One more win.
That’s all it will take for the Phillies to snap the longest current playoff drought in Major League baseball, and make it to the postseason for the first time in 11 years.
One more loss by the Brewers will do it too, but it’s not nearly as fun to have it happen that way. It’s kind of a “backing into the playoffs” that way, and it’s more fodder for the anti-Phillies fans that slither through the murk of Twitter to harp on.
Get the win first. It’ll make it better. They can walk into the visitor’s clubhouse in Houston and pop the champagne and celebrate a berth an entire region has waited far too long to secure.
The question is though, will fans really care?
The easy answer is to say, sure, they will. Most fans are not vocal on talk radio or on social media. That rabble makes up maybe 10 percent of the total fanbase.
That’s not to say they don’t have an occasional point and everything about the Phillies should be viewed through powder blue-colored glasses.
Getting swept by the Cubs last week was not good. But whereas teams in previous seasons may have folded even worse after that, the Phillies rebounded by winning 3 of 4 against the Nationals and got some help from the Miami Marlins, who won 3 of 4 in Milwaukee.
The negative Nancy types – like Howard Eskin – will tell you the Phillies are lucky to be where they are because they are 16-3 against the Nationals this year. Without that, they’re 70-70, meaning they’re mediocre and no different than previous seasons.
I’ll tell you that’s cherry picking stats to make an argument.
For example, I could say the Phillies went 5-14 against the Mets this season. Take that away and they’re 81-59 against the rest of baseball. Makes them look better, right?
I could also argue that if it’s a bad thing the Phillies went 16-3 against the Nationals, then geez, how are these other playoff teams where they are?
Team vs. Nationals in 2022:
- Dodgers: 3-3
- Braves: 14-5
- Cardinals: 4-3
- Mets: 11-5 (three to go)
- Padres: 4-3
Why aren’t we questioning why any of these playoff teams weren’t BETTER against the Nationals, if it’s so damn easy to beat them like the Phillies have?
There are those who will argue the Phillies collapsed again down the stretch. Yet, with three more games to go in the final month of the season, the Phillies are 13-12 in the last 25 games.
While it’s not earth-shattering, it’s also not a collapse.
The Cardinals and Mets are each 13-11 and the Padres are 13-10 in the same span. The Rays are 11-15 The Mariners are 11-12. All those teams are going to the playoffs, do they stink too? Are they undeserving?
Should we just go back to four Divisions and each Division winner makes the playoffs? So, Braves vs. Dodgers and Yankees vs. Astros and everyone else, see ya next year?
Look, this isn’t excuse-making for the Phillies. They deserve the criticism they get within the vacuum of each game. But when you look at it separately, and take in the totality of what’s going on in the sport, it’s not as bad. My personal projection was that they would have been 15-10 in those 25 games. So, they were slightly below expectations. But, not overtly so.
However, in this town, it’s as if they are free-falling without a parachute. And nobody will care until they prove they can win something of value.
Maybe tonight does it? Who knows. Maybe Aaron Nola beats a good Houston team on the road and the Phillies scrape out enough offense to win and clinch the playoff berth..
But then again, maybe not – because everywhere I turn, I’m being told they can’t win in the playoffs.
Look, maybe they won’t, and all the curmudgeons can pound their chests in unison.
But will or won’t is different from can or can’t and these Phillies CAN win in the playoffs. Although, to be honest, in my memory, this is the lowest Philadelphia has ever felt about a playoff team before the playoffs started.
I went back and looked at every postseason berth of my lifetime of the four major sports teams and these were the only ones I could come up with that are even in the ballpark as far as less than top tier fan interest and belief or hope in the team in the playoffs:
None. This would be the first time the Phillies qualify for the playoffs as a wild card. And, excluding the strike-shortened 1981 season, it will be only the second time they had fewer than 90 wins and made the playoffs (2007) and I was at that playoff-clinching game in 2007 and the ballpark was electric. That was also the first time in the playoffs for the Phillies after a lengthy drought (14 years). It really is night and day compared to this season.
I could only come up with two here:
2008 – This wasn’t a great team. It finished 9-6-1 and made the playoffs as the No. 6 seed in the NFC. There really wasn’t much of a belief that the Eagles could go far, but, after all, it is the Eagles, so there’s always at least an element of crazy optimism that exists. Well, they upset Minnesota on the road in the first round and then the Giants on the road in the second round. That’s when the city started getting giddy because they would match up with the equally surprising Arizona Cardinals in the NFC championship game and a Super Bowl berth against cross-state rival Pittsburgh seemed inevitable. Until the Cardinals stunned the Eagles, washing away the city-wide optimism just as quickly as it had arrived.
2021 – Yeah. Last year. At 9-8, it was the worst record of any Eagles team to ever make the playoffs, and the sneaked in as the brand new No. 7 seed. And while there were more realists than usual when it comes to the Eagles, looking at the team, its path to the playoffs and its pending first round matchup against the defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers and just shook their head, no – the prevailing belief in town was that an upset was being conjured. Uh…. nothing close. the Eagles got squashed. It led to major changes this year, and so far, the Eagles have answered the bell as the NFL’s only unbeaten team.
