Four-Game Lead, Six to Play; No Problem?

Things are getting tight enough that we have to talk about it. Could the Phillies potentially blow the division? A lot can happen over the span of six games and history shows us that a four-game lead with six left to play isn't always the most comfortable of margins.

To start with, let's go back to the obvious year of 1964. We know that story; The Phillies held a 6 1/2 game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals and the Cincinnati Reds with 12 games left to play. By the time the season dwindled down to the final six games, the Phillies had seen their lead cut down to just a half-game over the Cardinals. The very next day, it was the Phillies looking up at the Cardinals in the standings and they never caught them again, thanks in part to a three-game sweep that the Cardinals carried out over the Phillies leaving the Phightins mathematically eliminated from the pennant with two games remaining. 

On September 21, 1964, the Phillies were up by 6 1/2 games over the Cardinals and had won seven of their last 11 games. There appeared no reason to be concerned with a lead as comfortable as that and tickets were being printed for the Phillies home games in the '64 World Series, even though the Phillies had three games left with St. Louis and five with Cincinnati. Of those eight games, all but three were on the road, but there still didn't appear to be any reason for concern.

It was on September 21, with the Phillies playing the Phillies at Shibe Park that Chico Ruiz stole home to break a scoreless tie in the top of the seventh inning. The Phillies would lose that game 1-0 and while there was a bit of uneasiness about the loss, panic hadn't set in; yet. The Cardinals had enjoyed an off-day that Monday and the Phillies loss moved them to within six. After two more losses to Cincinnati, things were looking very different and now, the final two games of the season, which had the Phillies playing in Cincinnati were looming very large. Plus, the Cardinals had moved to within five games and San Francisco was also five games back at that point, as well. Still, most eyes were focusing on the Reds to battle the Phillies in that final two-game series.

The Milwaukee Braves stood ten games back and came to Philly for a four-game series. Again, the Phillies continued to falter, getting swept by Milwaukee. After the third game of that series, the Reds were just 1/2 game out and the Cardinals stood 1 1/2 games out, while San Francisco was only able to move to three back in the National League pennant race. As the Phillies saddled up for their final road trip of the season - three games in St. Louis followed by two in Cincinnati - they were 1/2 game behind Cincinnati and just 1/2 game ahead of St. Louis. As the story goes, the Phillies were swept by St. Louis. Meanwhile, the Reds stumbled against Pittsburgh and suddenly, it was St. Louis in the lead for the pennant, with the Reds one-game back and the Phillies 2 1/2 behind and only two to play. 

They would beat Cincinnati in each of the two remaining games, but it was too little, too late. All they were able to do was prevent the Reds from catching St. Louis, who actually needed the help after losing two out of three to the lowly Mets. 

While the Phillies had already lost their division lead with six games remaining, they had squandered a 6 1/2 game lead down to a one-half game lead over the span of six games to start their slide into oblivion.

2010 is very different from 1964 though. Perhaps the biggest reason is that the Phillies don't face the Braves over the final week of the season. The Phillies also have an easier schedule than did their counterparts in 1964.

If you fast forward 43 years from 1964, you come to the 2007 season. This is the antithesis of the 1964 season for Phillies fans. The Phillies were seven games behind the New York Mets, with 17 games left to play. It wasn't looking good, especially for a team that had been hanging around the .500 mark for much of the season. But in the span of six games - notice a recurring theme? - the Phillies chopped the Mets lead from seven games to 1 1/2 games, thanks in part to a three-game sweep of the Mets at Shea Stadium. Ironically, it would take them another eight games to erase that 1 1/2 game deficit and catch the Mets in the National League East. A win at home against Atlanta, coupled with a Mets loss to St. Louis on September 27, tied the division. The Phillies moved a game up the following day, only to fall back into a tie going into the final game of the season. New York lost to Florida at home and the Phillies beat Washington at Citizens Bank Park to claim the division title.

Again, the difference is that the Phillies and Mets had three games against each other, giving the Phillies a chance to control a good chunk of their own destiny. This season, their schedule against Atlanta is done and the two teams will have to watch the scoreboard to see how things are playing out. Atlanta stands four games behind the Phillies with six to play and just two behind Colorado for the wild card. While there are significant differences between both the 1964 and 2007 seasons and this season, there is plenty of historical evidence just in the history of the Phillies, that teams can make up more than four games over a late-season, six-game span.

Remaining schedules:

Phillies: at home vs. Houston (3 games), at home vs. Florida (3 games)

Braves: at home vs. Florida (2 games), at home vs. Washington (4 games)

Rockies: at home vs. Milwaukee (3 games), on the road vs. Los Angeles Dodgers (3 games)

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