For the Philadelphia Phillies, the 2008 and 2009 seasons brought a level of on-the-field success unmatched in franchise history.
Never before had the Phillies won two straight National League pennants. And the 2008 World Series championship was only the second in the team's 117-year history.
The 2008 and 2009 Philadelphia Phillies were undoubtedly two of the best teams in franchise history.
The 2010 Phillies are even better.
An epic choke is possible, of course. Just ask the New York Mets. But is it premature to make this statement, considering that two weeks still remain in the regular season?
Not necessarily. The statistics convincingly show that this version of the Phillies is a legitimate upgrade over the past two incarnations.
The Raw Numbers
In 2008, the Phillies finished the season with a winning percentage of .568. The 2009 season brought a slight improvement, as the Fightin' Phils bumped the ratio up to .574.
This year? With only twelve games remaining in the season, the Phillies have a winning percentage of .593, tops in the National League.
The Phillies have only had eight seasons in their long history with a higher winning percentage.
Philadelphia has scored less runs in 2010 than in 2008 and 2009, but the team has also done a far better job of run prevention.
In 2010, the team has averaged 4.76 runs per game, in comparison to 5.06 in 2009 and 4.93 in 2008. The team can still score, but there has been a bit of a dropoff. However, the Phillies have made up for it with their improved pitching.
The team has allowed only 4.04 runs per game in 2010. In 2009, the Phils allowed 4.37 runs, and in 2008, they allowed 4.19 runs.
The runs scored/runs allowed numbers are fairly comparable. But barring a late collapse, the Phillies will win more games in 2010 than they did in either 2009 or 2008.
The Starting Pitching
The 2008 Phillies are viewed fondly by fans all over the city. That's what a world championship will do.
But it has been quickly forgotten that the Phillies rode a fairly mediocre rotation to that World Series title.
Cole Hamels was the ace of the staff in 2008, posting a 3.09 ERA and a 3.72 FIP. Those numbers would be good for fourth best on the 2010 Philadelphia Phillies.
Roy Halladay is the Cy Young favorite in 2010, with a 2.49 ERA and 3.01 FIP. Midseason acquisition Roy Oswalt has a 1.94 ERA and 3.32 FIP as a Phillie. And the 2010 Hamels is superior to the 2008 Hamels. His 3.01 ERA and 3.62 FIP are both an eyelash better than his numbers in 2008.
Jamie Moyer was the second-best starting pitcher in the 2008 rotation. And while his 3.71 ERA proved essential to the team's regular season success, it was a bit luck-aided. His FIP was a more mediocre 4.32.
Joe Blanton's FIP in 2010 is an almost-identical 4.33. Essentially, after removing luck on batted balls in play, the Phillies' No. 2 starting pitcher in 2008 is basically as good the Phillies' No. 4 starting pitcher in 2010.
Brett Myers circa 2008 was average-at-best, with a 4.55 ERA and 4.52 FIP. And he was the team's third-best starter.
The 2010 rotation is also far better than the 2009 rotation. While Cliff Lee was stellar in a Phillies' uniform, his 3.39 ERA and 2.83 FIP is essentially matched by Oswalt's numbers. Halladay is a significant upgrade over J.A. Happ, and Hamels is a far superior pitcher in 2010 than he was in 2009.
The 2010 Phillies have been ravaged by injuries, and the position players have been hit particularly hard. Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Jimmy Rollins have all missed significant amounts of time. Each of these three players were key contributors in 2008 and 2009.
In addition, players such as Utley, Howard, and Raul Ibanez are hitting worse in 2010 than they did in 2008 and 2009.
Despite this, however, the overall healthy lineup of the Phillies has never been deeper, mainly because of two major upgrades at key positions.
In 2008, Pedro Feliz was a poor hitter (.705 OPS), but made up for it with solid fielding, resulting in a decent WAR of 1.6. He repeated the pattern in 2009, posting a WAR of 1.7.
However, the Phillies allowed Feliz to leave in the 2009 offseason, picking up Placido Polanco to replace him.
Polanco has been stellar. His OPS is an improvement over Feliz (.727), and he has proven to be just as strong of a fielder, if not stronger. His 2010 WAR of 3.3 is good for fourth on the team amongst position players.
But the biggest improvement has been at the catcher's spot.
In 2008, the combo of Carlos Ruiz and Chris Coste combined for 1.3 WAR. It was a consistent hole in the lineup. The next year was better, as the two combined for 2.5 WAR.
But Carlos Ruiz's 2010 breakout has resulted in a gigantic boost in catcher WAR on the Phillies. Ruiz and backup Brian Schneider together have posted 4.1 wins over replacement, with 3.7 coming from Ruiz himself.
Some of the Phillies' heavy hitters may be having disappointing or age-induced poor seasons this year. But the balance of the 2010 lineup likely helps to limit the damage.
The bullpen of the 2010 Phillies has been maligned at times this season.
Closer Brad Lidge had a poor start to the season. Ryan Madson broke his toe kicking a chair.
But the 2010 bullpen is actually at basically the same level as the 2009 bullpen, and it has fewer question marks entering the postseason.
In 2009, the bullpen posted a 3.91 ERA. Currently, the 2010 incarnation has a 4.00 ERA.
The 2010 team also does not have a closer with an ERA above 7.00. This season's Lidge had a fantastic August and has returned to relative reliability.
The 2008 version was far superior to both, with a 3.22 ERA. That was a significant advantage for the future world champs.
But they also had bigger holes in the lineup and an inferior rotation.
The dominant bullpen is not enough to make up the difference.
The Phillies teams of 2008 and 2009 were fantastic. Two National League pennants and one World Series title.
It should make fans very excited that the 2010 team, at least on paper, is superior to both.
Obviously, the Phillies must hold onto their playoff spot in order to justify this article. But considering the fact that the Phils hold a 5.5 game edge over the second-place team in the Wild Card race (San Diego) with only 12 games remaining, it seems likely that Philadelphia will yet again compete for a World Series title.
If they make it, they will have the best overall roster in recent Phillies history to try to help them win another championship.