I’ve got to be honest… I had forgotten about this era of Sixers basketball. Seriously, if you asked me to name all the coaches between Larry Brown and Brett Brown I would have remembered Mo Cheeks and Doug Collins. That’s it. What a flashback I had earlier when I realized I forgot (paid to have my mind erased?) the era of Randy Ayers, Chris Ford, Jim O’Brien, Tony DiLeo, and Eddie Jordan, all who also coached with Cheeks and Collins between the Browns. It was seven coaches in 10 seasons – a decade where the 76ers were the clear No. 4 team in town. Think about it; between the time Larry Brown coached his last game in Philly and Brett Brown coached his first, the Eagles went to three conference championship games and a Super Bowl, the Phillies won the NL East five times, the NL Pennant twice and one World Series, and the Flyers went to three conference finals and one Stanley Cup Final.
The Sixers had four non-descript playoff appearances, and a fifth where they caught a break and played the No. 1 seed Chicago Bulls without reigning MVP Derek Rose, knocked them out and then took Boston to seven games before getting obliterated and sent home to start the long winter of the Process era.
But these three playoff appearances were so quick and the team was so mediocre that I honestly don’t remember much excitement leading up to them or during them with one exception.
2008 – Let’s not forget this was in the middle of the Phillies renaissance, so a sub-.500 basketball team sneaking into the playoffs to play a top-end opponent like the Detroit Pistons was hardly on a radar. And yet, the Sixers won Game 1 in Detroit and then Game 3 in Philly to take a 2-1 series lead, and at that point, I do recall there being some excitement. It was fleeting though, as the Pistons would win three straight, eliminating the Sixers in six games.
2009 – Wait… the Sixers played the Magic in the playoffs? And it was basically the same as the year before? The Sixers were .500, pulled off a game 1 upset in Orlando and then took a 2-1 lead after Game 3 before losing three straight? Man, I must have been REALLY into the Phillies coming off the World Series. This just doesn’t register one iota.
2011 – Another .500 Sixers team… but this one was memorable because it was Collins’ first year on the bench and the Sixers were the first playoff opponent for LeBron after he “took his talents to South Beach.” The Heat won the series 4-1 and the Sixers were never in it, but there was a buzz about this series for sure, even if it wasn’t a belief the Sixers could win it.
So… maybe there was some fan apathy in 2009? Anyone remember? I don’t. Otherwise, the other two series had more juice than these Phillies making the playoffs tonight.
It’s been so long since the Flyers did anything of real substance, that this seemed easy, and yet it wasn’t.
That’s because, while the 2016 and 2018 Flyers lost in the first rounds to Washington and Pittsburgh and both were ugly playoff losses as part of the Dave Hakstol
era error as coach and fans knew there wasn’t a chance in hell they were winning either series, the fans were at least bought in to Ron Hextall’s failed plan as a GM that would have the team rebuilding and growing into a young and consistent contender within six years.
These were two of those six years, so fans just thought it was an early sneak peak, and that eventually these guys would be the ones to bring glory and Lord Stanley back to Philly. and here they are, four years later, among the worst teams in the sport.
No, the only season of Flyers hockey I can think of, and the one that correlates the most with this year’s Phillies team is one that made one of the great Philadelphia playoff runs:
2010 – Think about it. It was a team with great expectations. They had reached the Conference Final two years earlier. They needed some veteran leadership so they traded for Chris Pronger. They had some high end skill players in Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Simon Gagne and Danny Briere. They had a solid defense anchored by Kimmo Timonen, Braydon Coburn and Matt Carle and they had an expectation to win. Until they weren’t winning. They fired coach John Stevens, brought in Stanley Cup winner Peter Laviolette, and after a slow start for Lavy behind the bench he got the team playing the right way, and as they approached the final month of the season were riding a five-game winning streak and a much longer run of 18-7-1 that made them look like they would be formidable if they could get into the dance. Then March happened, and it looked like a Flyers team that lacked leadership, a desire to win and really was just going through the motions. From March 3 to April 2 they lost 11 of 16 games. In those 11 losses, they allowed 47 goals. It was an abomination. But, on the last day of the season, the beat the Rangers in a shootout to earn a playoff spot. They next knocked off a battered and struggling New Jersey team before falling behind 3-0 in the second round to Boston. Again, fans were just looking for the season to be over. When the magic carpet ride took off and carried everyone and their imagination for the next month.
It took a miracle comeback from an 0-3 deficit in the second round for these fans to buy into the Flyers. Or at least, the attempt at one (of course it was successful, but it wasn’t until Game 6 that everyone really started to think, yeah, this can happen).
That’s what it might take for the Phillies. Just getting in tonight might not be enough. The champagne celebration might as well be done with St. Regis Sparkling Brut. Hell, there’s a chance that ESPN will be forced to put a deciding Game 3 of the opening round playoff series featuring the Phillies on head-to-head with the Eagles game in Arizona next Sunday. Wouldn’t that be something?
Either way, it might require the Phillies to play long enough to get a playoff game back at Citizens Bank Park – which might not happen until after they’ve played 15 straight away from home. And even then, they would have to at least be even in the NLDS to sell out a Game 3.
That means win a game in Houston and get in. Win the opening round in St. Louis or New York and at least split the first two games in Atlanta or L.A. in the second round before coming home for the first time in three weeks.
Do that, and they’ll buy in. Otherwise, this playoff berth could go down as the most inconsequential in the history of Philadelphia sports.
And that’s a shame. Because everyone should already be invested. Win tonight and the Phillies are nine wins away from the World Series and 13 wins away from a championship.
Again, not saying it WILL happen. But it COULD happen. All you need is one more win in the next three days to create that possibility and let that magic feeling of Red October take it away from there.