They are a team that no one this MLB postseason should want to face. They are one of two teams many fans believe should not even be in the playoffs. The Philadelphia Phillies are the National League’s first-ever third Wild Card team and, on alternating days for the past two weeks, all of their fans were sure they would collapse again as they have for the past four Septembers.
Some observers searched around for “other” stories of their season, anticipating yet another year on the playoff sidelines.
For two weeks it appeared that the Philadelphia Phillies would miss the playoffs again.
Then, in one night in Houston, the Phillies showed exactly why no one should want to face them this fall for what is sometimes called meaningful baseball.
Aaron Nola, Jose Alvarado, two powerful hitters, and an unlikely closer beat the best team in the American League this year, 3-0, and put Philadelphia in their first playoff series since 2011.
Suddenly, some NL team that won’t get a bye in this year’s MLB tournament will have to face a team that’s an old-fashioned mix of top pitching, younger and older players, one quite battle-tested, and one who has been hitting baseballs 500 feet since he was a teen.
As David Murphy has noted, the top of the Phillies’ rotation seems built for the playoffs. Honestly, no one really wants to face Zack Wheeler and Nola in their first two playoff games, but now somebody has to.
And when you get down to it, no one wants to face a line-up featuring Bryce Harper, the former teenaged bomber, and three other players before you reach the sixth slot in the lineup who can propel baseballs 450 feet fairly easily. One of them, Kyle Schwarber, has made a recent habit of slamming two home runs in a game, as he did Monday night in Houston in the playoff clincher.
The other two hitters in the lineup before the seven-slot, ordinarily, are one of the best situational hitters in baseball, Jean Segura, and the best catcher in the game, J.T. Realmuto, a guy who steals bases with some regularity.
At the bottom of the line-up are the youngsters who have contributed to the team’s sometimes stumbling success this year — Bryson Stott, Brandon Marsh, and Alec Bohm.
Stott’s home run Monday in Houston in the eighth inning, just before Schwarber’s second bomb, was emblematic of the suddenly balanced Phillies youth and experience this season. Stott, who stumbled out of the gate offensively this season, has come on strong in the second half, and had three hits in the pivotal win.
Did I forget to mention that Nola threw 6.2 perfect innings against the Astros in the clinching game? He did. He was then replaced by Alvarado, the best left-handed reliever in baseball in the second half. He struck out three of the four hitters he faced.
The feel-good story of Monday night, however, had to be Zach Eflin’s first career save, but this points to one reality that is a cause for playoff concern in Philly — no real closer. Interim manager Rob Thomson must mix-and-match.
However, for those who have argued this Philadelphia Phillies team doesn’t belong in the playoffs, you are wrong.