Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Men in the Mirror: The '80 & '08 Phillies

What a season: A mad-dash scramble to make the playoffs when the season appeared lost midway through September. An MVP-caliber season from a Hall of Fame-worthy power hitter. Perhaps the best infield in all of baseball. A dominating lefthanded ace on the mound, followed by a tall righthanded set-up man and a no-doubt-about-it closer.

Yep, that 1980 season was something, alright.

If it seems that this is finally the Phillies year, it may be because the 2008 Phillies have so many similarities to that powerhouse 1980 team. In terms of the players—and how the season played out—’80 and ’08 are close to mirror images.

The 1980 team finished 91-71 to win the NL East on the second-to-last day. The 2008 Phillies went 92-70 to win the NL East on the second-to-last day.

Each team featured solid to standout players at every position. Six of the eight everyday players on the 1980 team were an All Star during their Phillies years (amazingly, Garry Maddox and Bake McBride weren’t, though both finished in the Top 10 in MVP voting in one Phillies season).

Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, and Chase Utley are the only ’08 All Stars so far, but that serves to highlight the one key difference between the teams: age.

In ’80, all but two of the starters were in their 30s (Manny Trillo and Greg Luzinski being the 29-year-old exceptions). In ’08, all but two of the starters are in their 20s (Pedro Feliz and Pat Burrell are in the 30+ Club).

In ’80 Mike Schmidt collected 48 home runs, 121 RBIs, and the NL MVP, while sweet-swinging lefty McBride finished in the Top 10. In ’08, Howard had 48 home runs, 146 RBIs, and could win the NL MVP, while sweet-swinging lefty Chase Utley figures to have a Top 10 finish.

Both teams’ infields were among the Majors’ best and match up well in comparison with each other: Pete Rose-Howard, Trillo-Utley, Larry Bowa-Rollins, Schmidt-Feliz. Each teams’ left-side defense was up to Gold-Glove standards.

As for pitching, the comparisons are downright eerie. Each team was led by a dominating lefty (Steve Carlton, Cole Hamels) and had four starters pitch at least 150 innings. The ’08 Phillies have five relievers with 50+ innings pitched; the ’80 Phillies had four.

And when the late innings rolled around, ’80 manager Dallas Green turned to 6-foot-6 righty Ron Reed for a set-up man, much like ’08 manager Charlie Manuel goes to 6-foot-6 righty Ryan Madson. The closers (Tug McGraw, Brad Lidge) were nothing short of spectacular, putting together perhaps the best relief seasons in Phillies history.

McGraw went 5-4 with 20 saves and a 1.46 ERA in 92.1 IP, with 75 strikeouts in the regular season. Lidge finished 2-0 with 41 saves and a 1.95 ERA in 69.1 IP with 92 strikeouts.

Finally, the way the two teams reached the playoffs makes the comparison all the more fitting. The 1980 team scrambled down the stretch, going 13-5 after sitting 2.5 games back on Sept. 16. The 2008 Phillies finished 13-3 after being 3.5 games back on Sept. 10. In ’80, they won 6 of their last 7; in ’08, the Phils won 6 of their last 8.

So far, the two teams even have the same number of postseason wins—7. But can the ’08 team bring home the ring like the ’80 Phillies?

“In terms of personnel and the way they play the game, [this team is] very competitive with the ‘80s guys,” said Dallas Green. “You’ve got a lot of similarities in power and defense. They have good pitching. And they have a lot of heart, which should carry them through.”

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