Welcome Back, Phillies

Philadelphia, your Phillies are back!! This 87-win wild card team has shocked the world!  The franchise has advanced to fall classic for the first time since 2009. Welcome back, Phillies. Bryce Harper’s home run on Sunday was like watching Roy Hobbs. The only thing missing was the lights going out. I find it really ironic that the team’s song is called dancing on my own. This run has the whole Delaware valley dancing right with them. Lines are around the block at any Dicks sporting goods or Rally House. Fans have fallen in love with baseball in Philadelphia again after an 11-year playoff drought.

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Rewind back to August and even September, and you’d see many empty seats at the park. Now tickets are going for over $1,000 dollars for a standing room.  Even the most die-hard fan couldn’t have envisioned this run late in September. The Phillies were swept by the woeful Chicago cubs, and it looked like another missed opportunity. The team rebounded to win 4 of the next five games on the road. The clutch play, along with a choke job by the Milwaukee Brewers, gave the Phillies their ticket to the dance. Unlike previous years where the collapse kept going, this team has a different vibe. This team has shown tremendous grit and character.

How It Began

The season started out with great optimism. Owner John Middleton opened up his wallet and spent into the luxury tax for the first time in franchise history. The team was fourth in all of baseball, with a payroll of over 240 million dollars. This is a far cry from the 90’s management saying that the Phillies were a “small market” team. The Phillies made two huge free-agent signings. Leftfielder Kyle Schwarber was signed by the Red Sox, and OF/ DH Nick Castellanos was signed by the Reds. Many predicted the Phillies to be in contention for the NL East. The lineup was stacked with new signings along with reigning MVP Bryce Harper and the best catcher in baseball JT Realmuto. Unfortunately, the play on the field didn’t match up with the payroll to start the season. The Phillies got off to a terrible 22-29 record under returning manager Joe Girardi.

Girardi Gone

Girardi was fired on June 3rd, and his longtime bench coach Rob Thomson was hired as the interim manager. The club immediately took off, going on an immediate 9-game winning streak. Many of the players spoke of a more relaxed atmosphere in the clubhouse. The Thomson clubhouse is a lot like how it was under Charlie Manuel. Manuel was the most successful manager the Phillies had so it’s smart to emulate that environment.

Thomson has led the club to a 65-46 record and has since been named manager, taking away the interim title. During the Phillies’ hot start under Thomson, the club suffered a major injury blow. Bryce Harper was hit by a pitch in San Diego and broke his thumb. The MVP would be out until late August. The steady leadership of NL home run king Kyle Schwarber kept the club afloat. Schwarber would go on to bash 46 regular-season home runs. In addition to his on-the-field contributions, his veteran leadership and championship experience have paid huge dividends.  Thomson has credited Schwarber with being a big locker room leader.

Phillies Rollercoaster Ride

The Phillies came into the season predicted to have a dominant lineup.  The team put up some numbers, but the pitching staff is a major reason the team is where they are. If there was optimism going into the postseason, it mostly started with the two top starters of the rotation. No 1 starter Zach Wheeler was once again the ace of the staff. Wheeler’s numbers weren’t as good as in 2021, but he still was effective, with a 12-7 record and a 2.82 ERA in 153 innings. He ran into some injury problems in September. This caused the team to shut him down for a few weeks. This was a blessing in disguise, and Wheeler has been almost unhittable this postseason and seems to have more on his fastball. He has a 1.78 Era in his 3 starts this postseason.

No 1A starter Aaron Nola has come back to form as the ace he was once thought to be. Nola struggled big time in 2021, especially in September.  This season has been a different story.  Nola won the post-season clinching game in Houston just a few weeks ago. He had a perfect game going into the 7th inning.  Nola only was 11-13, but his era was good at 3.25. Amazingly he struck out 235 while only walking 29 batters. Nola is the first pitcher since 1884 to finish the season with over 220 strikeouts and fewer than 30 walks. This is a remarkable accomplishment and a sure sign Nola is worthy of starting game 1 at Houston on Friday night.

