Phillies Crash Postseason Party with Nothing to Prove & Everything to Gain
The defending National League champions began their regular season with their new $300 million addition striking out on three pitches. For all intents and purposes, they ended it on Tuesday night with a rookie who signed for $10,000 in 2018 and made the leap to the Majors straight from Double-A jumping up and down behind second base, waiting to be doused as the celebration commenced.
These Phillies aren’t the same as last year’s team, even if they feel similar. These Phillies also started slow, played without Bryce Harper for a lengthy period of time and helped a player turn his season around with a unique standing ovation. The incredible comebacks, the raucous crowds — even Dancing On My Own made a cameo as the team gathered to commemorate its third champagne party at Citizens Bank Park in less than a calendar year.
No, these Phillies are different, and that’s for the best. Last year’s team, for all of the joy they created, did not win the World Series. This one still has a shot.
Rather than make things interesting down the stretch, these Phillies knew when to bear down. Tuesday’s win was their sixth straight, and it officially punched its second straight postseason ticket after a decade of wondering what nights like these would feel like. They found out last year, and it was intoxicating for everyone, roles both big and small.
It was on their minds — and mouths — again in the clubhouse as they answered questions amidst a sea of alcohol. There were plenty of questions to answer. How individuals like Nick Castellanos and Trea Turner turned the trajectories of their Phillies careers around. If players like Johan Rojas and Jeff Hoffman could’ve imagined playing significant roles on a contender in 2023. The extent to which the home fans will affect their best-of-three Wild Card series, which will be played in Philadelphia. The most important one, though, was obvious.
“How many more playoff wins we got?” manager Rob Thomson asked J.T. Realmuto, who replied the same he did at this juncture last year — a scream of “13 more!” and a champagne shower that is both obligatory and never gets old.
Yes, it may look like last year. But it’s still not. A year ago, Thomson was an interim manager who forgot to pop his cork. Realmuto had played more games without reaching the postseason than any active player other than his teammate Jean Segura. Nine of the 12 Phillies to appear in last year’s clincher had never played in the postseason. Only two of the 15 who played on Tuesday will make their first postseason trip this year.
That is one of the biggest reasons this year’s team is more confident about their chances. They have gone through their peaks and valleys just like any other club. But just about every member of their starting lineup has gone through an extended period of dominance. There are more pitching options than last year. The defense is improved, especially up the middle. Last year’s success means everyone will be on notice when taking them on. But these Phillies are ready to bring it.
Tuesday’s game offered reminders of the concerns, however. The Phillies failed to generate a hit through five innings against Mitch Keller, who has great strikeout numbers but also a 104 ERA+ for the second straight season. They didn’t break through until two pitches after Keller nearly exited the game due to injury and then left a fastball over the middle of the plate to Brandon Marsh. The team’s right-handed bullpen depth consists of two pitchers with ERAs near or above 4.00 since Aug. 1 (Craig Kimbrel and Seranthony Domínguez), another with a career ERA of 5.29 and no postseason experience (Hoffman) and a rookie who has pitched who was made exactly one big-league appearance (Orion Kerkering). There’s a bit of rotation roulette behind Zack Wheeler in the postseason pecking order.
But no club is without flaws, something the Phillies learned last October as they dismantled three contenders in 15 days. The Phillies could field a starting lineup in Game 1 of the Wild Card Series that doesn’t include a player with an OPS+ below 105. Six players have double-digit steals. Five have at least 20 homers. Wheeler, Nola and Ranger Suárez are a formidable trio, with Taijuan Walker and Cristopher Sánchez capable of taking care of business. The bullpen has the highest average fastball velocity in the Majors and includes devastating pitches like José Alvarado‘s cutter and the sliders of Hoffman and Kerkering. Bryson Stott could win a Gold Glove and Marsh was a finalist for one (in left field) last year.
There’s a little bit of everything, which is the hardest type of team to beat in October. Having a confident group helps as well. The Phillies had both traits last year, but they had to work for them, especially the latter. It seems to come a bit more naturally this season. So have the cheers from the increasingly packed Citizens Bank Park. Come Tuesday, it will be full once again, the swarm of red noise it was designed to be. Nothing will come easy for the Phillies in the postseason, the same as every team. For the second straight season, though, they have a group worthy of turning the chaotic energy of postseason baseball in their favor.