All .500 seasons are not created equal. Some .500 seasons breed optimism. Others breed disappointment. Some change from optimism to disappointment, and vice versa, over time, just as surely as the leaves change colors each fall.
The Phillies completed their season Wednesday with an 81-81 record. Losses in their final two games prevented the Phillies from extending their streak of winning seasons to 10. To be honest, though, an extra win wouldn’t have made any difference in how I feel about their season.
The Eagles finished last season 8-8. They won their final four games to climb back to .500. The so-called Dream Team avoided a nightmare season, but I didn’t feel all that encouraged by their .500 effort, either.
Andy Reid apparently feels better about the Eagles’ solid finish last season. Earlier this week, the Eagles’ head coach cited the carryover from the four-game winning streak from last season as a factor in his team’s 3-1 start this season.
I’m not buying it. The Eagles could easily be 1-3. You could make an argument that if it weren’t for a suspect offensive pass interference call by a replacement ref against the Ravens, they could be 0-4.
The Eagles’ three wins have been by a combined total of four points. Yes, they deserve credit for late game-winning drives against the Browns, Ravens and Giants. Yes, those late-game comebacks demonstrate toughness and resiliency, especially when contrasted with last season’s fourth-quarter collapses.
What doesn’t make sense is that the roots of their toughness and resiliency can somehow be found in the four-game winning streak at the end of last season. The closest of those four victories was a 20-7 victory over the Cowboys. The average margin of victory in those four games was 19.75 points. How exactly is that helping the Eagles win close games this season?
The four-game winning streak at the end of the 2011 season was certainly preferable to the alternative. It’s better that the Eagles fight back and reach .500 than to give up and wither and die on the vine. Perhaps the winning streak gave the Eagles confidence, but I still don’t see how blowouts against bad quarterbacks carry over to success this season.
Last year’s season-ending winning streak isn’t what prevented a rookie linebacker from intercepting a Michael Vick pass in the end zone one play before the game-winning touchdown against the Browns. Last year’s season-ending winning streak isn’t what caused the Giants to throw downfield instead of playing it safe, leading to an offensive pass interference call that pushed the Giants beyond, barely, kicker Lawrence Tynes’ field goal range.
It Vick’s pass against the Browns had been intercepted or the Giants had called the proper type of play, the Eagles would be 1-3. And nobody would be talking about a carryover of confidence and momentum from last season.
Similarly, there are those who find optimism in the Phillies’ strong second half. We’re supposed to be pleased by a run at a playoff berth. Sorry. After five straight National League East Division championships, a late-season run that falls short provides no satisfaction.
Yes, it was encouraging to see Chase Utley able to play every day and contribute. Yes, it was nice to see Jimmy Rollins and John Mayberry Jr. play much better during the final two months, although it raises questions about why they didn’t play at anywhere approaching that level until the final two months.
If the Phillies or Eagles were a young team on the rise, a .500 season could be construed as a positive step. That’s particularly true when they improve during the latter part of the season.
The core of the Phillies is too old to take solace in a late burst to reach .500. The Eagles have a bunch of younger players, but with key veterans such as Michael Vick, Jason Peters (injured), Cullen Jenkins and Nnamdi Asomugha in their 30s, and Trent Cole and Todd Herremans turning 30 during the first half of October, the Eagles aren’t exactly an up-and-coming young team.
The Eagles are 3-1, but I suspect that has more to do with resiliency and good fortune than it does with their four-game winning streak at the end of last season.
The Phillies might rebound next season and return to the playoffs. But, unless Dominic Brown or Darin Ruf plays a major role, it won’t have anything to do with the Phillies’ improved play during the second half of this season.
The claims that the Eagles’ or Phillies’ strong finish could carry over to next season are analogous to being served a mediocre meal, albeit one capped off with an excellent dessert, at a high-priced restaurant. If you return to that restaurant the following year and enjoy a superb meal, it would be ludicrous for the waiter to imply that the momentum for the wonderful meal started with the tasty dessert that salvaged a mediocre meal on your previous visit.
I’m not convinced that there’s any connection between the Eagles’ four-game winning streak at the end of last season and their 3-1 start this season. I’ll feel the same way about the Phillies if they get off to a fast start next season.
As with the Eagles, the Phillies’ too-little-too-late run at a playoff berth was preferable to the alternative. But the most prominent feeling after this .500 season is disappointment, not optimism for next year.