With the moves they’ve made and the good players they’ve graduated through their system, expectations have been decently high for the Phillies in recent seasons. They hadn’t make the playoffs since 2011, but it seemed like the tide was starting to turn for them. To try and take them over the top, they had brought in former Yankees’ manager and a World Series winner in Joe Girardi.
Flash forward to early June, and it’s clear it wasn’t working. After two disappointing seasons in 2020 and ‘21, the Phillies had gotten off to a 22-29 start, sitting 12.5 games back in the division and six back of the Wild Card spots. The Phillies decided to end the Girardi era and let him go, to the seeming relief of many Philadelphia fans. Elevated into the head job was Rob Thomson, himself a former Yankees coach. Meanwhile many Yankee fans made jokes, especially considering his past decision making when he was the third base coach in the Bronx.
Flash forward a couple months, and full credit to Thomson and the Phillies, the move worked. Since he became manager, the Phillies have gone 65-45, which is a 97-win pace over 162 games. They went from well under .500 and a ways back of the playoff picture to clinching a spot with a few games to go.
Had the playoff format not changed, the Phillies would have fallen short. However, it did change and now they’re in. So, what chance do they have of making some noise this October?
Manager: Rob Thomson (replaced Joe Girardi June 3rd)
Top Position Player: J.T. Realmuto (6.5 fWAR)
Top Pitcher: Aaron Nola (6.3 fWAR)
We’ll start with the things the Phillies do well, and for one, they have a decently deep lineup. Their offense is headlined by Bryce Harper, Kyle Schwarber, J.T. Realmuto, and Rhys Hopkins, all of whom have a wRC+ of at least 123, with Harper’s health being the only real impediment in that group. Schwarber stood out as the National League home run leader with 46 bombs, including four down the stretch as the Phillies secured their first playoff berth in 11 years.
Beyond that group, they have another two hitters, Garrett Stubbs and Nick Maton, with a wRC+ over 130, and a third, Edmundo Sosa, who is currently on the IL, but there’s some hope that he could be back for the playoffs. There’s only really three hitters in Philly’s projected starting lineup that grade out as below average hitters, and neither is exactly a black hole at the plate. One of them is offseason signing Nick Castellanos, who even if he had a below average season, isn’t that far removed from an excellent 2021 at the plate.
On the rotation front, the Phillies will be expected to roll out a starting three of Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola, and Ranger Suárez, which is a nice little top three. While their options for a No. 4 slot aren’t bad, Bailey Falter seem to be the leader for that slot, and there’s a bit of a drop off from those three. However, at least in the Wild Card Series, they won’t have to worry about dipping beyond those top three.
As far as what the Phillies do poorly, it’s hard to start anywhere but defense. With the offseason acquisitions of Schwarber and Castellanos, there were plenty of jokes that the Phillies’ defense were going to be butchers in the field, and that has mostly been the case. If you look at various defensive stat leaderboards, you’ll find the Phillies at nearly the bottom in nearly every stat. With the exception of Realmuto, who grades out as a good defender, of those big four hitters, the other three are also listed as well below average defenders on FanGraphs. The implementation of the DH in the NL can only help them keep one of those bats without the defense in the lineup at a time. Realmuto led the team’s position players in fWAR by a decent amount despite others putting up similar or better hitting seasons, which basically was solely because of defense.
While there are some good pieces in it, the Phillies’ bullpen is also a bit on an issue. By ERA, the Phillies’ bullpen is in the bottom third of the league, directly in between the Cubs and Athletics, who were both notably very bad teams. At the deadline, they bolstered their bullpen with former Yankee David Robertson. While it can’t really be pinned on Robertson, who himself has put up good numbers since the trade, as a unit, they’ve been even worse since the start of August.
As far as the Phillies’ potential playoff route, it starts with the best of three Wild Card Series on the road against the Cardinals. It wouldn’t be remotely surprising to see the Phillies take that series. You could very much argue that they’ll have the starting pitching advantage in at least two of the three games. After that, they would face the Braves, and from there, it becomes harder and harder to see a path forward for them. The nature of baseball means that basically every team that’s good enough to make the playoffs is good enough to get hot and rattle off enough wins to take home the World Series. However, the Phillies are the No. 6 seed for a reason. Were this last year, they wouldn’t be in the playoffs, and there are enough flaws that it definitely would be a surprise to see a deep run from them.