For the first time since 2011, the Philadelphia Phillies are heading back to the postseason. Their win over the Houston Astros on Monday clinched a National League wild-card berth as they secured the 12th and final playoff spot in MLB this season. In doing so, they have ended their 11-year playoff drought that was the longest active dry spell in the NL. The Phillies will have to travel to St. Louis to play a three-game series against the Cardinals at Busch Stadium beginning Friday.
Similar to the Blue Jays, the Phillies made a move at the managerial position in the middle of the season. After getting off to 22-29 start, Joe Girardi was relieved of his duties and dismissed as manager. Bench coach Rob Thomson was promoted to interim manager for the remainder of the 2022 season. Since Thomson took the reigns of the team, the Phillies have a 65-44 record. Whether the move has correlated to the team winning more is hard to translate. Regardless, Philadelphia has shaken off their early-season woes and delivered a long-awaited playoff birth.
Powerful front of the rotation
The Philadelphia Phillies’ starting rotation has a number of reliable arms that have shown out this season. They rank second in quality starts in the NL and are well equipped for postseason play.
Leading the pack in the starting staff is the duo of Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler. Following one of the worst seasons of his career in 2021 where he posted a 4.63 ERA and 3.37 FIP, Nola has been terrific. In 32 starts and over 200 innings pitched this season, he has 3.25 ERA and 2.58 FIP. The right-hander has a strikeout rate of 10.3 per nine innings pitched and has only allowed 19 home runs, less than one per nine innings pitched. He also leads all qualifying NL starters in walk rate, allowing just 29 free passes in 205 total innings.
The runner-up for the NL CY Young Award a year ago, Wheeler has been phenomenal yet again in 2022. The 32-year-old has a 2.82 ERA and 2.89 FIP in 26 starts this season. His strikeout rate of 9.6 batters per nine innings is the second highest of his career. He has only allowed 13 home runs in 153 innings pitched and has a WHIP of 1.039. Opponents are hitting just .221/.273/.353 against Wheeler this season.
Though not at the level of the aforementioned aces, left-hander Ranger Suarez is having a great year. In 28 starts the southpaw has a 3.37 ERA and 3.61 FIP. He has limited opposing hitters to 12 home runs in over 152 innings of work. Suarez is known for inducing incredibly high ground ball rates with this year being no different. His ground ball rate of 55.6 percent in 2022 is well above the MLB average of 42.8 percent.
Acquired from the Angels before the trade deadline this year, Noah Syndergaard has been serviceable. Injuries over the course of his career have prevented him from turning into a perennial top-tier starter. With a change of scenery from New York in 2022, the right-hander has not fared as well. With the Phillies, Syndergaard has a 4.12 ERA and 3.66 FIP in 9 starts. He has posted a career-low strikeout rate of 6.3 batters per nine innings for the entire season. Comparing his time with the Angels and Phillies, opponents hit .244/.300/.383 when he was in Los Angeles. They have hit .290/.309/.442 in his time with the Phillies.
In 13 starts before his transition to the bullpen, Zach Eflin posted a 4.37 ERA and 1.191 WHIP. He struck out 56 batters, walked 15 and allowed eight home runs in 68 innings pitched. As a reliever, he has been much more dependable. In seven relief appearances, he has a 1.17 ERA and 0.522 WHIP with nine strikeouts and no home runs allowed.
Left-hander Bailey Falter has improved upon his rookie season in 2021. He has a 3.81 ERA and 1.189 WHIP in 15 starts this season. Including his relief appearances, Falter has fanned 74, walked 17 and surrendered 16 home runs in 83 innings of work.
Right-hander Kyle Gibson has had a difficult 2022 season. The veteran 34-year-old has a 5.05 ERA and 4.27 FIP in 31 starts this year. Gibson has never had a truly dominant season as a big leaguer but has had several respectable seasons. When Philadelphia acquired him from the Rangers ahead of last season’s trade deadline, they had plans for him to anchor the middle of the rotation. Gibson was in the midst of his best season before the trade, flashing a 2.87 ERA in 19 starts with Texas. In 42 total starts with the Phillies since the move, he has an ERA above five.
Bullpen depth takes a hit
The Philadelphia Phillies’ bullpen had been a significant problem in previous seasons. A different carousel of arms made up the relief corps every year, with not much success resulting from different moves and acquisitions to try to improve the group. This year has been much better, but some injuries to key pieces have darkened the outlook just before the postseason.
A free-agent signing before this season, Corey Knebel was tasked with closing games at the start of the year. He converted on 12 of his 16 save opportunities, posting a 3.43 ERA and 119 ERA+ in 46 appearances. He held opposing hitters to just a .202 batting average and .662 OPS against. His season unfortunately came to a close in mid-August due to a shoulder injury.
In his first year on the Phillies, Brad Hand has been superb. The left-hander has a 2.80 ERA and 146 ERA+ in 55 appearances. He has only given up two home runs in 45 innings of work and is limiting opposing hitters to a .223/.335/.319 slash line in 2022. Hand was placed on the 15-day injured list a few weeks ago and has not pitched since Sept. 20. It is uncertain whether or not he will be activated before the first wild card game for Philadelphia on Friday.
Making just one appearance in 2020 and 2021, Seranthony Dominguez was one of a handful of uncertainties for the Phillies heading into the 2022 season. The 27-year-old right-hander has shown no signs of needing to shake any rust off. He has a 2.70 ERA and 3.07 FIP in 53 appearances this year. Dominguez has also struck out 60 batters and allowed just four home runs in 50 innings pitched. Opposing hitters have a .185 batting average with a .571 OPS against him in 2022.
