On a Saturday night in November at Minute Maid Park in Houston, the bell finally tolled for the Phillies’ 2022 campaign. After punching their playoff ticket on that very field one month prior, the men in the red and gray jerseys were relegated to watching the team in the other dugout celebrate. They would be heading home with no deciding game to play on Sunday, and the World Series trophy would be staying in Texas.
Over the course of 17 postseason games, the Fightin’ Phils lived up to the name, but in the end the better team prevailed. Entering the World Series, the Astros had a deeper starting rotation, a superior relief corps, and fewer question marks defensively. They had cruised through the regular season, picking up 106 wins along the way, before crushing their competition in the American League playoffs. Neither the Seattle Mariners nor the New York Yankees could solve them, and it wasn’t until they met the Phillies in the Fall Classic that they tasted defeat for the first time.
The Phillies would knock them down twice, actually, but the Astros, to their credit, were able to withstand the blows and take control of the series. For a team that made a habit of defying expectations, it was only fitting that the Phils would pull off the trick one more time. It was not a shoddy bullpen or poor defense that did them in, but rather an extended cold snap from the bats that were supposed to propel them to victory.
As Kevin noted in an earlier post, the Phillies set a new World Series standard for strikeouts at 71. They were no-hit in Game 4 and only managed 3 hits in the decisive Game 6. The trio of Rhys Hoskins, J.T. Realmuto, and Nick Castellanos collectively accounted for 32 of those punch outs, and the three of them produced one total hit in the last three games of the series. That contact came from Realmuto, who drove a single into centerfield in the final inning on Saturday.
One knock from the three players who are supposed to protect Bryce Harper in the lineup is a recipe for defeat, so we shouldn’t be all that surprised by the burnt cake that emerged from the oven.
A microcosm of this World Series can be found in the output of the #2 hitters in each lineup. This is a crucial spot in the order, as this player can set the table for the power bats hitting third, fourth, and fifth.
The Phillies’ choice for that important role, Hoskins, had 25 official plate appearances. He yielded 3 total hits, the last coming in Game 3 on a solo home run that made the score 7-0. He walked once and struck out 10 times, including with the bases loaded in Game 5 with Astros ace Justin Verlander on the ropes.
Hoskins gets in on the party!
— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) November 2, 2022
Shortstop Jeremy Peña served as Houston’s second hitter for the entire series, and he also made 25 official plate appearances. However, Peña delivered 10 hits, including a home run in Game 5 that gave Houston a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. His single in the 6th inning of Game 6 would chase Phillies starter Zack Wheeler and set the stage for slugger Yordan Álvarez’s backbreaking home run.
Peña was clutch, and it was a major reason why he won the World Series MVP and his team emerged victorious. The streaky Hoskins, on the other hand, endured one of those extended cold stretches that have been as much a feature of his career as the outbursts of production.
Hoskins was not the only player to struggle at the plate. Realmuto and Castellanos went 4-24 and 3-24, respectively, against the Astros’ pitching staff. For Castellanos, it was a bit of a lost season offensively, as he didn’t look like the guy who clubbed 34 home runs and hit .309 for the Reds in 2021. Even Harper, who was tearing the cover off the ball in October, only had 4 hits. The rest of the lineup could not pick up the slack.
Slumps happen, and even the best hitters can look lost as they try to time fastballs that alternately cut, rise, and sink; curveballs that snap into the strike zone; and sliders that break away from bats at just the right moment, among other nasty weapons in a pitcher’s arsenal. It’s a game of failure, and that’s why cynics rule in the baseball prediction business.
As the offseason begins and the organization’s front office takes center stage again, president Dave Dombrowski and general manager Sam Fuld will be charged with assessing what this team needs to make a return trip to baseball’s biggest stage.
In 2023, the Phillies will face tough competition. The Mets, Dodgers, and Padres will not stop spending money to infuse their own clubs with more talent. The Braves have locked in most of the core players who carried them to a World Series in 2021. The Marlins, despite their mediocre results this year, still possess lights-out starting pitching that can keep them in any game. The Nationals will likely continue to be bad, but they will have a hard time matching the standard of futility they set in 2022.
The teams will change, and so will the game. Due to MLB’s institution of a balanced schedule, the Phillies will either host or visit every team in the American League, trading off some of their divisional games in the bargain. In addition to a pitch clock and a limit on the number of times a pitcher can attempt a pickoff, the shift will be banned. In this new environment, it strikes me as important to feature a lineup with at least some players who make consistent contact. We might see more base stealing and more hit-and-runs, which means more stress placed on pitchers who have tilted the game in their favor in the last decade. The reforms should lead to an uptick in offense, and clubs who have the ability to manufacture runs could benefit.
Having gotten a taste of postseason baseball in Philadelphia, the decision makers in the front office will likely do all they can to position the Phillies for another playoff chase. However, even if they land a big free agent and improve other areas of the roster, there is no guarantee of a repeat performance. That’s why it particularly stings to see this surprise run fall two wins short, and for the shortcoming to be in a perceived area of strength.
Those are the breaks of the game, of course, and part of the bargain a fan makes when investing time and energy into a baseball season. The sport can be confounding, frustrating, and downright infuriating. It can just as easily be exhilarating. The passion on display at Citizens Bank Park this past month is a product of that duality, borne just as much of excitement in victory as disappointment in defeat. The losses make you appreciate the good times more, and the winning, when it happens, can change the entire temperament of the city.
That feeling of the breaks suddenly going your team’s way, of momentum swinging in their direction, is contagious. We live in a world that can be so ostentatiously divisive — look no further than the messaging from the wave of political ads that dominated the airwaves in between innings this postseason. The internet has made us simultaneously more connected and more physically isolated than ever before. We can also safely say that Philly has not had a large number of positive headlines lately. It’s nice to have a sporting event, then, that brings people together, if only for a few hours, and unites us all behind one cause.
The Phillies provided those moments of solidarity, and for that reason alone we should all be grateful for this team, holding them in the same esteem as the ’93 club. And yet, it’s only human nature to wonder what might have been if only the bats had not gone quiet in the games that mattered most.
“Good vibes” only take you so far. 46,000 screaming fans in the stands can’t help a player have a better approach at the plate or shake off the fatigue that comes with an extended season.
To be the best, the Phillies will need to get better. This offseason, they will.