The original Oktoberfest in 1810 celebrated the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen and featured a big horse race. This year, baseball's Oktoberfest celebrates the eight teams that were skilled enough to keep playing deep into October and, if they're lucky, finish the year with a trophy, a platter of sausages, and an imperial pint of Hofbräu. Next up, the Philadelphia Phillies, as penned by Dan McQuade.
The Philadelphia Phillies don't have the most successful history, exactly. Their first season, top pitcher John Coleman went 12-48. Their second year, their top pitcher went 21-25. The Phillies didn't have a pitcher -- any pitcher -- with a winning record until their third season. The Phils lost 100 straight games for five straight years from 1938-1942. They won their first playoff game in 1915, then didn't win another one until 1977.
Things have been looking up recently. After seven straight losing seasons from 1994-2000, the Phillies have had a winning record in eight of the last nine years. And, of course, they won the World Series last year. Now they've clinched their third straight National League East title, something that seemed unthinkable during the dark days of the late 1990s.
And yet, Phillies fans are not exactly champing at the bit for the postseason. Sure, people are excited -- the Phillies Phillies filled Citizens Bank Park to 102.5 percent of capacity this season -- but listen to talk radio and read the newspapers and you'll see that people are worried. (I mean, you listen to talk radio and read the newspapers. I am certainly not doing that.) What made last year's postseason so surreal was how easy the Phillies coasted through. The Phillies went 11-3 last October, didn't blow any games in the eighth or ninth innings and nobody died during the celebration after the Phils won it all. (Okay, so some cops beat some people and some cars got overturned. Look, for Philadelphia that's pretty good.)
Every Phillies fan can already feel that this year is not going to be like the last. The bullpen is a mess. Last year's perfect closer, Brad Lidge, went 0-8 with 11 blown saves and a 7.34 ERA. Ryan Madson blew six more. J.C. Romero allegedly attacked a Tampa Rays fan and only recently returned from the DL; Brett Myers didn't attack anybody this season but he, too, only recently returned from the injured list. Jamie Moyer had an ERA just under 5.00 and is out for the year. Cole Hamels was just above league average (101 ERA+). Cliff Lee was now statistically better in Cleveland, this after looking unhittable in his first five starts with the Phillies. Even Pedro Martinez and J.A. "Jay" Happ got hurt.
Hitting, too, is questionable. Catcher Carlos Ruiz, fresh off a superb postseason, had a disappointing year; he's been hurt too, leaving the Phillies to use extended periods of Paul Bako -- and even someone allegedly named "Paul Hoover." Jimmy Rollins leads the league in plate appearances and at-bats -- and yet only has an 86 OPS+. Matt Stairs went a month without a hit. Eric Bruntlett is one of the team's pinch hitters. Raul Ibanez had a torrid first half but hasn't been the same player since coming off injury. Yeah, the Phillies can rake, but they're not perfect.
All of this will be covered in my upcoming short play, A Panic in Philadelphia.
In my fantasy world, the Phillies will steal home field advantage from the Dodgers in the season's last few days, get some revenge for 2007 by sweeping the Rockies, sneak by the Dodgers or Cardinals in 6 then plaster either Boston or New York in the World Series so I can send trash-talking, gloating IMs to both proprietors of this site. ESPN might even pay attention to the Fall Classic this time around (but it was pretty nice when they didn't last season).
For now, though, Phillies fans shall panic.