After a weekend sweep of the Los Angeles Dodgers, the San Francisco Giants are sitting at 19-12, atop the National League West and with the nucleus of their two-time World Series championship team intact, poised for another deep run this October.
Across the country, the Philadelphia Phillies are reeling. Roy Halladay has seen his career workload catch up to him, few legitimate prospects are on the horizon and their -34 run differential places them ahead of only Miami, Houston and Toronto.
Matt Gelb @MattGelb
Phillies are 14-18, same as 2012 without Utley/Howard. Their -34 run differential is worst thru 32 games since 1997. http://t.co/6hSTzX5nyy2013-5-6 15:54:00
With a Phillies-Giants series set to get rolling in San Francisco tonight, it feels like an eternity since the 2010 National League Championship Series completely changed the balance of power in the National League.
Heading into that series, Philadelphia was the toast of the National League. In fact, they were on path to becoming the biggest and baddest NL dynasty since the Big Red Machine Reds of the '70s. Their fourth straight NL East crown, 97 regular season victories, home field advantage and big three of Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels had them as the prohibitive favorite to roll through the upstart Giants.
A third straight World Series appearance—along with a second parade down Broad Street in Philadelphia—was expected throughout the city.
Meanwhile, the Giants looked like a dangerous, yet flawed, upstart. Led by the NL Rookie of the Year, Buster Posey, they tracked down San Diego with a late push in August and September to capture the NL West. While the Phillies had just completed their fourth consecutive division title, winning 89, 92, 93 and 97 games, respectively, over those seasons, the Giants cracked 90 in 2010 for the first time since 2004.
From the moment Philadelphia began their run of dominance in 2007 to the first pitch of the 2012 National League Championship Series, the Phillies were 48 games better than the Giants. On average, they were 12 games better per season. To put that into perspective, the average difference between first and third place across baseball last season was 11.6 games.
Over the course of six games that October, beginning with Cody Ross taking Doc Halladay deep in Citizens Bank Park to Brian Wilson mowing down Ryan Howard, the tide in the NL shifted.
In front of our eyes, San Fransisco came of age and Philadelphia officially hit a wall, watching their window for another championship close.
As Matt Cain rolled through the postseason without allowing an earned run, Roy Oswalt's back and velocity left him for good. With Madison Bumgarner becoming a shutdown lefty, Roy Halladay left Game 5 with a groin injury, his then 33-year-old body beginning to finally show vulnerability.
Perhaps most importantly, the Giants were unleashing a future MVP and leader in Buster Posey, while the Phillies were staring at the decline of Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, much to the chagrin of a ownership group on the hook for nearly $200 million of combined salary the players were owed and a general manager who banked on their production.
Over the last two-plus seasons, Philadelphia and San Francisco have nearly identical records (205-159 for Philadelphia, 199-156 for San Francisco), but don't let that overshadow the bigger point: San Francisco is the defending World Series Champions, making it two titles in three seasons. Philadelphia is on the heels of a .500 season, looking worse in 2013 and in need of a rebuilding process to fix their myriad of issues.
Currently, Cole Hamels is the only star player on Philadelphia's roster under the age of 30. With a farm system that projects few, if any, future big league stars, there isn't another window of contention opening up in the near future.
Andrew Baggarly @extrabaggs
Pablo Sandoval has 11 hits in his last 17 at-bats. His 35 hits are tied with the Buccos' Marte for most in the NL. #PandaMode2013-5-1 04:10:48
Meanwhile, San Francisco, even with a diminished Tim Lincecum, boasts a collection of under-30 stars and contributors. Madison Bumgarner, 23, is a legitimate Cy Young contender in 2013. Matt Cain, 28, is a consistent as any starter in baseball. In the lineup, Brandon Belt (25), Brandon Crawford (26) and Pablo Sandoval (26) all still have upside.
Of course, then there's Posey. In just three big league seasons, his resume includes a Rookie of the Year, MVP and two World Series rings. Baseball hasn't seen a start like this since Derek Jeter arrived in New York.
Along with the general manager-manager tandem of Brian Sabean-Bruce Bochy, the leadership is secure for the Giants. Meanwhile, Charlie Manuel is a lame duck in Philadelphia and Ruben Amaro's short-sighted moves are generating more and more criticism.
Phillies-Giants is an interesting matchup in the context of the 2013 season. It's even more intriguing considering where these two franchises were when they met in October of 2010.