Goodbye Red October

World Series Prediction

I’m a Phillies fan, but let me start by stating the obvious- they are the underdog. The 106 win, home field holding, fourth World Series appearance in six years, throwing a future Hall-of-Famer tonight, and haven’t lost a postseason game yet Astros have to be favored. It’s not a close call on paper. Houston is the favorite.

So why even play it? Give them that second championship now. Yeah, the Phillies have had a nice run, but they haven’t been here in 13 Octobers, they can’t possibly pull this off, right? Figure Astros in five, obviously.

42 years ago, in the Astrodome, the Phillies beat the Nolan Ryan in game 5 of the NLCS, then went on to win it all. Close to a month ago (seriously), they gave Houston their last loss to date, clinching the final spot in the playoffs. At that time, Bryce Harper was dead cold, and the fan confidence in these Phillies was pretty damn low. Aaron Nola pitched, as he will tonight, and he was about as good as humanly possible. Since then, the Phillies ended the careers of Albert Pujols, Yadier Molina, and maybe Adam Wainwright. The Phillies ended the season of the team that beat the Astros in last year’s World Series, the 101 win Atlanta Braves. Then for good measure, they took down the Manny Machado, Juan Soto, and Yu Darvish show to get here. Funny thing is, I think some in the press would give any of those three teams more of a chance in this series than the Phillies. But I know, we only won 87 games, this is a crime against baseball.

In all seriousness though, the Astros are good. They absolutely rolled the Yankees for the third time in six years. You’re watching a historic group that is going for that second title together. Four World Series in six years is not something you’ll see often again. This is easily on par with Joe Torre’s Yankees. They deserve to be favored. As they did against Atlanta. As they did against Washington.

The Phillies will get at least four starts from Nola and Wheeler if this goes seven games, and they’ll need to be great. If they get less than two wins from them, the series is going to Houston. They probably need three wins. They also need Bryce Harper to keep being the best player in baseball, Kyle Schwarber to play like the home run champion that has a ring of his own. Hoskins and Realmuto have to be really great too. Houston just needs to do what San Diego failed at- beating the middle of the Phillies rotation. Jose Altuve waking up could kill the Phillies too.

With all of that said, the pressure is on Houston to win that second, frankly clean title. The Phillies are as capable as any team they’ve met in a World Series so far, especially right now. They’re on a magical run. I’m a Phillies fan, but I haven’t picked them in every round. I am now. Phillies in seven.

NLCS Prediction

Up to this point, I’ve tried to keep my predictions in both leagues together, but the damn rain in New York won’t allow it. So here we are, my NLCS pick.

This is a fairly even series, on paper. The fifth seeded Padres finished two games ahead of the Phillies for the season. The sixth seeded Phillies won the season series. One beat the Dodgers. One beat the Braves. One has home field. The other is 3-1 on the road this postseason. A Darvish for a Wheeler. A Harper for a Machado. A Musgrove for a Nola. A Realmuto for a Soto. A Hader for a Dominguez. I’m kind of surprised how much complaining went on in the press since Saturday about this match up. It lines up as very, very interesting, to me.

I give a slight edge to the Padres on pitching, but not as dramatic as some will think. I like their starters out to four just a little bit better than the Phillies. Depending on David Robertson’s health, I might give them a slight bullpen edge too. With that said, the Phillies won games against Darvish, Snell, and Musgrove this year. They beat Hader once too. Wheeler, Nola, and Suarez threw seven plus innings of one run or less against San Diego this season. But let’s be honest, on paper, San Diego would get the slight edge from non-biased fans, and they’ve earned it in their first seven post-season games. Their staff can silence bats just a little deeper into a game.

I give the Phillies bats a slight, slight edge on the Padres. I don’t see a huge gap between Harper-Realmuto-Schwarber and Machado-Soto-Bell. Pick your poison, both can beat you. By a slight margin, I like the Phillies other six bats in the lineup just a bit more. It’s only a bit more, as you can ask the Mets and Dodgers what 5-9 in the order did to them for the Padres. They’re a hot group right now.

These two teams haven’t met since June, and a lot has happened since then. The two game regular season gap between them is irrelevant, ask the four teams they just beat. Both have narrow edges, but very narrow. So what exactly will matter in this series?

I think the biggest factor in this series will interestingly be the lack of a day off after game five. My gut instinct is this favors the team with deeper pitching, San Diego. There are just two scheduled off days between games 4 and 7, so you can’t get three starts out of anyone in this series. So the Phillies can get two regular rest starts from Wheeler and Nola each this series. The game three starter would be able to get a game 7 start, but only on three days rest. So if both teams presumably go with four starters, the game 1 starter would have just 1 day off to come out of the bullpen in a decisive game, the game 2 starter basically has no rest from game 6 to 7. In other words, depth matters. Clevinger shutting down the Phillies earlier this year, being their fourth starter, looms large. David Robertson’s health, to be decided by how he feels today, after yesterday’s bullpen session, looms huge over this series.

There’s an entirely opposite line of thinking here. The Phillies beat Darvish once. They beat Snell twice. They beat Musgrove in his only start against them. Traveling west for an east coast team takes less out of you than traveling east for a west coast team. And perhaps more than any of this, neither team will have much left in the tank pitching wise by the back end of the series, so the better offense will play up. If the Phillies and Padres pitch against each other as they did in the season, the Phillies will have a lead by games 4 and 5 and the Padres pitching advantage will be moot. This argument is basically as compelling as the other one.

I’ll have to make a prediction here without the benefit of knowing Robertson’s fate, and therefore what I think of the Phillies depth. To be honest, I’m unsure. I picked my Phillies in round one, I picked against them in round two, and I was very wrong (thinking Strider’s presence would matter). I really think this might come down to whether Aaron Nola can keep channeling his inner Cole Hamels 2008/Cliff Lee 2009 in this series. If he does, and the Phillies win his starts, even a Darvish split might not be enough for the Padres, or their pitching depth to handle. In a gamble of hot hands, I see the Phillies being able to pull out at least one of games 3 and 4 in Philly, and to win this series in six hard fought games. Phillies in six.

It Took 11 Years, but F*** the Cardinals

It seemed like we’d always be good. Five divisions in a row. The best record in baseball two straight years. Three NLCS appearances. Two NL Pennants. Two NL MVP’s. A Cy Young. A World Series MVP. And yes, a World Series championship. The Phillies were invincible.

Until October 7th, 2011. That night Roy Halladay got out dueled 1-0. The game ended with Ryan Howard on the ground with a torn achilles. The Cardinals won the series. Then they won the World Series. A much younger Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina got their rings. Halladay was never the same again. Howard was never the same again. Chase Utley was hurt a lot after that. Cliff Lee too. The Nationals got good. The Mets got good. The Braves got good too, really good. The Phillies went 11 years before they saw the playoffs after that.

Being a Phillies fan in 2011 was cool. The stadium was packed every night. The stadium ended up being sold out for years. The team spent big money bringing great players to the city. We were winners. Then we weren’t. In a few short years we weren’t even good anymore. The stadium emptied. All the heroes left. Halladay even died. The f***ing insect Mets fans even started to infest our stadium to watch their perennial failing team again, with their stupid little chants.

I’ve had a Phillies 17 game season ticket package with my father since 1991, but it was never cooler than 2007-2011. I was 24 when they won the first division and 28 when they won the last one. The World Championship, the heated rivalry with the Mets, Howard’s majestic homers, the best middle infield in baseball, the four aces- it was awesome. Then it was over, and we’re a real adult, and sports kind of suck until Nick Foles performs the ultimate Jesus act and beats Tom Brady to win a Super Bowl for Philly. Honestly that stupid f***ing NLDS loss to the Cardinals ends up being a demarcation point between my fun young adult years and descending into adulthood. It didn’t bother me as much at the time as it grew to over the years. Really. That game bothers me more than some things that happened to me personally.

So yes, when the Phillies had a chance to play the f***ing Cardinals, I got excited. Albert Pujols, Yadier Molina, and Adam Wainwright are all legends, much respect to them. But seriously, the Phillies had a chance to end their careers, in their home park? Holy shit. This was too good to be true. To sweep them? Amazing. To watch their fans empty out before game one was over, in the ballpark the national media swears is “baseball heaven?” Yes, this feels better than good. Let me keep feeling this. It’s not personal because they’re bad people or something- but they were the ones celebrating on our field as our best player laid on the field injured, our era over. So I’m not saying it’s special, but let ‘em know the Phillies did it. The Phillies ended their legends. Hell yeah.

Deadlines and Destiny

Nothing in sports gets more unnecessary ink than NFL practices.The amount of attention people put into practice- yes, we’re talking about practice- is silly. I’ve read more Philadelphia sports media takes about the team being great based on practice field success than I’d care to remember. It’s almost always garbage. The only important news out of camp is who gets hurt, otherwise I’m not really interested.

MLB’s trade deadline is actually in a similar boat. Obviously if someone snags Juan Soto today, that is significant news that you should care about. Many times though, the big moves are not really the big moves, and the most significant stuff that happens are margin moves that improve a serious weakness, more than the moves that land stars. This is true the other 364 days a year too, but those days receive less hype. Lots of attention will be put into some of the bigger names moving today. History tells us that’s not the right way to view deadline moves.

In 2008 the Phillies got figuratively mugged by the fans and the writers for getting outbid on Rich Harden and other name starting pitchers, and instead getting back-end of the rotation Joe Blanton for their playoff run. Those Phillies chased down the Mets, won a second straight division, and the franchise’s second World Series title. It is often the little moves- like picking up Jamie Moyer from Seattle’s 2006 scrapheap, or a J.C. Romero or Scott Eyre off a waiver wire, that end up paying off the biggest for a franchise. The 2009 Phillies cruised to the NL East title and picked up Cliff Lee and an unemployed Pedro Martinez, far bigger names than anyone they grabbed in 2008, but only nabbed an NL Pennant for that effort. Trade deadline moves, both back in the era of the August waiver period and now, can be a tricky thing. Does one player, even a Roy Oswalt or Hunter Pence type, dramatically change your odds of winning a World Series? The answer is probably not, even if they’re a great player. On the other hand, picking up a marginal upgrade at a particular point of weakness can dramatically improve a ball club. In other words, if your fifth starter is terrible, or you’re trotting out a negative WAR position starter every day, and today you pick up someone who is even league average at that spot, the odds that your team is going to get hot and get on a run down the stretch into the post-season goes way up. In other words, Juan Soto or Frankie Montas are really good players, but it’s hard to tell today if they would make a Dodgers or Yankees that much more likely to win.

There’s the other side of this, and it’s that the teams dealing may not be setting up their futures that well by selling today. I almost feel for the Washington Nationals (but I can’t) because I cannot imagine exactly what kind of haul for Soto would make me feel any better about trading a 23 year old that was second in last year’s MVP vote and isn’t even near his prime yet. They got their championship, but have watched a steady stream of Hall-of-Famers and All-Stars they amassed in their “Natitude” era run that began in 2012 walk away. Max Scherzer and Trea Turner got sent to LA at last year’s deadline and now Scherzer is up the Acela route in Queens. Bryce Harper got that second MVP up I-95 in Philly. Anthony Rendon fled to Southern California. Ryan Zimmerman retired. Now Soto could be gone, and you can’t possibly get a return that equals the player he is now, let alone what he’ll be in five years. Trust me, we’ve been there. When the Phillies traded Cole Hamels, they got a package of top 100 prospects, all of whom are gone now, and only Alfaro fetched them anything in return (he was part of the Realmuto package). The only piece from the Ken Giles trade still hanging around Philly is Mark Appel, now a 31 year old reliever that actually left baseball for a few years and came back to find his success. The Papelbon deal landed Nick Pivetta, and we know how that went in Philly. In short, you’re lucky if any of the guys you get in these big trades ever even make it in the Majors, and even then, the odds they perform at a high level like Soto are almost nil. Sure, maybe you get Randy Johnson for Mark Langston. It’s more likely you get close to nothing. I despise the Nationals, but I feel for their fans who are feeling like this is a funeral for their franchise today.

