Will “Fading Phillies” Do it Again?

A year ago, the Phillies were 81-74 with seven games remaining — only to lose 6 of their last 7 to just barely manage their first winning season, and their first finish higher than third in the National League East, since 2011.

In the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, the Phils were 23-20 with 17 games left — and went 5-12 in those 17 games and wound up 28-32, and missing the playoffs, which had been expanded to 16 teams for that year only.

In 2019, the Phillies seemed headed for at least an over-.500 season, at 78-72 with 12 games to play. Not so fast: they lost nine of those last 12 games and limped home at 81-81.

The 2018 Phillies had a depressingly similar endgame: 78-73 with 11 games remaining, they lost nine of them for a final record of 80-82.

But this year, there is much more at stake for them than which side of .500 they come in at — in that the team is in the middle of a tight three-way battle for the NL's last two wild card berths (the runner-up in the NL East race as between the Mets and the Braves being pretty much assured of earning the first such berth).

And all of a sudden, as if on cue, the Philadelphia bullpen seems to have forgotten how to close the deal, after what had heretofore been a much-improved showing from 2021, when they tied the all-time major-league record for most blown saves in a season, with 34 of them (the 2004 Colorado Rockies also blew 34 saves). And the fact that the 2020 season consisted of just 60 games because of COVID was probably the only thing that kept them out of record-breaking territory that year as well, when the bullpen logged an almost unimaginable 7.06 ERA.

As recently as September 7 — the date that then-President George H.W. Bush mistakenly identified as Pearl Harbor Day — the Philadelphia bullpen had only 14 blown saves, putting them on pace to have less than half the number of blown saves as in 2021.

But on the next day, David Robertson, taking a 5-4 lead into the ninth inning, gave up two runs in the top half of that inning, and the Phillies lost 6-5 at home to the lowly Marlins for Robertson's seventh blown save of the season.

Eight days later, the Phillies took a 2-1 lead into the bottom of the eighth in Atlanta — whereupon the Braves reeled off 6 runs to win 7-2. Seranthony Dominguez was debited with both a blown save (his second on the year) and the loss (dropping his won-lost record to 6-5).

At this writing, the Phillies stand at 80-66, a half-game behind the 81-66 Padres for the second wild card spot, and two and a half games ahead of the on-the-bubble, 78-69 Brewers (the Phillies would carry tie-breakers — remember, no more one-game playoffs to break ties at the end of the regular season — over both the Padres and Brewers, on the grounds that they won the season series over San Diego, 4-3, and over Milwaukee, 4-2).

But because of the lockout and its coincident jiggling of the schedule, the Phillies have to end the season with a 10-game road trip — three at the Cubs (September 27, 28 and 29), four at the Nationals (September 30, a doubleheader on October 1, and October 2), and here's where it gets interesting: three at the Astros (on October 3, 4, and 5).

So there will be a lot of "scoreboard watching" among Phillies fans over what happens in the American League, with these fans rooting for the Astros to have had the top playoff seed in the AL already clinched before the Phillies have to play that final series in Houston (the Astros lead the Yankees by eight games at the moment, and would carry the tie-breaker, having won the season series 5-2).

In a similar vein, Phillies fans need to root for the Dodgers the rest of the way — the idea being that they want the Dodgers to stay comfortably ahead of the Astros (they lead Houston by six games as this is written), leaving the Astros with no chance to obtain home-field advantage in the World Series should the two teams meet therein.

When the Major League Baseball Players Association effectively bullied the owners into junking the ridiculous practice of awarding the extra home game in the World Series to the team whose league won the All-Star Game and giving it to the team with the better regular-season record instead, starting in 2017, the union probably had no idea how much excitement — and how much confusion — they would be creating (e.g., what happens if the two teams that reach the World Series finish with the same record? Good luck finding the answer to that).

And baseball needs all the excitement that it can get — even at the cost of a little confusion.

Leave a Comment

Featured Site