The Atlanta Braves defeated the Philadelphia Phillies in a crushing four-game sweep this weekend, and adding insult to injury, clinched the National League East on Saturday. After the All-Star break, when the two teams were neck and neck, people speculated that the Phillies had a more favorable schedule than the Braves, making them the favorites to win the division. But for the young and unpredictable Phillies, a favorable schedule wasn’t enough. Out of the 15 series that the Phillies have played in August and September, ten of them have been against other teams in the National League East. And with only one series left against another NL East team, it’s safe to say that the Phillies’ performance against teams in their own division cost them the pennant.
Despite being in second place in the NL East, the Phillies have lost 15 of 23 series played against other teams in the division, losing four of five series against the pennant-winning Braves. Moreover, they lost four of six series against the third place Washington Nationals and four of six series against the New York Mets. Worse than these numbers are the Phillies’ numbers against the last place Miami Marlins. The Marlins, a team with a .400 record, won half of the series (3 out of 6) played against the Phillies. With such a bad record against the NL East, it’s hard to believe that the Phillies are still second in the division (albeit, only a half game above the Nationals), and it’s even harder to believe that the Phillies are still above .500 (albeit, only one game).
Despite their failure to win series against the overall poorly performing NL East, the Phillies won 12 out of 23 series against the other 15 teams they played. Some of these series wins make sense. For instance, the Phillies swept both series played against the Baltimore Orioles, who have a measly winning percentage of .290. The Phillies’ success against better teams, on the other hand, remains a bit of an anomaly. The Phillies played well against the Los Angeles Dodgers, who sit atop the NL West, and against the St. Louis Cardinals, who also have a high winning percentage. Another impressive feat occurred when the Phillies managed to split two series against the Boston Red Sox, who steamroll over most teams that they play.
Why were the Phillies able to beat winning teams like the Dodgers and Cardinals, but not losing teams like the Nationals and Mets? Many attribute their late-season meltdown to their young players who are not used to playing this many games and are feeling fatigued. However, even before the All-Star break, the Phillies only won 46% of games played against their division. Perhaps, NL East teams had a great advantage over the Phillies in that they had seen their young players and pitching staff so much more than other teams. This would explain why the Phillies found so much success against teams like the Tampa Bay Rays, the Orioles, and the Red Sox, who they hardly ever play. However, if this is the case, the Phillies must find a way to adjust in the years to come, because no matter how well they play against non-division teams, they will not be successful unless they play well against the NL East.