What ultimately becomes of this Phillies team remains to be seen, but a once virtually-certain postseason spot has grown increasingly less secure by the day as a September that many skeptics will readily tell you they saw coming forges into its final turn.
I believe the common refrain is some variation of:
“Different year. Same team. Same bullshit.”
For the better part of eight innings Wednesday night, the 2022 Phillies continued their spiral of looking like the losers of recent past. It all looked like the same bullshit.
You saw big-name players failing to cash in on several key scoring opportunities. You saw ill-timed defensive lapses and a bullpen unable to consistently throw strikes. You saw what looked like a sixth-straight loss, and, quite possibly, the official arrival of panic button time.
But then you saw something different. You saw why this team just might be different.
Unlike in previous seasons, the Phillies continue to get meaningful contributions from the fringes of their roster, and they are getting these contributions in the most critical of moments.
Earlier this month, it was guys like Edmundo Sosa and Nick Maton who provided the spark. Last night, with another brutal loss looming and sarcastic E-A-G-L-E-S chants in the air, a five-hit game from Matt Vierling and some clutch plate appearances by Dalton Guthrie helped save the Phillies.
These out-of-nowhere contributions have made for great stories, and they have helped push the Phillies to the doorstep of a long-awaited postseason berth.
But you get the sense the Phillies are going to need their key players — Rhys Hoskins and Bryce Harper, namely — to show up at some point over the final 14 games.
With a 1.111 September OPS, J.T. Realmuto has more than done his part. Kyle Schwarber erased a night of a frustrating at-bats with a big two-out, game-tying RBI single in the eighth:
Kyle Schwarber ties it! Never a doubt! pic.twitter.com/wvh5M5jBlF
— Brodes Media (@BrodesMedia) September 22, 2022
But Harper and Hoskins, who combined to go 0-for-9 with four strikeouts and nine runners left on base, have to get it going — and soon — because this won’t play:
- Hoskins in September: .204 batting average/.628 OPS
- Harper in September: .164 batting average/.572 OPS
Had Vierling and Guthrie not owned the moment, we wouldn’t be talking about their failures this morning. We would be talking about those of Hoskins and Harper. The talk would be about their missed chances in key spots and the core DNA that prevents this team from keeping its feet with the finish line in sight.
Without question, there would be plenty of focus on Harper’s fifth-inning, first-pitch groundout that came with the bases loaded.
Bryce come on man 😡 pic.twitter.com/hSxC8VmE2l
— Brodes Media (@BrodesMedia) September 22, 2022
And there sure as hell would have been plenty of talk about Harper and Hoskins coming up with back-to-back strikeouts to end a seventh-inning scoring threat. Hoskins’ inability to put the ball in play with a runners on the corners and less than two outs was particularly egregious.
None of this is written to skew negative. It’s quite the opposite.
I’ve long been a believer that the 2022 Phillies are a postseason team, that despite some recent hiccups their fate will be different. Now, these guys need to show up and help finish the deal.
Zack Wheeler Gives Them a Chance
Making his first appearance since Aug. 20, Zack Wheeler looked like every bit of the ace the Phillies have sorely missed over the past month.
A night after Toronto exploded for 18 runs against a parade of hapless Phillies pitchers, Wheeler quieted the Blue Jays’ bats through four scoreless innings.
But it wasn’t just that he kept the Blue Jays off the board, it’s how he looked doing it.
Averaging 97.9 mph with his four-seam fastball and 97 mph with his sinker, both up from his season averages, Wheeler induced eight groundouts and recorded three strikeouts with 58 pitches.
He eclipsed 98.0 mph 16 times, equaling his entire season output:
Zack Wheeler's first five pitches were all 98 mph or harder. He had thrown 16 98+ mph out of 2,161 pitches this season before IL stint.
— Matt Gelb (@MattGelb) September 21, 2022
Wheeler also maintained the extra life on his pitches throughout the abbreviated appearance, with his final pitch of the night registering at 97.5 mph to finish Matt Chapman on strikes:
Zack Wheeler's return was fantastic!
4 IP | 2 H | 0 ER | 0 BB | 3 K pic.twitter.com/iFRrmSFYRD
— Brodes Media (@BrodesMedia) September 21, 2022
Wheeler fought his command on a limited number of breaking pitches (just three of 10 finished for strikes), but that’s not entirely unexpected following a prolonged layoff.
He’s not all the way back yet, but this outing provided some reassurance that he is capable of pitching at an elite level again this season. So, if the Phillies do reach the postseason, it appears they can reasonably count on Wheeler to give them a shot.