April 15, 2010

A tale of two teams.

As of April 15th, there are two professional sports teams still plying their trade in the city of Philadelphia.

One is just beginning competition in 2010, compiling 50 runs and a .307 batting average in the early going and leaping to a (relatively) unexpected 7-1 start.

And the other's season is about to come to a close, if not now then in a week or two. They backed their way into the playoffs despite some very uninspired play since the Olympic break, sparking a lukewarm reception from the fans and a morbid level of curiosity toward how long they can cling to the edge of the cliff that is the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The first team is rooted on with a great deal of optimism and hope, despite an unsustainable output from its hitters and what looks like a very shaky starting rotation beyond ace Roy Halladay.

The second team is a collection of dead men walking, a group of underachievers that were expected to compete for a Cup and will now struggle to make it out of the first round.

The Philadelphia Phillies are recent champions. The Philadelphia Flyers are nowhere close.

They currently operate on opposite ends of the spectrum. The Phillies, treated with disdain for so long, have won the hearts of the city with smart drafting and lovable players. The Flyers, long led with an "anything it takes" attitude by Ed Snider, have backed themselves into a corner of mediocrity from which there appears to be no escape.

Sure, they can beat the New Jersey Devils in the conference quarterfinals. But then they'll run into the Washington Capitals, a hockey juggernaut if there ever was one, and they'll be lucky to win a game.

And yes, those are the same Capitals who, along with the Flyers and the Pittsburgh Penguins, were on the up-and-up in 2007. Since then, the Pens have won the Stanley Cup and the Caps just took home the Presidents' Trophy. Meanwhile, the Flyers qualified for the 2010 playoffs in seventh place.

Meanwhile, the Phillies are doing what they now do, which is "destroy bad teams and clobber mediocre pitching." Sure, their 7-1 start is a bit hollow when you consider that it came against the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals, but you won't get far in Major League Baseball unless you beat up on the weaker teams. And the Phils know how to do just that, maybe even more so with the additions of Halladay and Placido Polanco. If J.A. Happ turns in another strong year and Cole Hamels starts going deep into games, they'll feast on the rest of the National League just like they're doing to the bottom-feeders.

But the Flyers are destined to feast on nothing but treats from the snack shack at their favorite local golf courses. They're trapped under the contracts of Danny Briere and Scott Hartnell, so it'll remain difficult finding top-line ice time for future studs like Claude Giroux and James van Riemsdyk. They're up against the cap, they've got no franchise goalie and rumblings of locker room discord seem to pop up at least once a year. Simply put, they've got issues.

In a way, it's fascinating to have both of these teams playing at the same time. An early-season baseball game, often times the most boring, irrelevant event on the sports calendar, is now drawing more enthusiasm than a Flyers postseason match-up with longtime rival New Jersey. But that's how it should be, and it sums up the tale of these two teams. Even if the Flyers make an unexpected run, even if Brian Boucher recaptures the magic of 2000, the (not fun) roller coaster ride they've led us on over the last few years ensures that they won't come close to matching the Phillies' hold on Philadelphia.

No comments: