It’s September, when baseball goes from a sunburned slog to a whirlwind of excitement, and everyone is welcome on the bandwagon. Because like last year, the Phillies are playing baseball that matters in the season’s final month.
If you want to join the fun (and hand-wringing) as the playoffs approach, here’s a quick primer.
Who are the Phillies?
Ah. You’re like… way behind. Ok.
The Phillies are a 140-year-old Major League Baseball franchise that occasionally wins a game. For two — and potentially three — brief eras of their history, they have been among the best in the sport. For much longer stretches of time, they have served as the “sick cat” of the National league that wanders in and makes everyone sad and uncomfortable.
Sounds bad. How are they now?
They went all the way to the World Series last year, becoming a playoff darling that beat superior team after superior team, until running into the Houston Astros (a team most famous for a massive cheating scandal they used to win a different World Series).
So now, the Phillies are trying to defend the pennant, aka win the National League, so they can return to the World Series vs. the American League winner.
For a long time, they failed to look like they’d get anywhere near doing that.
Pitching kept them in the hunt, but scoring was a problem. Along with outfielder Nick Castellanos, only a trio of young studs known as the “daycare” — second baseman Bryson Stott, third baseman Alec Bohm, and outfielder Brandon Marsh — kept the offense going.
Not only are the young fellas some of the best at hitting with runners in scoring position, but they’re also good for post-game shenanigans, when they sneak up on their teammates during TV interviews, pouring cold water down their neck and back, and then handing them a clementine or Uncrustable. Yes. It’s a thing.
The fans (maybe) helped turn things around
The good news is, the MLB season is looong. That means there was plenty of time to recover from a slow start, and the Phillies took advantage.
It wasn’t until August that they found their groove, thanks to Trea Turner’s remarkable resurgence.
The All-Star shortstop was the Phillies’ first and biggest free agent signing over the winter, and this inaugural season of his 11-year contract in Philadelphia went quite terribly for a long time. People were ready to be done with him.
Finally, after months and months of chasing pitches out of the zone (i.e. nowhere near strikes, so not hittable), fans decided to do the unthinkable and give Turner a hotly debated round of applause.
For some reason, this totally worked.
Turner has been on fire ever since, and even paid for a billboard to thank Phillies fans for their support. Then his wife had a baby.
I’m getting into this. Anybody else I should be aware of? Feels like there’s another guy.
There’s an entire 40-man roster. Don’t worry, you don’t have to know all of them. But along with Turner, there’s also Bryce Harper.
Yes, the man who signed a record-breaking 13-year contract with the Phillies four years ago and has since embraced this city and team with a fervor. There may not be a single clothing item he hasn’t redesigned to match the Phanatic, for example, from cleats to jackets to bandanas to a bat.
This season, he mystified medical professionals by willing his elbow back into playing shape months before he was expected to recover from Tommy John surgery. Everyone just sort of overlooked this real-life superpower and Harper redeveloped his home run swing.
With Turner and Harper hitting, the rest of the offense followed and carried them through a hot month of August in which the Phillies pulled away from the rest of the wild card contenders.
They’re not guaranteed a playoff spot because their division, the NL East, was already won by the Braves back in May.
The Braves are very good. We don’t need to talk about it. Besides, remember what happened last time the Braves were better than the Phillies?
Oh right, you don’t. Well, it was this.
Isn’t there a component to baseball outside of hitting?
It’s called pitching. Honestly, don’t worry about it. The Phillies’ starting rotation was pretty good for a couple of months, but it’s late in the season and everybody’s tired.
A typical Phillies game starts with the other team scoring 1-3 runs and the Phillies failing to scare up much offense until the seventh, when they suddenly pile up enough scoring to either win or almost win.
At this point, the public trust in (former ace) Aaron Nola can be measured by the volume of the audience screeching, which gets louder and louder the closer he gets to an implosion. He might throw seven and two thirds innings of no-hit ball. He might unravel in the fourth. You’ll have to tune in to find out!
The Phillies are not having a good year in the Toyota Rav 4th inning this year. Since Aug. 1, pitcher Michael Lorenzen’s 4th inning ERA through six games is 18.56 (you want this to be in the low single digits). Pitcher Taijuan Walker’s is 12.60.
But each of the Phillies’ starters has put together an impressive streak at some point this year — ace Zack Wheeler just pitched spectacularly against the Padres in San Diego, earning the Phillies a series win.
The same goes for the bullpen, but right now, the back end guys like Kimbrel, Gregory Soto, and Seranthony Dominguez have not been able to keep the ball in the park. Jeff Hoffman, on the other hand, has been stellar out of the pen. Line up for your Jeff Hoffman shirseys before the holiday rush!
Boy, you’re really talking me out of this.
Right, sorry. The truth is, the Phillies are a fun watch. They found ways to win all year — and invented a couple of ways to lose — but come August, they became the team they were designed to be.
They are rarely totally out of a game, they have superstars playing like superstars, and of their 77 wins so far, 40 have been comebacks, giving them a dramatic flair that other, more boring good teams like the Braves simply don’t have. Atlanta typically gets an early lead, protects it with solid pitching, and continues to add to it as the game goes on.
You want a team with six guys who can hit the ball 600 feet, but only two of them are ever really doing it at one time. You want a team with off-the-charts chemistry and at least one guy with the beard of a feral mountain recluse. You want a team with a guy hitting under .200 who just hit 40 homers for the second year in a row.
You want to watch the Phillies. They are an exciting, infuriating team built for September and October. What else were you going to do this fall? Pretend to like pumpkin beer? Try and fail to grow root vegetables? Go to a corn maze and think, “Why did we come here?”
Ok, ok. How do I watch the Phillies?
Gripping the edge of a table and biting down on a wooden spoon. Then for the playoffs, pacing helps. Try wall-to-wall, and if that’s not enough, switch to room-to-room.
Fortunately, most Phillies games occur at the end of the day, when all of your work or family-related frustrations have culminated in a tight little fist inside your brain. The Phillies are an absolutely terrific outlet for releasing that fist, allowing you to channel your daily grievances into a string of curse words about Nick Castellanos chasing a low and outside slider.
I’m in! Hey, where’s that Rhys Hoskins kid who hit that awesome home run last year?
Uh… You know what, why don’t we just turn the game on.
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