadelphia's best weapon against the Yankees, Red Sox, or Rays in the World Series.  Well, he just threw a complete-game shutout to clinch the NL East.  In the process, he picked up his 21st win, his 251st inning, and brought his ERA to 2.43.  In the 64 years since baseball was integrated, there have been only 47 seasons of that quality.  So, those were some pretty high expectations.  Now, he's going after the biggest of all.
Much as I love Doc, I don't think I can root for a reigning champ; that is, unless they come up against the other reigning champ, which is obviously where the Vegas money is being laid.  So, the Phils get a little boost for being the most likely dragonslayer.

Narrative Likability Factor: C+

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