As we simulate seasons and look back at the past this week, we figured this would be a good time to ask ‘What if?’ So each Phillies Nation writer is posing a what-if question this week.
Today, it’s Kirsten Swanson and a collapse that … never was?
Going into September 2007, the Phillies were in good position to challenge the Mets for the National League East title. Then they lost seven out of 11 and found themselves seven games back with 17 to play. It looked as if the Phillies were destined for yet another October at home.
Then they won their next nine of 10, including a sweep of the Mets. In a little more than a week, the Phils jumped from seven games back to just 1.5 games back. Still, with no head-to-head matchups left, the Mets held their own destiny.
But the Mets kept losing and the Phillies kept winning. Jimmy Rollins’ offseason prediction of the Phillies being the team to beat in the NL East came true on the final game of the year. The Mets capped off their historic collapse by losing 12 of their last 17 games, giving the Phils their first division title since 1993.
The Phillies would continue to rule the NL East for the next four seasons, appearing in two World Series and winning one. There’s no denying that the Phils were one of – if not the – best team in baseball from 2008-2011, but would that have changed if they fell short in 2007?
What if Tom Glavine didn’t give up 17 earned runs in his final three starts? What if Billy Wagner didn’t blow the lead against the Phils to complete the sweep at the end of August? What if the Mets didn’t choke?
The 2007 season was the turning point for the Phillies. They went from a young, mediocre team to a potential contender. By claiming the division, the team gave general manager Pat Gillick the proof he needed that the team was no longer growing; it was ready to compete. As a result, Gillick traded Michael Bourn and Geoff Geary for Brad Lidge and Eric Bruntlett, both of whom had key roles during the 2008 championship run. Would Gillick have made the move if the Phils came up short?
Fast-forward a year later – the Phillies found themselves yet again in a tight pennant race with the Mets. With 17 games to play in September 2008, the Phils were 3.5 games behind. And like deja vu, the Mets kept losing while the Phils kept winning. A big part of that was the offseason acquisition of Lidge, which may not have happened if they missed the playoffs the year before.
There’s no doubt the previous season’s comeback kept hopes alive down the stretch for the Phils in 2008, while memories of defeat haunted the Mets. The Phillies were playing as if they were the team to beat despite being behind the Mets. And the Mets were playing scared, practically waiting for the Phillies to catch them in the standings. The Phils clinched the division in game 161 and the rest, as you know, is history.
All of this is in no way meant to give the Mets any credit for the Phillies successes. If the Mets won just two more games in September 2007, however, the Phillies path to their first championship in 25 years could have been a lot different.
In fact, they may never have won one at all.