The drought is over! After 4,014 days, six managers, close to 900 losses, and multiple GMs, the Phillies finally return to postseason baseball. Phillies fans can finally breathe a sigh of relief. After the previous September collapses, fans struggled to find hope that this team could make the playoffs. But, the Phillies got some help from the Marlins who took 3 out of 4 games from the Brewers and set the “Fightin’ Phils” up to clinch the final Wild Card spot. Oh, how sweet it was. But, how did we get here?
Multiple players contributed to this season’s success like J.T. Realmuto, Kyle Schwarber, Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, and dare I say some of the bullpen arms. This season definitely had its ugly moments. But this team still made it to the postseason DESPITE losing Wheeler and Harper for an extended period of time. This is how the Phillies broke the second-longest playoff drought in the MLB.
This season was arguably J.T.’s best season both offensively and defensively since his award-winning 2019 season. J.T. hit .276 with 22 HRs, a 129 OPS+, and an OPS of .820. This season he became the second catcher in MLB history to hit 20 HRs and steal 20 bases in a season. J.T. had a 95% stolen base percentage and was caught stealing only once! Defensively, J.T. had a 42% caught-stealing percentage which is the second-highest in his career. He also had a DRS of 11 which is 4th best in the league. 2020 and 2021 were both defensive struggles for J.T. regarding DRS (-1 and 0 respectively) and throwing out runners. But this year, J.T. once again cemented why he is the BCIB (best catcher in baseball).
I will admit that I saw Schwarber as a slight risk when the Phillies signed him in the offseason. Schwarber is your stereotypical “just hits dingers and strikes out a ton” type of guy. He is quite awful playing LF too. In 2022, Schwarber led the NL in HRs with 46 and was second in the league only to the record-breaking Aaron Judge. Schwarber knocked in 94 runs, had a 130 OPS+, and a .504 slugging percentage. He also hit 38 HRs in the leadoff spot which is the 3rd most in an MLB season. His clutch leadoff HRs gave the Phillies early leads to help out the pitching. He provided veteran leadership in the dugout. Schwarber also has postseason experience unlike most of the roster. He supported this offense while Harper was out and was the offensive key to this season.
Nola is the longest-tenured Phillie on this roster. He has seen some of the worst of this organization. Nola had an abysmal 2021 season with an ERA in the high 4s and an ERA+ of 90. But in 2022, Nola had an ERA of 3.25, ERA+ of 125, WAR of 6, a 0.961 WHIP, and 235 strikeouts in 205 innings pitched. His walks and home runs were way down from last season. Opponents batted only .219 off him. His clutch pitching performance on October 3rd paved the way for the Phillies to clinch a playoff spot. Nola stepped up this season, especially when it mattered. His high inning count gave the bullpen rest. Nola once again proved he is an ace in this rotation.
Injuries cut short Wheeler’s 2022 campaign, but he still pitched well. He had a 2.82 ERA, ERA+ of 144, 1.039 WHIP, and 163 strikeouts in 153 innings pitched. When Wheeler came back from the IL in April after missing all of Spring Training, he looked really off compared to last season. Wheeler would eventually get his groove back and dominated. He even won Pitcher of the Month in May. His 3 seasons in Philly have been fantastic. Wheeler is definitely one of the top pitchers in baseball and an ace in this starting rotation. His dependability along with Nola was key to the starting pitching this season.
I never imagined myself praising the Phillies bullpen but here we are. This bullpen brought in new arms like Brad Hand, Corey Knebel, and the return of David Robertson. Seranthony Domínguez pitched his first full season since 2018. José Alvarado had a bounce-back year. In 11 September appearances, Alvarado gave up 0 runs and only 2 hits. He had 7 holds and a 0.38 WHIP in September. The bullpen had 7 arms with ERAs under 3.50! This bullpen also only blew 18 saves which is a massive improvement from previous seasons. This bullpen is far from perfect, but its success and improvement were key to ending the playoff drought.
The Phillies were a disaster when they fired manager Joe Girardi on June 3rd. They were 7 games under .500 and playoff hopes looked dismal. I voiced my concerns in May about Girardi here. Thomson became the interim manager and turned the team around. Thomson led the Phillies to a 65-46 record after becoming the manager. He “is only the 4th manager in MLB history to take over a team at least 7 games under .500 and lead them to the postseason” (Phillies Twitter). I truly believe Girardi could not have led this team to a postseason berth. Thomson changed this team’s culture and led them to the postseason. He absolutely deserves a Manager of the Year nomination.
The Curse Broken
Phillies fans in 2011 did not imagine Ryan Howard tearing his Achilles in Game 5 of the NLDS as the catalyst of a long rebuild, a curse almost. 11 years to be painfully precise. Whether “Red October” (what the Phillies are calling this postseason) lasts just a weekend or much more, the curse is gone. The rebuild is over. Making it to this moment is a celebration regardless of how this weekend goes. Zach Eflin closed out the playoff-clinching game. 8 years ago, he was traded to this team for Phillie great Jimmy Rollins. We have come full circle. So buckle up; the Phillies are back in the postseason!