The 2011 postseason already has its main narrative: can anybody stop the Phillies? Not since the legendary 1998 Yankees has the postseason featured such a prohibitive favorite.
Philadelphia already has won 97 games. In franchise history, only the 1976 and 1977 teams won more games (101). We're looking at not just the best team in baseball, but also the best team in Phillies history and quite possibly a baseball rarity: the superteam.
If the Phillies can finish 8-6 they will become only the 24th team in the World Series era to win 105 games. That would put them among the top one percent of the more than 2,200 teams fielded since 1903 (1904 and 1994 excluded).
Are superteams World Series locks? Well, 14 of those previous 23 superteams won the World Series, a 61 percent conversion rate. That's a fairly good indicator. But the road to a title is much harder now than it was before the divisional era began in 1969.
So let's consider the conversion rate of superteams by era, using the number of playoff series needed to win the world championship (below).
The only team to win 105 games and the World Series since 1987 is the 1998 Yankees. (The 2004 Cardinals, 2001 Mariners and 1998 Braves all advanced out of the first round, but did not win the World Series.)
The wild card era clearly has taken the shine off the legend of superteams. Five of the first 24 World Series champions were superteams (and that's with a shorter schedule). Now we've seen only one among the past 23 champions.
So the Phillies still have much work to do before they secure a place in history. But as long as the Phillies pitch the way they typically pitch, nobody is going to beat them.
Consider this about Philadelphia: its winning percentage when it scores more than two runs is .817 (85-19). Since the beginning of June -- nearly four months ago -- the Phillies lost four out of seven games only once, and that 3-4 stretch included two starts by Kyle Kendrick and none by Cole Hamels. They scored a total of five runs yesterday in a doubleheader -- and won both games.
The Phillies are an exciting team to watch, but now that they are entering the top one percent of teams all time, they are giving the postseason an even bigger dynamic: a superteam trying to become historically great.
The 2012 baseball schedule is out. The first thing you have to accept about a baseball schedule is that it is enormously complicated to put together. There is no perfect schedule, but here are some oddities worth pointing out:
- The NFL chooses to showcase its Super Bowl champion when the new season begins. Major League Baseball creates a stage for the ... Miami Marlins? Yep, Opening Day is reserved for one game April 4: the Marlins (no longer identified as the Florida Marlins) against the Cardinals. Why? Because the Marlins have a new stadium? Not good enough.
Baseball should have the World Series winner open with a game at home, complete with ring- and flag-raising ceremonies. Yes, it would mean moving a game because the preliminary schedule is due before the World Series concludes. They floated the idea of having the Giants open at home for one game against the Dodgers, but nobody wanted to solve the logistical concerns to make it happen. Too bad. The showcase opening game is one area where the NFL has MLB beat.
- The 2012 regular season ends Oct. 3, which might mean no wild card play-in games next season. Even with the shortened postseason calendar -- 29 days to a World Series Game 7 this year, down from 31 from two years ago -- a World Series Game 7 will be played on Nov. 1 next year (barring rainouts). In an expanded playoff format with two wild-card teams in each league playing a knockout game (thankfully, any interest in a ridiculous three- game play-in series more and more is being seen as folly), you likely would be putting two more days into the postseason calendar. That would mean pushing World Series Game 7 to as late as Nov. 3, a Saturday night -- the worst night of the week for ratings.
- Interleague play continues to create huge inequities. Here's one example regarding the two top teams in the NL East. The Phillies (15 games) and Braves (18) don't even play the same number of games against AL teams. The Braves get road games against the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays; the Phillies play none of those teams on the road (they get the Orioles, which is like a home game, Blue Jays and Twins on the road). They don't play the Yankees at all.
Did you see how Tampa Bay beat Boston last night? A ground ball that should have ended the top of the third inning in a scoreless tie could not be caught by Boston shortstop Marco Scutaro because a broken bat was flying at him. A run scored and before you knew it, the Rays were up 4-0. It reminded me of three rule changes that need to be made immediately because they make so much sense:
1. An umpire can rule interference on the batter if his broken bat prevents a fielder from making an otherwise ordinary attempt at the baseball. The batter is ruled out -- in the same way a runner can be called out if the batter impedes the ordinary effort of the catcher to throw to a base on a steal attempt. Fielders shouldn't have to dodge flying objects that might impale them.
2. Pitches that strike any protective arm gear worn by the batter should be ruled a ball, not a hit batsman. It's easy to dive into pitches and hang over the strike zone when you're wearing armor. You should not be rewarded for it.
3. September rosters can be expanded to as many as 40 players, but game rosters shall remain at 25. Three hours before first pitch, each team must submit a list of 25 players eligible for that particular game -- that way you could, for instance, drop three starting pitchers not available that night and add three extra players. Let's stop such nonsense as playing 38 vs. 27 in pennant race games.