Phillies Make the Long Climb Back to the Top

Phillies Make the Long Climb Back to the Top

Updated: 1 month, 13 days, 15 hours, 54 minutes, 15 seconds ago
p>It has been 11 years since Philadelphia experienced the playoff tide that ushered in the red wave at Citizens Bank Park this weekend. In that time, those of us who have kept the faith since the last era of contention have endured a lot of bad baseball interspersed with glimmers of false hope.

There was the end of the Manuel Era in August 2013, as one of the greatest managers in Phillies history walked off into the sunset, Wawa bag in hand. In came Ryne Sandberg to oversee the organization’s reconstruction. He would last two years before quitting in frustration as the losses mounted and the team’s progress stalled. Pete Mackanin then took the reins, and the Phillies began the slow climb to mediocrity. The last pieces of the 2008 team — Cole Hamels, Ryan Howard, and Carlos Ruiz — bid goodbye as the next generation slowly made its way to the major leagues. Aaron Nola would debut in 2015, and Rhys Hoskins would burst onto the scene in 2017.

Not all of the Phillies’ touted prospects would match the promise of their potential. Scott Kingery continues to search for his swing and a return to consistency in Lehigh Valley. Vince Velasquez struggled to establish any pitch outside of his fastball. Jorge Alfaro and Sixto Sánchez were traded to Miami for J.T. Realmuto, while Alec Asher, Jerad Eickhoff, and Nick Pivetta, darling of the spin-doctoring sabermetrics gurus, never found their footing in Philadelphia. Former top pick Mickey Moniak is no longer with the franchise, and neither is former first rounder Adam Haseley.

The farm system suffered through an extended drought in a period when the Phillies should have been establishing their new foundation. The bullpen was a perpetual drag, particularly when the team was ready to contend again. Promising seasons in 2019, 2020, and 2021 all ended in large part because former managers Gabe Kapler and Joe Girardi did not have a stable of dependable relievers.

All the while, owner John Middleton continued to chase the dream of October baseball. In addition to Realmuto, Jean Segura arrived via trade. The Phillies expended significant money in free agency, importing veterans like Nick Castellanos and Kyle Schwarber. The biggest investment came in the form of Bryce Harper, who signed in 2019 for 13 years and $330 million.

The process has taken a very long time, and the fans had been hesitant to get on board this year. The Phillies finished in the middle of the pack in 2022 attendance rates. The crowds at the ballpark were fine, but the sellouts of campaigns past remained a distant memory. The team also struggled out of the gate, and it was not until Girardi was dismissed in early June that something changed and the run to the National League pennant began in earnest.

Under interim manager Rob Thomson (who has since earned the removal of the “interim” label), the Phillies turned a corner. Kyle Schwarber caught fire, the much-maligned bullpen found its footing, the starting rotation proved dependable, and the offense got rolling. There were some bumps along the way, and it wasn’t easy, but the Phillies secured the last ticket to the NL postseason dance.

After a Wild Card victory in St. Louis and a strong showing in Atlanta against the defending World Series champs, it wasn’t even a question that the fans would show up to Citizens Bank Park in droves. The energy was electric, and it made all the difference as the Phillies dispatched the Braves and advanced to the NLCS.

It was fitting to watch Seranthony Domínguez, a dominant reliever who missed multiple seasons recovering from an elbow injury, close the door and blow through the heart of the Braves order with 100 mph fastballs. He is a microcosm of a franchise that persevered through frequent adversity and a city that has needed to rely on its own capacity for resilience.

Times have been tough of late in Philadelphia. But there is nothing that transforms Philly like a team that makes a run. The way this city is captivated by a championship contender, particularly one that has been dormant for some time, is truly special.

There is always a lot of media chatter, social and traditional, about the fan base in Philadelphia. We’re frequently labeled the worst in the country. “They threw snowballs at Santa!” our detractors will say. It doesn’t help the narrative that Philadelphia often opposes the teams from New York, a city teeming with Mets fans who are once again forced to embrace the cold comfort of their National League East champs of July banner.

After this weekend, the haters can all pound sand. This is a city of winners that boasts a winning baseball team. The Phillies took the long climb to the top of the National League mountain, but there’s value in taking the hard path. This squad arrives at the NLCS battle-tested and equipped for the pressures of playoff baseball. And, against all odds, they are just four wins away from a return to the World Series.