Keys to Success

Another key to success has been the remarkable turnaround of the bullpen. Ask a Phillies fan about the last few years of the bullpen, and heart palpitations will almost immediately follow. This season started out no different. Jose Alvarado struggled so badly that he was sent to the minors in May. He’s come back and been one of the stars out of the pen along with righthanded pitcher Ser Anthony Dominguez. These two have been most dominant in the playoffs and are a huge reason for the team’s success.

The World Series

Now we get to the Phillies’ opponent, the AL-champion Houston Astros. Unlike the Phillies, the Astros are familiar with this stage. This is the 4th time in the last six seasons that they’ve been to the World Series. The Astros won a ring in 2017. They come in extremely hungry after bowing out to the Braves in 6 games last season. They also look to win another championship after the cheating scandal in 2017. Another title will validate the Astros in many people’s eyes. The Astros won 106 games in the regular season and come into the World Series as heavy favorites. They currently sit at -190 on Fan Duel.

In looking at the Astros, I see no glaring weakness. They are stacked. The top 2 hitters are Jose Altuve and rookie shortstop Jeremy Pena. Pena had the difficult task of replacing Carlos Correa, who left as a free agent. Pena mashed 22 regular season home runs and was ALCS MVP. He’s more than held his own. In fact, the Astros are 42-7 when Pena bats second behind Altuve. The Astros have speed and power. Yordon Alvarez hit 306 and mashed 37 Home runs.

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Right fielder Kyle Tucker had 25 stolen bases to go with 107 RBIs. As strong as the Houston is, they have gone cold for small stretches of the season. They’ve had little stretches of 4-5 games where the lineup goes cold. This is the hope for our Phillies. They’ve also struggled at times vs. softer tossing lefties. Ranger Suarez doesn’t necessarily throw soft, but he may be a difficult matchup for Houston on the road in game 3.

Pitching Matchups

As good as the Phillies’ pitching has been with the 2 aces, pitching depth is where the Astros have a huge advantage. The Astros have 4 legit starters, headlined by Cy Young award winner Justin Verlander. Verlander’s weakness has been the World Series, where he carries a career 5.68 era and an 0-6 record.  Game 1 is pivotal for the Phillies to get to Verlander. The rotation will feature Verlander, followed by Framber Valdez,  Christian Javier, and veteran Lance McCullers Jr. 

McCullers probably will start game 4, but he carries a career post-season era of 2.77 in 18 games. McCullers got the start vs. the Dodgers in 2017 in game 7, so he’s no stranger to coming up big in the big moment. The Astros bullpen is also deep and elite behind closer Ryan Pressley and set-up men Bryan Abreau and former Philly Hector Neris, among others. Tied with the 12th-best WAR since the integration in 1947.

By the Numbers

Out of 224 teams, since the AL/NL postseason started, the Astros are 5th best in OPS at .539, and the .248 on-base percentage is fourth best.  The 1.88 Era is the 6th best but the best since the 1983 Baltimore Orioles. They’ve also allowed a .178 batting average against, which is 3rd best in the postseason. The Phillies’ best hope is that the Astros throw a lot of fastballs, and Philly is a fastball-hitting team.

As talented as the Phillies are if we look at this matchup on paper, it doesn’t look good. Houston looks like a much deeper team. Games aren’t played on paper. The Phillies are on a magical run. I feel if they can steal one of the first 2 in Houston, they can win this series. Citizens Bank Park has been a house of horrors for visiting teams. Since its inception in 2004, the Phillies have the best home postseason record and are 21-8. The Phillies are going to win this series in 6 games. The Phillies will be signing Dancing independently, but this area will be dancing together. Cottman and Frankford get ready. Broad street gets ready.  John Middleton spent a ton of money to bring his bleeping trophy home. The time is here. Go Phillies!!!!

Al Zaffiri
Al Zaffiri

Al is one of the two co-creators of Edge of Philly Sports. Al started radio and podcasting in 2012 and covering sports in 2015. A lifelong Philly sports fan since watching the Eagles, Phillies, Sixers, and Flyers with his grandfathers at age 7. Al always looks at the other side of the hot topics and gives his different outlook on those topics. Web and Graphic Design.