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PostHeaderIcon Nothing Willy Nilly About Choosing Phillie

On the final day of the 2014 season, when the Phillies lost 2-1 to the Atlanta Braves, that outcome cost me approximately $5,000.  That’s because that loss knocked me out of my survivor pool.  After surviving for 16 weeks. after outlasting 352 other members who had all been eliminated, after making it down the final 11 survivors, the Phillies’ loss on the very last day of the season knocked me out of the pool.  This blog is not to talk about the “what ifs”, although there are certainly many “what ifs” I could talk about.  Nothing positive can come from discussing the “what ifs”.  Instead this blog is to defend the “what was” because I feel like doing so could be very cathartic for me.

I’m sure most of you are familiar with how a survivor pool works.  In a baseball survivor pool, each week you need to choose one Major League Baseball team to win at least half it’s games without ever choosing the same team more than once.  Well, after exhausting 16 other teams throughout the course of this pool I found myself down to two reasonable choices on the last week.  I would classify one of those choices Cleveland, as the safe choice and one of those choices Philadelphia, as the risky choice.  However, I was very aware that even the safe choice was not all the safe.  And here is what I also knew.  I knew it was very likely that as many as 9 of the final 11 survivors could join me taking Cleveland.  Meanwhile, I knew that no one was likely to join me taking Philadelphia.  Once I would have chosen Cleveland I would have been conceding that I was content with winning one tenth of the grand prize at best.  But by taking Philadelphia I was still giving myself a chance to win the entire pool outright.  I never felt very confident in the woeful Phillies.  But as the deadline to make my pick grew closer and closer I became less and less confident in the Indians as well.  From a risk/reward standpoint, at the last moment I decided that the Phillies were the way to go.

The Phillies needed to win 3 of 6 games for me to collect the prize.  They had Cole Hamels getting 2 starts.  They had 3 games at the Marlins and 3 games at home against the Braves.  No one had ever done more research into a survivor pool that I had done making this pick.
First the Marlins, they were missing Stanton and Ozuna from the middle of their batting order.  That represented half of their team’s home runs and 32% of their team’s RBI’s.  They had not scored more than 2 runs in a game since Stanton had gone down injured a week earlier.  Their pitchers were to be Alvarez, Hand, and Koehler.  The only one of those who’d even been having a decent year was Alvarez, but the Phillies had a .283 batting average against him this year.  They had hit .291 against Koehler and even though he was going against the rather unintimidating Buchanan, the Marlins had previously only batted .233 against him.
As far as the Braves, even though they had a decent win loss record for the year, they had been horrible in September.  Not just horrible in fact.  Their 4-14 record in September was the worst record in Major League Baseball for the month.  They were slated to throw Santana, Harang, and Wood–not exactly Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz.  The light hitting Phillies previously had a .295 batting average against Wood and a .346 batting average against Harang.  And Atlanta’s offense had been slumping big time too.  They came into the week on a 4-game losing streak.
For the Phillies to sneak out 3 wins in 6 games against these 2 opponents did not seem unreasonable.  So what actually happened?
The first game Hamels pitched great but the Phillies lost 2-0.  The second game they won 2-1.  That set up the third game which was the real killer.  In the top of the 7th inning the Phillies took the lead 4-2.  This set up the Phillies to do what they do best, protect a lead.  All year they had been relying on Diekman in the 7th, Giles in the 8th, and Papelbon in the 9th.  Diekman had only allowed 1 earned run in his last 14 appearances.  And the Marlins had not scored over 2 runs in a game in over a week.  So what happened?  The Marlins scored 4 runs in one inning against Diekman and won the game 6-4.  Unreal.
Game four the Phillies won 5-4 against the Braves and evened their record back up at 2 and 2 for the week.  Going into Saturday they had 2 more games left to play and needed to win just one.  They would be favored in both games in Las Vegas.  They lost game five 4-2, a game in which they had 2 runners thrown out at the plate on throws from the outfield.  That brought it all down to Sunday.  In the 16 previous weeks I’d been in the pool, this was the only time I had ever needed to win on a Sunday in order to survive. Surely, it wasn’t too much to ask that I would win one must-win game in a pool I had been coasting along in for 4 months.
Pitching for the Phillies was Cole Hamels.  In 3 previous games pitching against the Braves he had allowed a total of 1 run.  That’s 1 run allowed in 3 games.  Pitching for the Braves was some middle reliever named James Russell.  Russell had been pressed into emergency service because Wood was scratched from the game with forearm soreness.  So on one side there was Hamels who had the lowest ERA in the entire Major Leagues since the All Star Break behind only Kershaw.  And the other side was Russell who hadn’t started a game in years and had an ERA of over 9.00 when he did last start.  As far as the hitters, while the Phillies decided to play all their regulars, the Braves decided to sit their entire starting outfield, their starting shortstop, and their starting catcher for the season finale.  With so much at stake, I certainly wouldn’t say that I was relaxed.  But I also didn’t feel like I could have asked for a much better scenario for a do-or-die game in Week 17.
Little could I have known that in the very first inning Emilio Bonifacio would greet Cole Hamels by hitting his second home run in 390 at bats. Then backup shortstop Phil Gosselin (who?) would get a base hit, steal second base, and score on the third base hit of the first inning.  Hamels was totally dominating after that, but by then it was too late.  The Phillies offense was just too weak.  Even against a bunch of second tier relief pitchers all they could muster was one lone run.  They lost the game 2-1.
Cleveland also faced a do-or-die game on the final day of the season.  Unlike the Phillies, the oddsmakers listed them as underdogs for their game.  But also unlike the Phillies, they managed to scratch out a win.  So yes, it would be easy to have regrets, but I’m not going to do that.  Cole Hamels pitched two games, allowing only 2 runs in each and lost them both.  Late in the third game they had a 4-2 with one of the best bullpens in baseball going against one of the worst hitting lineups in baseball and blew the game.  They were a betting favorite on the final day of the season and lost a game I really feel like they would win 7 or 8 times out of 10.  I think I made a worthy gamble.  And even though it didn’t work out, I’d do it again.  OK, I feel better now.

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