The New Big Red Machine; And No, It's Not The Reds Offense

Jameson FlemingSenior Writer IJuly 1, 2008

I've always gotten the impression during the last half a decade, the Phillies offense has not nearly gotten the respect its deserved. Now I may be right on this or dead wrong, because my views are a little skewed since I've grown up watching the Phillies.

What I do know is in conversations with knowledgeable fans of many Midwest and Western teams, it becomes pretty clear most think the Phillies offense is good, or even very good in some cases, but most will never admit its great. Most won't admit that the current streak the Phillies are on make their offense one of the most, if not the most prolific offenses since the Big Red Machine of the 1970s.

During the last 12 years, no team other than the pre-humidor Rockies has gone on a five year offensive tear like the Phillies. The juggernaut that is the Phillies offense has finished first or second in the league in runs the last four years, and third in 2004, but still averaged more than five runs per game.

So I've decided to take a look at two main reasons why the Phillies haven't quite received the recognition they've deserved so greatly.

The first is pretty simple: In the last five years the Phillies have barely won anything meaningful. The Phillies finally got over the second place hump in 2007, but during the previous three seasons the Phillies finished second. Despite the back-to back-to back runner up finishes, the Phillies failed to win the wild card in all three seasons.

I'm not sure which is more improbable: being able to finish second three times without winning a wild card or the fact that none of the professional sports teams in Philadelphia have won a title in over 25 years.

So when you don't win, you don't get recognized (unless you're Ryan Howard and win an MVP despite missing the playoffs; seems like there's a counter-argument for everything).

The second reason for lack of recognition is player turnover in the offense. Right now, the average baseball fan probably couldn't tell you who's catching or playing third, and most could probably only name one outfielder without thinking for a minute to name the rest (Chris Coste/Carlos Ruiz catching, Pedro Feliz at third, and Pat Burrell, Shane Victorino, Geoff Jenkins, and Jason Werth in the outfield for those who don't know).

To put the roster turnover in perspective, from 2004 to 2005, the Phillies turned over three starters out of eight. 2005-2006 it was another three players (the Bobby Abreu trade created a mish-mash of outfielders). 2006-2007, another three players, and from 2007 to 2008, its another three players.

The only two holdovers from 2004 are Pat Burrell and Jimmy Rollins who was - at that time - an abysmal lead-off hitter. Over the past five years, 21 different players have been considered every day players for the Phillies; that's over two and a half per position.

Pat Burrell has rebounded the last year or so going back to July of 2007, but he struggled during the 2004 season and the 2006 throughf irst half of 2007.

Ryan Howard wasn't around in 2004 (of course Jim Thome was). Chase Utley didn't come into his own until the second half of the 2005 season.

Every season, the Phillies get major contributions from someone you wouldn't expect. It's a prime example of putting an okay player around great hitters and you'll get another good hitter.

In 2004, every member of the starting lineup but Marlon Byrd was in double-digit homers plus Chase Utley and Jason Michaels off the bench.

Ryan Howard exploded in 2005 after Jim Thome's elbow problems limited him to just 59 games.

The 2006 season represented the year the Phillies offense became the current unit it is. Ryan Howard knocked 58 out of the park, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins emerged as MVP candidates while the Mike Lieberthal, David Bell, and Bobby Abreu eras ended.

Aaron Rowand was the story of the 2007 season. He provided Ryan Howard with protection and posted a phenomenal line of 105-27-89-.309.

My overall point being, the Big Red Machine of the 1970s had multiple Hall of Fame faces- Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Pete Rose, and Tony Perez.

The current Phillies have that same Hall of Fame look- Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, and who knows maybe even Pat Burrell (his stat lines through his age are eerily similar to Michael Jack Schmidt's).

With the wonderful world of revisionist history, 10, 15, or even 50 years from now, we might look back at this Phillies offense and debate whether it's the best ever.

Of course the Phillies will need to win some World Series's soon and continue to blow pitching staffs to pieces for that happen.




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