the 1980 NLCS: Philadelphia



Unlike the Astros, the Philadelphia Phillies were, by 1980, something like perennial contenders. They’d made playoff runs in the late 1970s and by 1980 were in one again. Much had changed from those 1970s runs.

After a 30 game stint at the end of 1979, manager Dallas Green was in his first full season as manager. He led a team that finished first, second, or third in almost every major hitting category. It was also a team whose pitching numbers were all over the place.

Part of the problem with the pitching was that the staff was made up of one all-time great and a bunch of other guys. The other guys included starters Dick Ruthven (17 wins), Bob Walk (11 wins), Randy Lerch, Larry Christianson, and Nino Espinosa. Those were all the men who started a dozen or more games. Lerch and Espinosa had losing records; Ruthven, Walk, and Lerch all gave up more hits than they had innings pitched; and Espinosa walked more men than he struck out. Their combined WAR was 2.8. Of course Steve Carlton made up for much of the pitching problem. He went 24-9 with an ERA of 2.34 (ERA+ 162). He led the league in strikeouts ( by more than 80), wins, ERA+, and pitching WAR (10.2). At the end of the season he’d add his third Cy Young Award to his resume.

The bullpen featured ex-Mets hero (and Faith Hill’s father-in-law) Tug McGraw. He put up 20 saves with a 1.46 ERA (260 ERA+), and struck out 75 in 96 innings. Ron Reed and Dickie Noles had a handful of saves and as a whole, the bullpen was equal to, and some might say better, than the starters.

The infield consisted of one of the better known keystone combinations of the era and two potential Hall of Famers at the corners. Larry Bowa was a longtime member of the Phils. He hit .267, stole 21 bases, didn’t walk a lot. His OPS+ stood at all of 71 and his WAR at 0.7. The second baseman was Manny Trillo. He hit .292, had an OPS+ of 104, and was fourth on the team with 3.4 WAR. Cincinnati refugee Pete Rose held down first base. He couldn’t do much in the field anymore, but could still catch the ball. He hit .282 with 12 stolen bases, 185 hits (a critical stat for him), 95 runs scored, on OPS+ of 94, and -0.4 WAR (but +0.6 OWAR). Mike Schmidt at third had a beast of a year. He led the National League in home runs with 48, RBIs with 121, in total bases, in slugging, OPS, OPS+ (171), and had 8.8 WAR. At the end of the season he’d add the MVP to his list of accomplishments. As a third baseman he wasn’t all that great, but was taking a long, slow road toward improvement. Backups included John Vukovich, Luis Aguayo, and Ramon Aviles. Additionally, 38-year-old Tim McCarver got into six games, two at first ( and the rest as a pinch hitter).

The catcher was Bob Boone. Known more for his fielding than hitting, he was considered a good handler of pitchers and had a caught stealing rate of about 33%. Offensively he hit only .229, but logged nine home runs. His backup was Keith Moreland, who got into 62 games in his rookie campaign (he’d played in 15 total games the previous two years). He hit .314, and a 113 OPS+ (0.6 WAR), and was such a good catcher that he ended up playing 1226 games, 169 as a catcher.

The outfield  was in a bit of turmoil with five men getting into 100 or more games (and later Cubs darling Bob  Dernier adding 10 games). Much of the problem lay in left field. Regular left fielder Greg Luzinski banged up his knee and only got into 106 games. And when he was in, he wasn’t producing all that well. He hit .228 with 19 home runs (but did have 56 RBIs), struck out 100 times (but ended up with an OPS+ of 113), and finished with 0.4 WAR. And to top it off he wasn’t much of an outfielder. The problem was his replacement wasn’t much better in the field. Lonnie Smith was called “Skates” for a reason (he looked like he was on ice in the outfield). He did hit well. going .339, with 33 stolen bases (13 caught stealings), 69 runs scored, a 130 OPS+, and 2.3 WAR. Garry Maddox and Bake McBride held down the other outfield positions. Both were much better fielders than either left fielder. McBride hit .309 with 87 RBIs, 116 OPS+, and 3.2 WAR. Maddox had 25 stolen bases, hit .259, hit 11 home runs, had an OPS+ of only 80 (with 1.9 WAR), but was probably the finest center fielder in the league. The other outfielder with 100 or more games was Greg Gross. He hit .240 with no power, but, along with Del Unser, was used as a pinch hitter.