Much improved from his first year on the Phillies, Jose Alvarado has arguably had his most dominant season ever. The left-hander has a 3.18 ERA and 1.91 FIP in 59 innings pitched on the year. He is striking hitters out at an absurd rate, with 81 punch outs in 51 innings. Alvarado has also held opposing batters to two home runs for the entire season. Opposing batters are slashing .203/.296/.289 against him and are hitting the ball on the ground more than any year of his career, with a 56.5 percent ground ball rate.
Right-hander Andrew Bellatti has had an interesting career path in his time as a major leaguer. He made 17 appearances in his rookie season with the Rays in 2015, did not pitch at the big league level again until last year with the Marlins, and now finds himself in Philadelphia as a prominent piece of the Phillies bullpen. Bellatti has a 3.31 ERA and 2.87 FIP in 59 appearances in 2022. Similar to Alvarado, he has posted fantastic strikeout and home run rates this year. The 31-year-old has struck out 78 batters and has only allowed five home runs in 54 innings pitched.
In his third season, Connor Brogdon has been reliable again for the Phillies. The right-hander has a 3.38 ERA and 3.34 FIP with a 1.219 WHIP in 46 outings. He has 50 strikeouts and 11 walks in 42 innings pitched. Brogdon has been more hittable than in recent years, with opponents batting .246/.294/.413 against him, but a .313 batting average on balls in play could just be a sign of some bad luck this season.
Making a second stint with the Phillies, veteran right-hander David Robertson has been fantastic with Philadelphia in 2022. Since being traded from the Cubs in the middle of the season, he has a 2.82 ERA and 146 ERA+ in 21 appearances. Robertson has struggled with walks, allowing 15 in 22 innings pitched, but has a strikeout rate of over 12 per nine innings and has only given up two home runs since the move.
Fightin’ Phils in the lineup
The Philadelphia Phillies’ lineup is led by a familiar cast of characters and some newcomers to the team in 2022. They rank in the top eight in MLB in hits, home runs, stolen bases and OPS among other stats.
Unquestionably the face of the franchise is two-time NL MVP Bryce Harper. The seven-time all-star has not hit as well this year compared to most years of his career but he has still been elite at the plate. He is hitting .287/.365/.516 with 18 home runs, 28 doubles and 65 RBIs. The lefty slugger has an OPS+ of 146 that leads the team. Harper missed a large portion of the season after undergoing surgery on his left thumb in late June.
Arguably the most valuable player for Philadelphia this year has been J.T. Realmuto. The 31-year-old catcher has had one of his best seasons at the plate in 2022. He is hitting .275/.341/.478 with 22 home runs, 26 doubles, 84 RBIs and 21 stolen bases. According to FanGraphs, he ranks second among catchers in fielding/positional adjustment rating and has an impressive 6.5 WAR. Combining his offensive contributions and his defensive value, Realmuto is one of few elite catchers in the league.
First baseman Rhys Hoskins has put together yet another impressive offensive season. He has hit .247/.334/.464 with 30 home runs, 33 doubles and 78 RBIs in 668 plate appearances. Despite the 2022 season being sub-par statistically for Hoskins, he has still been a well above league-average hitter with an OPS+ of 123 this year.
Infielders Jean Segura and Alec Bohm have each been solid contributors to the lineup in 2022. Segura is hitting .279/.339/.390 with 19 extra-base hits and 13 stolen bases. He does not hit for much power but has always hit for great contact, with a career .285 batting average. Bohm has hit .281/.316/.319 with 40 extra-base hits and a 101 OPS+ while improving upon his 2021 season in which he posted an OPS+ of 75.
A pair of new additions to the team before the season have helped contribute to the Phillies lineup in 2022. Free-agent signing Kyle Schwarber has been a prime example of the “three true outcomes” player that we see more and more in modern-day baseball. The veteran slugger is hitting .219/.324/.506 in 667 plate appearances in 2022. Schwarber leads the NL in home runs, thumping 46 long balls on the year. He also leads all of MLB with 199 strikeouts and ranks in the top five in walks with 86 on the season. Schwarber has a 130 OPS+ that ranks second in the lineup behind Harper.
After a sizzling season at the plate in 2021 with the Reds, first-year Phillies outfielder Nick Castellanos has fallen back to Earth in 2022. The veteran outfielder is hitting .265/.306/.392 with 40 extra-base hits and 62 RBIs in 555 plate appearances this year. Comparatively, Castellanos hit .309/.362/.576 with 73 extra-base hits and 100 RBIs a season ago. His 96 OPS+ is the lowest in his career among full seasons.
Party in Philly?
The last time the Philadelphia Phillies took a team to the postseason was back in 2011. After being eliminated by the Cardinals in the NLDS, a historic chapter of the Phillies franchise was closed. Boasting one of the more star-studded rosters in MLB history from 2007 to 2011, the Phillies won two NL pennants and a World Series championship in 2008. Since then, a long rebuild followed by consecutive seasons of average baseball with no playoff appearances to show for it has hampered the franchise.
For the Phillies to make a deep postseason run in 2022, it will take their front-line arms pitching as well as they have been, and some improvement from a few of their veteran starters. The bullpen lacks significant depth, especially if Brad Hand is unable to return for the playoffs. There are some formidable arms that can shut a game down in the late stages, but if a starter exits early, the depth of the bullpen could get exposed. There is plenty of pop in the Phillies lineup, but outside of Harper and Schwarber, there is not a lot of postseason experience. Time will tell whether that plays a factor with the playoffs soon to get underway.