Strike While the Bats Are Hot: The Anatomy of a Winner

Scott EisenlohrAnalyst IMay 22, 2009

PHILADELPHIA - APRIL 17: Chase Utley #26 of the Philadelphia Phillies watches the ball going into the stands while hitting a 2 run home-run in the bottom of the first inning during the game against the San Diego Padres on April 17, 2009 at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)

As I field through the myriad of baseball stories pondering the whys and hows of one's favorite team with perpetual problems, my mind wonders: What makes a winning team and one who falls short?

Obviously, good pitching, defense, and offense are the tenants of any winning team, but each World Series champion gets to its goal by minute points of greatness, winning attitudes, and never-say-die approach.

I watched my team, the defending World Series champions, the Philadelphia Phillies video highlights on my iPod, which showed the highlights of a 12-5 victory on May 21 against the host Cincinnati Reds. One thing I noticed was that the Phillies scored six of their 12 runs with two outs. Not enough can be said about two-out hitting.

Tuesday's 4-3 win over the Reds showed the Phillies can win one-run games. Last year, the Phillies were 27-23 in one-run games. American League champions Tampa Bay had a 29-18 record in one-run games.

Key role players are an important tangible elements of winners. Jim Eisenreich was a key role player for the 1983 National League champion Philadelphia Phillies. Greg Dobbs and Matt Stairs are key role players for the Phillies today.

Defense is another key element of a champion. Why do I feature the Phillies Chase Utley for my story about winners? Utley breathes winning. His video studies of pitchers is well-known among Phillies fans.

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I also thought about the two Phillies World Series wins. Pete Rose helped the Phils to a championship by his attitude in 1980.

In 2008, Chase Utley's defensive plays in Game Four of the NLCS for an inning-ending double play and Game Five of the World Series when he faked the throw to first and shot a bullet home for a bang-bang out demonstrates the difference between winning and losing.

Pitching? One team comes to mind when you talk about winning teams and pitching. And it ain't da Phils.

In 1971, the Baltimore Orioles had four 20-game winners. Mike Cuellar: 20-9; Pat Dobson: 20-8; Jim Palmer: 20-9; and Dave McNally: 21-5. How did they do? They won the American League pennant and lost the World Series, 4-3, to the Pittsburgh Pirates, who featured legendary Roberto Clemente in his last season before his tragic death.

And not to be a homer, I looked at why the 1986 Mets won the World Series, their last championship.

Some might credit Billy Buckner, but to be fair, they had two hitters with .300 or more batting averages: Wally Backman with a .320 average and Keith Hernandez with a .310 average. Their outfield consisted of George Foster, Lenny Dykstra and Darryl Stawberry, who hit 27 home runs.

Their starting pitching: Dwight Gooden, 17-6; Ron Arling 15-6; Bob Ojeda 18-5; and Sid Fernandez, 16-6.

The bullpen? Roger McDowell had 22 saves and Jesse Orosco had 21 saves.

They were in the top four in many pitching and hitting categories. That was a solid team. That team went 108-54. Whew!

Managing? You can't win managing scared. The Phillies did for many years, until Charlie Manuel came along. What get Charlie upset? Blown umpire calls. That is it. He sits there and blows bubble gum. Why? 'Cause he won a World Series.

Think about Joe Torre and his look in the dugout with the Yankees.

Winning cures all ails.

Even the Washington Nationals have hope. The future of the Nationals is their starting pitching. Jordon Zimmerman lead the crop of fine young Nats pitching. Their bullpen is why the Nats are terrible right now.

I also submit to the 10-games over .500 theory. It is mine, maybe others. Once you get 10 games over .500, you can start playing those bench guys who might have potential as starting players.

An injury to Geoff Jenkins paved the way for Jason Werth's ascension from platoon player to the every day left fielder. But it could have also happened once the team was playing near .550 or .600 ball.

Confidence and a pack rat mentality separated the Phillies and Mets bullpens in 2008. A perfect 41-41 save opportunities from closer Brad Lidge did not hurt.

As a baseball fan, I'd like to see the Chicago Cubs win a World Series. Many would like the Tampa Bay Rays, with their under-Alex Rodriguez payroll team to break through and win.

And I even think the Mets winning the whole shooting match would help the rivalry with the Phillies and be good for baseball.

How 'bout 2012?

Just kidding...