This line, as odd as it may seem considering his situation every year, has been uttered multiple times by Yankees GM Brian Cashman, in response to various questions ranging from “Are you worried about how your team is playing heading into the playoffs?” to “How much do you concern yourself with winning the division if you have already clinched at least a wild card?” “Just get in the tournament,” is his line. And, that is what the Phillies, with a win or a Braves loss, will do tonight.
Are they “peaking” at the “right time” (or however the cliche goes)? No, most certainly not. Are they the best team in the National League? Maybe, but probably not. Are they sound in the areas deemed most important to postseason success? Definitely not, at least when talking about the bullpen. But, are they in the tournament? Yes. And, with what the baseball playoffs have become over the past decade or so, Cashman is right when he says the only thing that matters is “getting into the tournament.”
Let us look back at this decade’s baseball champions and see what Cashman is talking about:
- 2000 Yankees: When you think about it, you probably think, like I did, “what a great team that was.” They had won three of the prior four championships, and featured a core of the game’s elite players. But, what if I told that they only won 87 games, and that every other playoff team that year plus the Cleveland Indians, who didn’t make it, won three more games than the Yanks? There was also a lot of talk about just how awful the Yanks were playing heading into the playoffs. And, they got in the tournament and won.
- 2001 Diamondbacks: This was a very good team, but certainly not the favorites (winning fewer games than both the Astros and Cardinals) and, most definitely, not without their question marks. They had acquired Schilling in midseason and after the top two pitchers, they really had no one. And, need I remind you of the name Byung-Hyun Kim? Yes, he was their closer. But, they got into the tournament.
- 2002 Angels: A wild-card team that was led by David Eckstein and those stupid Rally Monkeys. Not exactly a recipe for over-confident fans, huh? Oh, and you might say, “Yeah, well they did have a dominant closer in Francisco Rodriguez.” And, you would be right–he was dominant in the playoffs. But, entering the 2002 playoffs, he had ZERO career saves, and was only 20 years old. But, they got into the tournament.
- 2003 Marlins: Another wild-card team that finished ten games behind the Braves in the NL East. Yes, they were playing great ball in the second half, but do you think anyone on September 30, 2003, would say “You know who I’m picking to win it all? The Marlins.” Probably no one other than the 14 die-hard Marlins fans. And, maybe Brian Cashman, who realizes that it’s all about getting into the tournament.
- 2004 Red Sox: They had not won in 86 years (in case you forgot) and lost the division to the Yankees–a division title they probably should have won, but limped through September and ended up as the wild card. But, they got in.
- 2005 White Sox: Here is where is starts to get even better. The White Sox took the lead of the AL Central in late-April and never looked back–sort of. They did lead for almost the entire season, but if you don’t recall, they almost choked away the division to the Indians in the final month. They had a questionable closer, no momentum, and no pedigree. But, what did they do? They got in the tournament.
- 2006 Cardinals: This might be the absolute best example of the point I’ve been trying to make for far too long here. The Cardinals won 83 games in the regular season. They BARELY held on to a division and avoided the “worst collapse of all-time,” as all the sports writers dubbed it as it was happening. They were also called the “worst playoff team ever.” Oh, and their closer? It was Jason Isringhausen up until mid-September when he blew his 10th save and was replaced as the closer. The Cards turned to a rookie starter to be their closer (Adam Wainwright, meet JA Happ) and the rest is history (including a nasty, nasty curveball that Mets fans probably remember all too well). They got in the tournament, and despite all their warts and baggage, they won it all.
- 2007 Red Sox: Probably the best (or one of the best) team in the league, but they didn’t exactly finish strong either. Plus, they had a closer, who was a starter in the minors, in only his second season as a closer. But, they got in the tournament.
- 2008 Phillies: It is great to think of all of this happening to these other teams. The White Sox and Red Sox breaking their long streaks of ineptitude. The Cardinals winning 83 games, but somehow winning the title. The D-Backs winning their first. The Marlins winning their second (having NEVER won the division). But, that is just stuff that happens somewhere else. Not in Philadelphia, right? Wrong. Last year, for those who don’t know, the Phillies won the World Series. And, trust me, they were not the favorites going into the playoffs. But, what they did was exactly what they are about to do this year–THEY GOT IN THE TOURNAMENT.
So, let us not worry ourselves with closers or slumping offenses or breaking-down starting pitchers. Let us not worry about 1964 or Mitch Williams or anything like that. Let us celebrate the next Phillies victory as if they accomplished EXACTLY what they needed to accomplish through the 162-game season. They, like seven other teams will, won the regular season. There are 8 winners and 22 losers, and with one more win, the Phillies will assure themselves a place as one of those winners. They will, simply put, get in the tournament.