As with Houston, the Phillies were a flawed team. Beyond Carlton the starting pitching was suspect. The infield was better at defense than at offense (Schmidt excepted), and the outfield was in disarray (at least a little–Luzinski was back by the playoffs). They were favored, but not by a lot.


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13 Responses to “the 1980 NLCS: Philadelphia”

  1. William Miller Says:

    The Phils up the middle defense was excellent, and you couldn’t beat lefty. But I have a question for you. In your opinion, in a short series (as in the playoffs), do you think it’s more important to have a couple of great players and a bunch of no-names, or is is better to have a more well-balanced team with several above-average guys, though not necessarily any super-stars? Just wondering.

    • verdun2 Says:

      It seems you can win both ways. The late 1990s Yanks did it with a mostly balanced team while the 1960s Dodgers used 2 great pitchers. My personal choice would be a balanced team because you have the ability to count on more guys than just one or two. Anybody can have a slump and on a team with one or two greats if either (or both) of them has their slump in the postseason you’re in a lot more trouble than the balanced team. Right now Kansas City seems to be doing it that way.

    • wkkortas Says:

      Apparently, having four or five really good young starting pitchers helps, eh, Bill?

      • William Miller Says:

        4 or 5 starters, and Babe Ruth (I mean Danny Murphy.)

      • verdun2 Says:

        ESPN did one of their cherry picked stats that tells you a lot about what Murphy did. Only 2 men have ever had at least one run scored, one hit, and one RBI in 6 consecutive playoff games. One is Murphy; the other is named Gehrig. Not bad company, Danny.

  2. glen715 Says:

    I was glad that the Phillies beat the Astros, but in the world series, I rooted for the Royals. I was disappointed when the Phillies won, and it hurt even more that one of my Met heroes, Tug McGraw, was on the mound when they one it all.

    One more thing I’d like to add. The media was always talking about the Cubs’ and the Red Sox’ long drought without winning a world series. But it wasn’t until a few years later that I hadn’t had ANY idea that the Phillies hadn’t won the World Series EVER up until 1980. They started play in 1897, so up until their 1980, they went 96 years without a World Series title. I don’t know why the national media ignored the Phillies when talking about long-term lousiness. Had I known, I might have rooted for the Phillies!

    Correct me if I’m wrong on this, V. But am I RIGHT? I don’t ever remember, as of 1980, ever hearing that the Phillies had gone so long without winning a world series, whereas the media was always talking about the incredible long history of losing of the Cubs and the Red Sox. Or DID the media mention this just as much as the Cubs and the Red Sox and I just not paying attention?


    • verdun2 Says:

      I don’t recall the networks dwelling on the Philly woes either.

    • Steve Myers Says:

      I wonder if it had to with how the Cubs and Red Sox lost as opposed to how much or how little, but hard to top the Phillies, especially a 10 year run between 1930 and 1942. Cripes, they lost 100 games or more 7 times including five years in a row from 1938-1942. I think you covered those years somewhere in these posts?

  3. keithosaunders Says:

    McCarver was a 4 decade player. I thought he was Carlton’s personal catcher but I guess by 1980 that had ended.

    Those 90s Braves teams were fairly well balanced except for their horrible bullpen. 1991 Twins were well balanced. I loved the flashy play of the 79 Pirates with superstars Parker and Stargell, hit machine Maddog Bill Madlock, and stick man closer Kent Tekulve. They were a lot of fun.

  4. Gary Trujillo Says:

    Bill, I don’t think the Dodgers relied on Kirk Gibson as much as they did on their solid staff and excellent bullpen, He actually had the worst numbers of any MVP I can think of in the history of baseball.

    • William Miller Says:

      Gary, You’re right that the Dodgers pitching was really what carried them along, but on offense, they really had nothing much beyond Gibson that year. Take away Gibson and I doubt even their pitching would have been enough to carry them along to a 94-win season. He posted a 6.5 WAR. Next closest position player was the immortal John Shelby at 2.5. Total WAR for position players on that team was 20.1. Take away Gibson, and you lose nearly a third of the WAR on that squad (not counting pitchers.)

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