March 2nd, 2019. On this date Bryce Harper signed a 13-year $330 million dollar contract with the Philadelphia Phillies. He made sure that contract had a no trade clause and no opt outs. He wanted a forever home and for a team that would help him win championships. He knew it would take a few years. It took till his 4th year, but the 2x MVP has added an NLCS MVP award to his trophy case after the Phillies 4-1 series win over the San Diego Padres to advance the Phillies to the World Series for the first time since 2009.
After 11 years of no playoff baseball in Philadelphia, the Phillies were the last team to clinch a playoff berth as the National League's 6th seed. Since then, the Phillies sent future hall of famers Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina into retirement after a sweep of the Cardinals. They sent home division rivals and defending World Series Champions Atlanta Braves in 4 games. Finally, in the NLCS, the Phillies eliminated the San Diego Padres in 5 games to advance to the World Series.
Game 5 of the NLCS was nothing short of an exciting game. Rhys Hoskins continued his hot bat in the 4th inning with another postseason home run. It was his 3rd HR in 2 games. Padres' slugger Juan Soto hit a monster homerun to cut the Phillies lead to 1 shortly after. The rain entered the Philadelphia area and was not favorable for the home team. Slippery conditions saw relief pitcher Sereanthony Dominguez lose all control of the ball. After a double and 3 wild pitches, the Padres took a 3-2 lead. However, in the bottom of the 8th, a legend was born. Harper with 1 swing of the bat and etched his name in Philadelphia sports history. With JT Realmuto on 1st base, Harper hit a homerun to left field and the Phillies were up 4-3. In the 9th after getting the 1st out, David Robertson walked two consecutive batters. Manager Rob Thomson called in starting pitcher Ranger Suarez to finish the game. A groundout and pop up on two pitches are all he needed to secure the save and to send the Phillies to fall classic.
The Phillies bats came alive during the NLCS. Kyle Schwarber, Harper, and Hoskins all hit multiple home runs during the series with the Padres. In the NLCS alone, the Phillies had 10 HRs, 25 runs, and a batting average of .237. The Phillies pitching was just as electric. Over 5 games, they had 49 strikeouts and 3.68 ERA. Starting pitchers Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola, and Suarez were all electric. The bullpen led by Dominguez and Jose Alverado, and Zach Efflin helped bail the starting pitchers out in tough situations.
Looking Ahead to the 2022 Fall Classic
The Phillies now will look ahead to a series with the Houston Astros. They are coming off a series sweep of the New York Yankees to advance to their 4th World Series in 6 years. Phillies fans remember the Astros very well. In the 3rd to last game, the Phillies defeated the Astros to clinch a playoff berth. Now almost 2 months later, the Astros and Phillies will meet in the World Series.
The Astros have been led by their starting pitching during their playoff run. In their 7 games these playoffs, they have an ERA of 1.88, 89 strikeouts, and 0 losses. They are led by future hall of famer Justin Verlander and future star Framber Valdez. The Yankees struck out a nice 50 times in the ALCS. Offensively ALCS MVP Jeremy Pena is batting .303 with 10-hits and 3 HRs this postseason. The Astros Most Valuable Cheater Jose Altuve is hitting just .094 during the playoffs this year.
The key to the series for the Phillies will be the hitting. If they can continue with the hot bats, the Phillies can win this series. The Astros' pitching staff is the best staff they have seen these playoffs. During the regular season, the Astros were ranked 2nd in the MLB for ERA and opponents' batting average. The Phillies shouldn't be scared. As Atlanta and San Diego are both top 10 in the MLB for both of those stats as well, and St. Louis was 10th for ERA. The Phillies offense has been electric these playoffs and rank better than the Astros in every major statistical category.
If the Phillies bats can stay hot, the series should lean towards the Phillies. Obviously, the pitching needs to continue playing dominant as well. The Astros lineup has struggled this postseason, but with pitching that has been lights out, they have done just enough to not lose a game this postseason.
Cinderella Run or Finally Coming Together?
As I scroll through Twitter, I am seeing a lot of people call the Phillies' postseason run a Cinderella run. I think that is far from the truth. The Phillies 87-win regular season is no indication of what this team is capable of. Everyone knew this is what this team was capable of. They knew they had what it took to end the NL's longest playoff draught and make a deep October run. However, it was not until the playoffs when the full potential of this club was put into full effect.
Expectations were high after the Phillies signed Schwarber and Nick Castellanos to contracts in the off-season. However, after a slow start the Phillies made a move to fire Joe Girardi and made Rob Thomson the interim manager. However, even after that very smart move, we never saw the full lineup in full force. 2B Jean Segura missed two months with an injury and Bryce Harper missed two months with a broken hand. When they both returned, Castellanos and Wheeler both landed on the IL. We were forced to play players like Odubel Herrera and have relief pitchers like Jeurys Familia as reliable pitching options.
At the trade deadline, the Phillies made a trio of moves by acquiring defensive CF Brandon Marsh, SP Noah Snydergaard, and Robertson. They moved on from longtime bust Herrera ,Roman Quinn, and Familia.
Young guys like Alec Bohm and Bryson Stott both stepped in after struggled during the regular season. Bohm is infamously known for saying he hates playing here after a bad defensive game but was welcomed by fans to a standing ovation. The Phillies trusted the bat of rookie Stott like we have never seen before. When Segura returned from injuries, they had a choice keep Stott or DFA veteran Didi Grigorious. A decision that led to big hits from Stott.
The 2022 Phillies came together at the right time. The sluggers all are getting hot at the right time, they found their manager, and the pitching has been phenomenal. The defense needs to be fixed, but with good pitching that will come together. This is not a Cinderella run.