None of this is to say you don’t go out and try to nail the blockbuster today. If I were the Padres, for example, I’d move mountains with my prospect haul to try and get Soto and even Josh Bell, and check in to see if I could even get the Nationals to take Eric Hosmer’s contract off my hands in the process. And if I were the Nationals? Yeah, I’d probably do it all. At least they’ll have a mountain of prospects in exchange for Soto. They could be the Angels, deciding that holding onto Ohtani right now to sell tickets, but continuing to put an uncompetitive, awful product on the field is acceptable. With Mike Trout’s back condition being a long-term storm cloud over a franchise that’s not even remotely competing for a Wild Card spot, I just don’t get what they think is going to happen for them. Standing pat and being terrible is the epitome of hell in sports, and at least for the Nationals they won’t be doing that (whether they trade Soto today or in the Winter). No one wants to watch that. No one wants to watch their contender team sit on their hands today either, and to the credit of the biggest contender of all, the New York Yankees, they didn’t. They filled virtually all of their holes at this deadline. Fans just want to see a good faith effort to try and win. Some teams clearly do that better than others.

As for my Phillies today, my two most pressing needs are a centerfielder I can actually put out there every day and a starting pitcher that at least improves one spot in my rotation. Honestly though, a couple of reliable relievers may do the most impactful good of anything on the market for them. I like the move for Edmundo Sosa from the Cardinals on Saturday, as team defense is still a glaring hole that needs improving, even if it hasn’t killed them yet. I would be fine with Noah Syndergaard or Tyler Mahle as a starting pitcher, although both probably cost more than I really wanted them to give up at this deadline. Neither is a top of the rotation option in 2022, but both are probably better than hoping for Zach Eflin’s health to improve. Rumors about Brett Phillips are fine, but he’s not an offensive upgrade on either centerfielder they have right now, and while he’s much better defensively, neither of them are bad defensively. It’s always about improving your weakest points, and hopefully the Phillies can do that today.

Midway, the Phillies are Alive and Not More

Tonight, the Phillies will play their 81st game, marking the halfway point in their season. They have a 42-38 record right now, meaning they’re on a 85-77 pace for the season, their best record since 2011. They are 1 game out of the Wild Card and 8 games back in the division. They just finished their best month since the glory days of 2010. Last year the 6th best team in the NL finished with 83 wins, meaning the Phillies are on pace to be good enough to make the playoffs. Indeed they just went 6-4 against three contenders in the NL.

The ballclub has done this in spite of serious challenges. The best player is hurt and out until at least mid-August. Last year’s best two starting pitchers started slow after late starts. Their second most consistent hitter is out until September. They haven’t yet identified a lockdown closer. Their $20 million plus catcher and right fielder haven’t had great first halves. They fired their manager and people like me said they were done.

While I conclude they’re a healthier contender than I thought a month ago, I still don’t really love the Phillies playoff odds. There are six spots in the field, but obviously they can’t win the NL West or Central, so there are only four actually available (NL East and three Wild Cards). Their odds of making up 8 games over the final 82 on the Mets, even if they’re significantly better than the club from Queens, aren’t great. Making up 4.5 games over the Braves in that time, for my money the best team in the NL aren’t so great either. That leaves two spots to be split between the Phillies, Padres and Giants out West, and whoever is second in the Central between St. Louis and Milwaukee. San Diego is up 4 on us now, St. Louis up 1, and the Giants back 1. Not only do those divisions have more bad teams, and the West Coast teams more pitching depth, but the Phillies still have a few division games left, which have plagued them this year. Even one cold streak from an offense without Harper, and this could end. Especially with a 5th starting pitcher by committee situation right now with a Ranger Suarez injured.

Even with the odds being long in my eyes, the Phillies should buy and try to make the playoffs. Their top two starters (Wheeler and Nola) are more than capable of getting hot and carrying the team in the playoffs. Harper and Segura will return and provide a boost later on. A hot streak from Schwarber or Hoskins could carry the team in October. Maybe most importantly, Realmuto and Castellanos would almost have to play better to make it.

So what to add? They definitely quality and depth in the bullpen. An 8th or 9th inning arm should be part of the plan. They could trade for two relievers, or get a reliever and starting pitcher, then slide Suarez back into the bullpen for the stretch run. The offense doesn’t need a ton, but if they could get anything, a center fielder wouldn’t hurt.

Before the season, I predicted a Wild Card berth for the Phillies. My head says that’s highly unlikely, particularly with the roster as is. I do think they’ll win 84-86 games though and remain a factor. In the interest of sticking by my convictions I’ll predict a surprising finish that defies the odds and gets them in. Best I stick by my guns.

The Phillies Failed in Firing Joe Girardi

The Phillies are not a good baseball team and have not been since 2011. They are 23-29, 11 games out of first and 5.5 out of the Wild Card. They went 82-80 last year, their best record in a decade, but basically the same as the 2018, 2019, and even 2020 versions of the team. They are one of the most dreadful defensive teams you will ever watch play baseball. They’re a decent enough hitting team, but they’re so poor at making contact that they can be shutout any given night, as they already have five times this season. They honestly thought they’d be able to hold leads with the cast of Familia, Alvarado, and Knebel pitching in the late innings, but instead we’re watching another horrible bullpen lose leads. Their top position prospect has been an automatic out at the plate, while their other young infielder has been better than last year, but still lacks power and the ability to catch the baseball. Someone thought they’d find an acceptable center fielder among Odubel Herrera, Matt Vierling, and Roman Quinn while waiting for former #1 overall pick Mickey Moniak to heal up and hopefully become a starter out there. I honestly thought this team would hit enough to mask their problems and make the playoffs, before the season. At this point I accept what is. I just don’t think this group is much more than a .500 group, at best.

None of this is meant to absolve Joe Girardi for his performance as manager. His bullpen management stands out in particular as a problem. He uses far too many relievers and neither pushes them to get more outs or appear in more games each week. His continual decision to use Brad Hand in the 6th and 7th inning, while using Jose Alvarado as a late inning lefty drives me nuts. It seems like he had multiple relievers unavailable every night. Girardi’s management never bothered me like Gabe Kapler’s, but I wouldn’t honestly say he did great. He tried to close a pivotal game in Atlanta with Nick Nelson.

The problem with this team has very little to do with the manager. With hindsight now as a guide, it wasn’t the manager with Gabe Kapler either. The roster simply isn’t good. Joe Girardi doesn’t make the first baseman throw the ball away when it’s hit to him. No manager is going to make the closer handed to him by the big name team President stop giving up home runs. It’s not the dugouts fault that their high priced catcher has a sub-.700 OPS in June. The manager isn’t at fault when a wild throw to second base from the catcher ends up rolling through the center fielder’s legs, a center fielder that same team President brought back on a guaranteed deal. it’s not the manager hitting .181 in June in year one of a four year free agent deal paying him almost $20 million a year. I’m going to be blunt- this team is mostly bad because former GM Matt Klentak destroyed it, but the current brass of Dave Dombrowski and Sam Fuld made a ton of clear mistakes building this team. The blame for this belongs in the composition of the team.

I’m basically saying you’re not likely to find a manager who can fix this. I almost certainly am sure it’s not handing the team over to Girardi and Kapler’s long time bench coach. Is this even a change? The GM said he will “communicate” better as a reason he’ll do well. What? That’s going to change things for a team that’s not doing much right? The team needs to play 90 win pace the rest of the way to get to 85 wins and sneak in the playoffs. I can count 7 teams in the NL that are better than this team. There are 6 spots. I don’t really think any manager changes that right now. I’m puzzled about how this move is an attempt to change anything.

So here’s where I give you a glimmer of hope, then snatch it from you. This team has played worse than I thought, and they will play better. The schedule starts getting easier the rest of the way. The Phillies will play their way into at least the Wild Card race. This will happen under Rob Thomson and you’ll see lots of people say he’s doing a better job. All of this would have happened under Joe Girardi too. Unless the roster changes, this improvement won’t get them to the playoffs though. They will be eliminated in the final week of the season, again. That would of happened under Girardi too. It’s not going to be much different under Thomson. The problem is the players the front office puts on the field.